Corruption as an Indicator of a Failed State

In June, the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine published the 2013 Failed States Index, an annual report ranking a country’s stability based on twelve social, economic, and political indicators that range from violation of human rights and rule of law to poverty and severe economic decline. Somalia tops the list for the sixth straight year, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan trail close behind. Across all states – and particularly amongst the weakest – one of the clearest symptoms of failure is systemic corruption, the practice of officials siphoning public funds or charging exorbitant rates for public services such as access to healthcare and education. Corruption is a sign that public officials have abandoned the rule of law, and indicates illegitimacy and instability within the entire governing system.

The Fund for Peace states that a failed state possesses the “loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.” States fail when they are perceived as illegitimate or cannot deliver essential services to citizens, and corruption thrives in failed states, where elites or government officials seize control of public funds and withhold benefits from the public or demand bribes in order for citizens to receive benefits. In failed states, the government lacks the legitimacy, infrastructure, or will to prevent seizure of these funds, and state employees, with irregular or inadequate salaries, turn to bribery in order to supplement their income. Corruption is endemic in many of the countries in the index. According to a survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in Afghanistan, which ranks 7th in the Failed States Index, half of all citizens paid a bribe in securing a public service in 2012. In the case of Nigeria, the worst offender in terms of deterioration of public services, up to $530 million (US dollars) each year is diverted from public funds in order to pay “ghost workers,” people who place their names on the government payroll to receive salaries without actually working.

In failed states, corruption further drives the perception of government illegitimacy, forcing the state into a vicious cycle of instability. The Corruption Perceptions Index, published by Transparency International, measures a country’s perceived levels of public sector corruption. The Fund for Peace noted “a strong correlation between Transparency International’s perception of corruption scores and a state’s instability.” In the 2013 Failed States Index, eight of the ten weakest countries appear among the recent Corruption Perceptions Index’s bottom ten ranking of countries perceived as most corrupt.

Corruption in “weak” states most affects women and the poor. Paying bribes to obtain public services such as health and education places further economic stresses on poorer families, and often they have no other option than to pay these bribes. Additionally, with little transparency or regulation, corruption is not limited to government officials. A 2008 Transparency International report concluded, “Being outside the law allows informal providers to charge above public utility rates for water access… In Jakarta, Lima, Manila and Nairobi, the poor pay five to ten times more for water than their wealthy counterparts.” Although corruption may exist as a way of life for citizens in failed states, the practice threatens the path towards a legitimate government, and is not a viable long-term option for economic prosperity and a stable society.

The ongoing process of fighting corruption and increasing transparency involves working with governments and engaging with local civil society. PTF has worked on projects in “weak” states including Uganda, Cameroon, the Philippines, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Through funding grassroots projects, PTF has helped citizens expose corruption and receive deserved government benefits. One of the keys to improving a country’s foundations is reducing corruption and strengthening local civil society organizations that implement anti-corruption campaigns.