To bribe or not to bribe; that is the question!


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.

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About algerianna

I enjoy writing, well communicating to be more precise as writing is somewhat a solitary activity. I tend to think that life is beautiful and interesting but people tend to over-complicate it. I like thinking about people and societies (netfelssaf like we say in Algerian). Apart from that, am relatively begnin.

8 thoughts on “To bribe or not to bribe; that is the question!

  1. You make it sound as if the corruption networks in Algeria exist outside the reach of the state. Given that most of the recent high-profile cases are driven by investigations initiated by the DRS (as opposed to the ministry of justice) it should be clear that all of this falls within the ongoing power struggle between the two centers of power in the Algerian regime.
    As far as the difference it would make, I am sure that many ordinary Algerians would welcome the possibility of living in a system where bribery/corruption (even if as you you correctly point out it cannot be completely eliminated, an unfortunately utopian goal for the time being) does not infringe so much on their rights. Especially when they have no recourse with an equally corrupted system of justice.
    I am not sure that “communist Algeria” is an accurate representation of the state of affairs that existed prior to the current savage capitalism. State control of the economy does not seem sufficient to qualify a regime as communist.

    Finally, what’s wrong with being an anarchist?

    • You make it sound as if the corruption networks in Algeria exist outside the reach of the state.

      I meant it in the sense that a lot of hand greasing, the type that is felt on an everyday basis by the citizen, is done in a clandestine way outside the reach of the State.

      As far as the difference it would make, I am sure that many ordinary Algerians would welcome the possibility of living in a system where bribery/corruption (even if as you you correctly point out it cannot be completely eliminated, an unfortunately utopian goal for the time being) does not infringe so much on their rights. Especially when they have no recourse with an equally corrupted system of justice.

      What rights are you talking about specifically? And do you not think that the bigger problem in Algeria is that the judiciary system is not independent from the political power? As long as we don’t have a system where powers are separated there is no point talking about any rights or duties.

      I am not sure that “communist Algeria” is an accurate representation of the state of affairs that existed prior to the current savage capitalism. State control of the economy does not seem sufficient to qualify a regime as communist.

      Economically speaking, there is no discernable difference between socialism and communism. For all economic purposes, Algeria was communist. At least to start with, this is the path the leadership was engaged in. With time, it became a military oligarchy.

      Finally, what’s wrong with being an anarchist?

      There was a time where I saw very little wrong with it, I still believe that sometimes, order can spring out from utter chaos. But I do also know that the starting conditions are absolutely critical with regards to the outcome (see chaos theory).

      Anarchy has better chances of working when at small scale. When there are too many people involved, you need some rigid framework of power and wealth distribution.

  2. You didn’t talk about another type of corruption which is faced by the population when dealing with the Algerian administration. The kind of when you arrive in a small Algerian airport and you have some passengers who don’t queue because they know a PAFiste or a customs agent; or when you go to la mairie and they tell you that you need to pay for your birth certificate; or when you have to buy presents for nurses and doctors of a CHU if you want them to take care of a patient (actually do their job), etc. Would you also suggest to privatise these public services, or is the problem somewhere else?

    I don’t think at all that Algeria is in a transition economy, or rather, I think this stage will probably last for too long to be considered a transition.

    Regarding the IMF and the World Bank, I suggest an interesting book, “The end of poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs, which tells how these institutions’ rules encourage the status quo in the non-developed countries. They, I believe, want corruption to be kept as an optimal level (as you said, and not minimum level as one would think).

    • The kind of corruption you refer to is a symptom not the root of the problem. That is why I didn’t focus on it.

      But now that you mention it, why shouldn’t the ordinary citizen claim his or her part of the cake when everyone is at it?

      This is the question. Why refuse bribes when everyone is doing it, what right does a corrupt government have to punish corrupt citizens?

      PS: please bear in mind that moralizing will not be effective here, only a very few would be responsive to it.

  3. Oh why did you add the PS?!! I had an easy answer ready for you where I’d explain how this is bad and all.
    Seriously, you are right, those who would be responsive to a moralizing message do already avoid corruption and many other wrong doings, and they’re quite a minority.

    I think that the theories and tools managers use in their companies with their employees are relevant to countries as well. One cannot expect el ghachi to become positively active alone. They need leaders (any and at any level) who would show them a vision of where they wanna take them (where and what they wanna be in x years), set objectives, convince the people about these vision and objectives (basically by telling them what they would win), define steps and functioning rules to reach the objectives. Once you have a population who adheres to a vision and decides to work to reach the objective (because it will improve their life for e.g.) then be sure they’ll work hard to meet them and follow the rules (in majority at least).

    It will be only when el ghachi know where and why their leaders want to take them, and believe in them that they’ll stop thinking “yakhi rezq eddoula so I can break it” or “why refuse the bribes when everyone accept is doing it”.

    • This is all very well and good, but why should this leader be the government or any of its representatives?

      I started by the hypothesis that government is inherently a corrupt entity, it is the nature of government to be corrupt.

      Hence the acknowledgement that corruption cannot even be kept at a minimum level, the best we could hope for is an optimal level. This is because bureaucracy breeds corruption. There is no getting away from this fact.

      The real cause of all this is modern governance systems. In your post about biometric passports, you reproduced an article about the dangers of these devices for the privacy and freedom of citizens.

      But the real danger is modern governments – they are doomed to grow and grow into Big Brothers. They don’t have the choice, it’s inherent. Orwell has predicted it; he wasn’t the only one to have done so, but he did it in a clear to grasp way.

      Government is the elephant in the room. But what would be the alternative?

  4. I didn’t say the leader must be the government, I was thinking broader than that.

    My dear MnarviDZ, yes but I was saying that there’s nothing broader than government. And you will realize this once you get your biometric ID card.

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