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  • Writer's pictureNellooli Rajasekharan


Updated: Feb 23

Yes! The fish starts rotting from its head. Nothing new. Many years ago, I heard this first from an Arab CEO when he had serious fights with the Board. Since then it stuck with me. And I have seen it in action again and again and again.

Corruption Perceptions Index

Recently, the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International for 2017 again reminded me of this. 180 countries and territories are ranked by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. Majority of the countries have made little or no progress in reducing corruption. Higher the corruption, higher the risk of lives for journalists and activists who try to speak out. Higher the corruption, lower the economic and social development. So not surprising that the best rated countries are New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, and Sweden. At the bottom, in descending order are Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan with Somalia at the bottom of the list.

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority. The governments and businesses are responsible. And in both cases, power sits with the head no matter how democratic they claim to be.

Poor people are most affected by corruption. For them, corruption in health means the difference between life and death. Deforestation affects their livelihood and health. It means poor means to live. Many countries rich in oil and gas have some of the world’s poorest people. The wealth stays with the corrupt elite. Corrupt judiciary, defence and security gradually break down a nation. One look at the bottom of the list is enough to convince us about it.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair, Transparency International states that high levels of corruption correlate with weak rule of law, lack of access to information, governmental control over media, and reduced citizens‘ participation putting at stake the very essence of democracy and freedom. 

Impact on Democracy

Trust in governments is falling worldwide. While corruption is the least of the worries of the corrupt leaders, common man losing faith in democratic leaders is serious business. It sows the seeds for dictatorship and lends legitimacy to it.

Kill the Messenger

We can of course go into denial. Kill the messenger for saying this. Argue the findings are wrong due to skewed sampling, methodology, or interpretation. Therefore the findings are not truly representative of the reality on the ground.

Only honest top leaders with power can fix this. Georgia and Rwanda improved because their politically-driven governments wanted to do something about corruption. So it can be done. All you need is a strong and honest leader! Simple? No way.

Everything starts at the top. The Fish starts rotting from its head. So the rot can be fixed only by fixing the head.

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