Corruption is a notoriously difficult topic to define. After numerous attempts, the United Nations gave up trying to come up with a legal definition for it and so the only global anti-graft treaty - the UN Convention Against Corruption – doesn’t even attempt to define the term.
Transparency International (TI), the anti-graft watchdog co-founded by Laurence Cockroft, offers the definition that “corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”
Cockroft, in his new book ‘Global Corruption: Money, Power and Ethics in the Modern World’, takes an even broader view of corruption.
“The corruption discussed in this book always involves the acquisition of money, assets or power in a way which escapes the public view; it is usually illegal; and it is at the expense of society as a whole either at a ‘grand’ or at everyday level,” Cockroft writes.
“Personal enrichment is almost always a key objective, although corruption may be engineered by a group with the intention of achieving or retaining political power, so that these motives can become closely entwined,” he adds.
In fact, one of the most striking qualities of the book is that Cockroft manages to cover so much ground. He does so in less than 250 pages and without the reader ever feeling that he is scrimping on analysis.
The book covers virtually every facet of corruption. Cockcroft is particularly good at analysing the drivers of corruption and at highlighting the intricate and symbiotic relationship between organised crime and corrupt elites. The book also underlines the fact that corruption is not a victimless crime by spotlighting the harm it does to individuals, economies, healthcare, agriculture and the environment, to name but a few of the affected areas. The chapter on the rise of the anti-corruption movement is particularly fluent, which isn’t surprising given Cockroft’s experience at the forefront of TI.
The one glaring omission from Cockroft’s book is a discussion on corruption within foreign aid flows. This is particularly surprising given that Cockroft is a development economist by training. When asked why he did not cover foreign aid flows, Cockroft’s replied that the topic had been covered extensively and that he had nothing more to add to it. While this may be the case, many of the book’s readers are likely to come from a civil society background and will expect to see some insight into the problem of corrupt officials siphoning off foreign aid. Moreover, in a book that is otherwise so thorough, the omission is stark.
For someone new to the topic of corruption and looking to better understand its effects, this book would make an excellent starting point. Many books on corruption are written in a highly technical (usually legalistic or academic) style but Cockroft’s book is readable and informative without getting bogged down in detail.
Those readers who already have a solid understanding of corruption are likely to gain a more nuanced view of the topic. For instance, the reader may have some prior knowledge about campaign finance, organised crime and illegal logging but Cockroft’s skill lies in showing how, in a country like Indonesia for example, those three seemingly disparate issues are not only linked but also play off and reinforce each other.
Global Corruption: Money, Power and Ethics in the Modern World by Laurence Cockroft is published by I.B Tauris