A Cancer Called Corruption

British Prime Minister David Cameron listens to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on May 12, 2016, at Lancaster House in London, U.K., at the outset of the first plenary session of an anti-corruption summit meeting hosted by the British leader. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
British Prime Minister David Cameron listens to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on May 12, 2016, at Lancaster House in London, U.K., at the outset of the first plenary session of an anti-corruption summit meeting hosted by the British leader. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Its genesis is humble. A cancer cell in its infant stage will not show symptoms. Over time, they divide and multiply, growing exponentially at a rapid rate. They then begin to spread into every millimeter of your body. Carcinogenic elements of society form the same way.

When I was a teenager, I used to pass by a shabby 6-story hotel that was down the street from the Catholic high school I attended. Next to this hotel were a burger stand and a karaoke bar. On any given night, you could find blue-collar men drinking and singing in that small bar. Sitting next to the patrons were young women—the youngest ones looked to be only 18 years old or possibly younger—wearing mini skirts and tight blouses. Every few minutes, the “hostess” would pour beer into their customer’s glass whilst trying their best to laugh at their unfunny jokes.
An hour or so into the playful push-pull socializing, the man would whisper something into the girl’s ear. She would then glance across the room to an old lady, who looked like a motherly innkeeper. That woman was no sweater-knitting granny. She acted as a supervisor to these young hookers. In some instances, she might even be the pimp herself who runs the whole operation.

The management at the hotel, the karaoke bar, and even the tiny burger stand sandwiched between them, were all part of this cash cow complex. How can half a block in the middle of a busy city center operate something like this? The short answer: crooked officials.

They get a piece of the action, whether in monetary terms or by receiving free services, and sometimes both. That’s the nature of corruption. It starts out as a small isolated racket and then it grows to become an entire system. Money feeds corruption, but the dynamics is more complex than that. Money and power is a twin-valve engine of the machinery.

In 2008, corruption came into full view when the meltdown on Wall Street highlighted the connections between the banking system and Washington politics. While particular figures and companies were singled out in the media, such a micro view of the full picture made it difficult to comprehend the scope of it. The issue is beyond any individual and organization—the network itself is a tumor.

In places like the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan and Russia, a lot of journalists are being silenced by the powerful few who don’t believe that the public has the right to be informed about policies and practices that affect them. If freedom of the press itself is under attack, then what chance do the voiceless have against large conglomerates?

Cancer has a treatment. It’s not totally effective and risks are still there, but it’s available. Likewise, corruption can be fought. In this era of social media, anyone who cares about freedom and democracy ought to be more proactive in speaking out against corrupt practices. Activism can only go so far though. Beyond the words, there needs to be more participation in local government and on a national level.

The prescription for battling corruption is as simple as asking the right questions and never letting others silence you. In fact, you can start with a simple question: “How can we change this?”

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