Mario Canseco – The Angus Reid World Poll conducted for Maclean’s found that citizens in 18 countries are expressing enormous concerns about the prevalence of corruption. As more and more instances of illegal dealings are discussed openly in various nations across the world, the public’s mood has shifted to a state of pessimism.
In Turkey, Lebanon, South Africa, India and Mexico, more than 90 per cent of respondents believe corruption remains a big problem. The past few months have provided examples of specific setbacks in these countries. In Mexico, a series of videos depicted Mexico City government officials and local assembly members receiving cash bribes from contractors—a similar situation to the one that greatly affected the government of Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.
In South Africa, deputy-president Jacob Zuma—once touted as a prospective presidential candidate—was dismissed because of his connections to a financial adviser convicted of fraud.
In the United States, Italy, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Israel and Egypt, four-in-five respondents expressed concerns about corruption. Over the past two years, four American congressmen—Randy Cunningham, William Jefferson, Tom Delay and Bob Ney—have been investigated for illegal practices. Cunningham was sentenced to eight years and four months in jail after pleading guilty to collecting $2.4 million U.S. in kickbacks in exchange for steering government work to specific defence contractors.
Milan prosecutors have attempted to try former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on bribery and corruption charges pertaining to his business dealings before he became a politician. In Russia, a highly-publicized government crackdown on corruption has not been satisfactory, and has led to allegations of personal revenge on the part of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this year, Bank of Japan governor Toshihiko Fukui was criticized for his investment in a fund administered by Yoshiaki Murakami, who was arrested on charges of insider trading. In addition, three officials at Japan’s Defence Facilities Administration Agency were embroiled in a bid-rigging conspiracy.
Two former South Korean presidents—Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo—have been indicted on corruption charges, and in 2004, the former head of IBM Korea was jailed for bribing government officials. An anti-corruption provision has been one of the main sticking points in negotiations towards a free trade deal between South Korea and the U.S.
In Israel, former prime minister Ariel Sharon was the subject of two separate corruption probes in 2004. The first focused on an illegal loan supposedly received by Sharon during his 1999 campaign to become leader of the Likud party, and the second dealt with a purported kickback scheme to promote a real estate project in Greece. In recent weeks, Israeli president Moshe Katzav has faced allegations of sexual harassment and receiving money to grant pardons.
In all but two of the 20 countries surveyed—Australia and Canada—at least one half of all respondents believe corruption is a very big problem. The percentage of Canadians who are worried about illegal activities rose from 36 per cent in 1992—in the second term of Brian Mulroney’s government—to 46 per cent this year.
Although Canada and Australia appear as the most honest nations, neither has been exempt from controversy. In 2004, Canadian auditor-general Sheila Fraser concluded that approximately $75 million U.S. of the federal sponsorship program budget—initiated during the tenure of prime minister Jean Chrétien to promote Canada in Quebec—was paid to advertising firms close to the governing Liberal party for little or no work. The scandal eventually led to the end of 12 years of Liberal administrations.
Late last year, Australian media outlets reported that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) knowingly provided kickbacks to the Iraqi government headed by Saddam Hussein, under a scheme developed through the United Nations (UN) Oil-for-Food program. Close to $225 million U.S. were illegally paid as “transportation fees.”
In the topic of corruption, the responses of global citizens are similar on all sides of the political spectrum, with 77 per cent of left-wing voters, 81 per cent of centre voters, and 73 per cent of right-wing voters expressing concern about the situation in their countries. Three-of-four respondents in the entire sample believe corruption remains a major predicament.