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2003-2007 Topic: Youth & Good Governance (Archived page)

Today's youth will one day lead societies in various countries, build their economies, and make decisions that will have an impact in the lives of future generations. A series of international conferences have been devoted to various themes analyzing and highlighting the plight of war-affected children and the need to protect them from all forms of abuses. However, one area that has most often been overlooked and/or minimized in the agenda of these international conferences is one of the fundamental causes of some of these conflicts - the result of poor governance in affected countries.

Program Objective

The aim of the Youth and Good Governance program is to stimulate a dialogue on governance issues among youth by emphasizing the role they can play in demanding accountability from their government. Youth can be resilient, resourceful and responsive, and there is a need to encourage and establish mechanisms in countries to involve youth in playing a role in addressing corruption and consequently improving governance in their countries.

Did you know?

  • In countries with high levels of corruption, the infant mortality rate is about three times higher and average income is about three times lower than in less corrupt countries (for example, the difference between Ukraine and the Czech Republic, Indonesia and South Korea, Nicaragua and El Salvador, or Chad and Namibia).
  • In high corruption countries, business would be willing to pay a tax equivalent to ten percent or more of their income to eliminate corruption.
  • Within a country, some government agencies are considered quite honest, while others are considered quite corrupt, often the customs authority, judiciary, or police.
  • Corruption tends to be more of a problem in developing and formerly communist countries than in high-income countries. Africa and the successor states to the Soviet Union are the regions considered to have the worst corruption problem.

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Defining Corruption

Corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. This includes a public servant accepting, soliciting, or extorting a bribe as well as instances where no bribery occurs but public office is still misused, such as nepotism, patronage, theft of state assets, and diversion of state revenues.

Corruption is not a western concept. In any society, there is a difference between practices that are acceptable and those that cause outrage.

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Measuring Corruption

Surveys provide the best way of measuring how much corruption there is in a government. Surveys of households look at problems the typical household has with the government, such as getting a phone line or enrolling children in schools. Surveys of firms look at problems the firms have, for instance, in bringing machinery into the country through the customs office or getting necessary permits. Surveys of public officials look at how work follows or deviates from the rules in specific government offices. For example, surveys produced the pie chart showing where corruption occurs in Georgia (5 kb pdf).

While in-depth diagnostic surveys examine corruption in just one country, other surveys examine the problem across a large number of countries and so can show where corruption problems are generally higher and where they are generally lower around the world.

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Costs of Corruption

Even if you don't come into direct contact with corruption, corruption affects you. Corruption reduces the overall wealth in a country, since it can discourage businesses from operating in such a corrupt setting. Corruption also reduces the amount of money the government has available to pay good workers and purchase supplies, such as books, medicine and computers. It distorts the way the government uses its money, too. The result is that schools, health clinics, roads, sewer systems, police forces, and many other services that governments provide are worse than they would otherwise be. In addition, corruption is unfair and allows those with money or connections to bend the law or government rules in their favor. They can pay off judges, for example, or divert scarce drinking water to their land. For these reasons, corruption also harms the environment and undermines trust in government.

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Causes of Corruption

The underlying reason that people get involved in corruption is that systems that don't work well and create bad incentives. Look at the slides on finding an envelope in an unattended parking lot (9 kb pdf). More people would engage in corruption under the wrong circumstances, that is, if no one would find out and if they had few alternatives. 

What causes corruption is, first, a clear opportunity, such as the envelope of cash sitting in the parking lot. This kind of opportunity in the government could be a government-run mining company with no competitors, or a long list of licenses and fees required for shipping goods into or out of the country. 

Second, what causes corruption is little chance of getting caught. This lack of accountability comes primarily from a) a lack of transparency, for example, when public officials do not inform about or explain what they are doing, including a declaration of their wealth, houses, and cars; and b) weak enforcement, when law agencies do not impose sanctions on power holders who have violated their public duties. This is the case, for example, when judges are in the pay of the ruling party or there are too few police officers to enforce the law.

Third, what causes corruption is bad incentives, such as a clerk not earning enough to live on or not being sure that he will have a job tomorrow so that he supplements his income with bribes. In extreme cases, people do not have an incentive to perform their official duties, but actually pay for their jobs with the understanding they will make money through bribes. Look at this slide showing public sector jobs that are "sold" (5 kb pdf).

Fourth, what causes corruption is attitudes or circumstances that make average people disregard the law. People may try to get around laws of a government they consider illegitimate (for example, not paying taxes to the apartheid government in South Africa). Poverty or scarcity of goods (such as medicine) may also push people to live outside the law.

So, corruption is not just about ethics. It's also about how the government is set up and managed. That is why improving the way government works is so important.

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Fighting Corruption

Working together, people can really make a difference in the amount of corruption in their government. What is needed is a good understanding of the kind of corruption that is going on, and a commitment of citizens and leaders in government to fight it together. Leaders in government cannot be left to make the change on their own because they will often not have the will to overcome resistance within their own ranks. Pressure and cooperation from concerned citizens in business, the religious community, and other walks of life can keep the commitment alive.

The specific steps that need to be taken will vary from country to country. The reforms need to reflect each country's problems (such as rampant corruption among tax collectors versus corruption in the courts) and opportunities (such as a new mayor who is a real reformer versus a leader in the parliament who is pushing the fight against corruption). See chart on multi-pronged strategy to address governance and corruption (5 kb pdf). 

What doesn't change, however, is the importance of educating citizens about their role in fighting corruption. Citizens need to understand that corruption is a problem that lowers their standard of living and that they need to resist it in their own lives. They need to think beyond whether giving a bribe to get a phone line installed is worth it to them personally, and realize that giving a bribe contributes to the problem in their country more generally. In addition, citizens can take a more active role in reporting abuses, reviewing the government's work, and otherwise monitoring government performance. 

It is important to recognize that the traditional approach to fighting corruption by case-by-case investigations is not enough. The effort also needs to reduce opportunities for corruption, improve incentives for good performance, and raise awareness about the need for citizens to work with government to bring about change.

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Role of Youth in Fighting Corruption

Here are some suggestions of what youth can do to fight corruption:

  1. Refuse to pay bribes and/or report requests for bribes from public officials;
  2. Send articles on corruption to the media or start a newsletter by youth;
  3. Form anti-corruption clubs in schools/colleges that organize social events, stimulate group discussions, request that courses on anti-corruption, good governance and ethics be included in the school curriculum, publicly declare schools a “corruption-free zone,” and monitor and report any violations. 
  4. Research and disseminate information on government procedures and entitlements to the citizenry.

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Course Content

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Online Survey for Youth

This online survey will take only a few minutes of your time and will be a key input to our learning programs for the youth. Responses are anonymous and intended for statistical aggregation purposes only. After completing the survey, you will be able to instantly view the cumulative results by all respondents. Thank you for your participation!

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Previous Learning Events

A list of previously conducted courses are available on a separate page.

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