At a glance
In many countries, a number of convictions for bribery and corruption are reported in the media, focusing not only on the bribe recipients but also the bribers.
Wal-Mart, GlaxoSmithKline and BHP Billiton are some of the big global names that have been accused of bribery in different corruption hot spots.
We have seen extensive analyses on the motivations and methods of bribery, the reasons clampdowns occur, and what they try to achieve.
But the bribery cases that come to light can also be used to test our assumptions about the ethical and cultural values of other countries.
It is not uncommon to hear people in countries where corruption is less prevalent, such as Australia, say that in certain other countries bribes are a way of life and are seen differently; people give and accept bribes, that’s just how things are.
This view implies that some cultures think bribery is okay. I think this is inaccurate.
Bribery is not considered an acceptable practice anywhere in the world. The World Bank has not found a country that has no rules against it.
The rules may be inadequate and bribery may be common, or even be accepted as necessary, but I cannot think of a country where it is considered acceptable, desirable or valuable.
Even if it is a “local sport” as some call it, or it is done by almost everyone, it is generally considered a disease that undermines the society’s future.
Research shows that even people who are engaged in the practice find it disgusting. Endemic bribery does not imply that people who live with it somehow see it as a good thing.
What some countries may lack is strong institutions and the ability or will to tackle corruption. This does not mean the people in those countries see it as part of a life they want to live.
Of course there are cultural differences. Different people value different practices and do things differently. This does not mean that while in Australia we see bribery as unethical and illegal, it is seen as a virtue elsewhere.
Some countries may need assistance to strengthen their institutions and resolve to tackle corruption. What they do not need is for others to promote it through their assumptions and behaviour.
Dr Eva Tsahuridu is CPA Australia’s policy adviser, professional standards and governance.
This article is from the September 2013 issue of INTHEBLACK.