Corruption has conventionally been regarded as pertaining to political science and sociology, however it has recently been considered more and more from an economic perspective. Like all countries in the world, Algeria suffers from a plethora of corruption-related problems. The problem in Algeria like in many countries in development is obviously one of scale rather than existence or non-existence of the phenomenon because corruption has and will always exist.
It is all fine saying that corruption is bad for the economy as it retards economic growth (by discouraging investment, throttling healthy competition, reducing productivity and reducing government funds which will impact on public expenditure and improvement of public services), however much public corruption can be traced to government intervention in the economy in the first place! In other words, government by its nature is inherently corrupt(ible), because it is inherently bureaucratic and when it intervenes in the economy it has an unfortunate tendency to wreck it. Everything government intervenes in turns into a disaster, I do think it is inherent and no amount of regulation, democracy or opposition will eradicate it.
But nobody is talking about eradication, the objective is bringing it under control and keeping it at an optimal level. There are political and economic environments which are less conducive to corruption; for example, it is a well known fact that more open economies are less favorable to corruption. But it all depends how we define ‘bribes’, because often, ‘privatization’ and ‘liberalization’ only results in bribes changing hands. Or rather, open economies allow individuals to legalize by mutual agreement and consensus (otherwise called ‘market forces’) the bribes they’d have had to pay more or less to a government official in a closed economy. The difference here is that power is not concentrated in the government and so the destructive effects of corruption are minimized in an open market. However, with time, privatization will create its own monopolies and corruption will raise its ugly head again (what is happening now with big corporations and organized crime).
Today, Algeria is in a transition economy, the state is relatively weak after decades of declining legitimacy and erratic outbursts of civil discontentment. This has favored clandestine activities such as smuggling and the rise of a shadow economy (the black market). All these effects have severely compounded the political corruption problems that we have inherited from the state-directed economy era (communist Algeria).
Recently, Algeria has embarked on a corruption fighting campaign on a national scale, however I am dubious as to the real motivations behind it. There are some hypotheses:
– the international community (IMF, World Bank and all international organizations involved in foreign aid and who are growing sick and tired of their aid money being systematically siphoned into corrupt politicians’ pockets – or so goes the official version) is clamping down on corruption and is pushing puppet governments to adapt or die.
– Algerian politicians are starting to realize that they cannot rule for much longer when corruption is on that scale and that they have to do something about it.
– the different clans within the Algerian power hierarchy have reached a stage of high tension, a cross roads and they have taken this excuse to liquidate serious opponents (cf. the recent murder of Ali Tounsi).
Whatever the reason might be, it would be naïve to think that it is about fixing Algerian problems for the simple reason that these people are here to stay and there is nothing which threatens their hanging on to power (such as democratic elections or even serious contenders to power which would be radically different from what we have now. The Mindset is corrupt to the core, from the top to the bottom). As for the international organizations, they are making more money out of corrupt governments than they would dream of making from clean ones, so their motivations also must have to do with something more than financial gain. Probably a political motivation which has to do with the recent financial crisis.
The entire world is moving toward monopolies at all levels: government, financial, economic. Fighting corruption is about concentrating the bribes in a few monopolies of power, there is no other way to control corruption which is a ‘natural’ product of ‘free trade’; a privilege that has classically been reserved to the government only. But in that case, what would it change for the ordinary people anyway? The ordinary Algerian public servant or the ordinary Algerian citizen for example? Would it make life better or worse? Isn’t it about stripping people of more of their autonomy? And is it sometimes good to strip people of their autonomy because even when corruption is limited to within the government, it would still be more benign than when it is let loose to permeate all levels of society? What proof do we have for this?
I will end this post by affirming that I am not an anarchist, even though I might sound like one. I simply think that there is a need for new political thinking and a re-evaluation of the usefulness of the government/ nation state as a political entity.