Measure of Corruption

Here’s the list of the most corrupt leaders in the last two decades according to the Transparency International Report 2004 :

Name Position Funds embezzled2
1. Mohamed Suharto President of Indonesia (1967–1998) $15–35 billion
2. Ferdinand Marcos President of the Philippines (1972–1986) 5–10 billion
3. Mobutu Sese Seko President of Zaire (1965–1997) 5 billion
4. Sani Abacha President of Nigeria (1993–1998) 2–5 billion
5. Slobodan Milosevic President of Serbia/Yugoslavia (1989–2000) 1 billion
6. Jean-Claude Duvalier President of Haiti (1971–1986) 300–800 million
7. Alberto Fujimori President of Peru (1990–2000) 600 million
8. Pavlo Lazarenko Prime Minister of Ukraine (1996–1997) 114–200 million
9. Arnoldo Alemán President of Nicaragua (1997–2002) 100 million
10. Joseph Estrada President of the Philippines (1998–2001) 78–80 million

1. Defined as former political leaders who have been accused of embezzling the most funds from their countries over the past two decades.

2. All sums are estimates of alleged embezzlement and appear in U.S. dollars.

Source: Transparency International Global Corruption Report 2004.

One couldn’t help notice that the infamous names are all from developing countries, with the Philippines gaining the dubious distinction of having to deal with two of the notorious names in the list. The funds embezzeled by these corrupt leaders are estimates but one wonders whether these national leaders are the ultimate villains in the game since one of the longest reigning tyrant dictators in the last two decades, Sadam Hussein of Iraq, whether by design or inadvertence had been ommitted from the list. The list also omits rulers of oil rich sheikdoms who had been stashing away cash largely from the windfall of the black gold lying underneath their desert kingdoms.

Perhaps a filthy rich ruler with relatively well fed citizens appear to enjoy more tolerance from their people than those with famished ones, like most of the names in the list, who were forcibly booted out of office by their people. I am also questioning the conscience of the world’s policeman whose actions towards oppressive and corrupt dictators are predicated on how they play on their interests rather than how these tyrants toy with people’s lives, dignity and aspirations for their personal enrichment.



Transparency International , an international agency on a mission to fight global corruption  defines corruption as follows :

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

Here’s the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2006  and  a snapshot of the 10 most corrupt countries. 

Corruption isn’t the monopoly of people in government. In countries with high incidence of curruption, it is pervasive through out society – private sector, schools and even non-profit organizations. What strikes me as the most tragic is judicial corruption. I happen to think that a country with a corrupt judicial system is destined for doomsday for if  the institution that we expect to defend our rights and preserve the rule of law can be manipulated, then where can else we seek justice ? The destruction of the justice system in a country means that the law of the jungle will reign supreme, that the strongest and the powerful will have the ultimate determination of the order of things in society.

Is it a coincidence that almost all of the above leaders were forcibly ousted by their own people because the country’s justice system wasn’t able to prosecute them for their crimes ? And even when they were removed and exiled, were their respective governments able to prosecute them to the letter ? Perhaps not, for in the cycle of corruption, they needed to be removed so others can take their place.

On former President Suharto of Indonesia : 

Economic instability and popular discontent with his rule forced Suharto’s resignation in 1998, and subsequently a government corruption investigation was instituted, and Suharto was placed under house arrest in 2000 and later charged with corruption. The charges were dismissed, however, for health reasons.

Can we say EXACTLY the same thing happened to Joseph Estrada – pardoned for health reasons ?  Perhaps for the government that recently “shockingly” pardoned Estrada,  it was a lame attempt to seek sympathy from the opposition so they can stop their sleuthing into the corrupt affairs of the administration. Or perhaps it was a case of self guilt, that you can’t talk about hanging a person for a crime you are equally guilty of.  Whatever the reasons are,  I can almost feel down to my gut that the events unfolding in front of our eyes right now is a case of deja vu, that the changing of the guards is just a reprieve, a changing of the bandages, a dose of pain killers, meanwhile the cancer is thriving and eating up the healthy cells.

An organization like Transparency International is to be lauded for its efforts in attempting to curb corruption not only in the field of being watchdogs but in the area of educating and inculcating integrity in people, especially the youth.  It is gratifying to hear words such as ” anti-corruption handbook” and  ” the  corruption fighter’s toolkit”.  We can only look with hope and optimism that this organization makes headway in its mission and that people they reach out to can muster enough will to change for the better.


34 Responses

  1. Oh no… two Filipinos in the top ten. Is it going to be three soon?

  2. Gosh, I’m happy with $1Million 🙂

  3. The Marcos kids are slowly creeping up the power ladder, and Erap’s sons are well entrenched in the senate and in the municipality of San Juan. I tell you, the people in these islands — particularly the masses — have very very short memories. In fact, they can already qualify as amnesiacs.

  4. What can you do with $15–35 billion ???

  5. Marcos would have gotten a pass and obtained a more sympathetic place in Philippine History if he had stuck to the pronounced ideals of his so called “New Society”. However, what he did was replace the old set of oligarchs with new ones that were loyal to him.

    I agree with Snglguy. The Filipino masses do have a very short memory. I dread the day when the Marcos kids or one of their children find their way back to the halls of Malacanang.

  6. I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced of Transparency International. The most it can do is tell us what we already know. Even the listing is nice to know, but it does very little to instigate change in people or governments. Also not an anti-corruption handbook. And not a corruption fighter’s toolkit. All these sound so Justice League to me. 🙂

    We cannot simply rely on yet another international organization to compel us to stand up for social change. We have existing institutions in Philippine society, weak though they maybe today, that should (and i hate sounding preachy about this) enlighten the next generation of Pinoys on the evils of corruption. This is, of course, better said than done.

  7. Toe – ouch, adding another one would be a real downer 😦

  8. Irrealis – me too 🙂

  9. Snglguy – I just grit my teeth in anger when I see these things happening believe me 😦

  10. Ang galing naman ng Pinas … we are represented twice (soon to be thrice?) in the infamous list.

  11. Panaderos – makes you wonder that our general perception of what is happening is far from reality 😦

  12. Barry – you are right. In the end it is the country’s responsibility to end its own misery.

    There are however things that can be done on an international level and pressure governments to react this is what Transparency International is all about. It does work with the UN in many projects like the Anti-Bribery Convention and the UN Convention Against Corruption. Much like Greenpeace, some people think they’re crap but that’s just the way of the world. Methinks if they can do 1% of what they intend to do, their existence is justified.

  13. Sidney – you bet. They say it takes 32 years to count 1 billion – without sleeping at that duh. – way too much money pal 🙂

  14. Annamanila – LOL 🙂 Well, it took some twenty years to oust Marcos and 3 years with Erap – that was a pretty big improvement 🙂

  15. looking at the list would tell us why we are not going forward. hands down sila sa Pinoy, 2 . 🙂

  16. a third world country with biggest malls and most corrupt leaders tsk tsk

    suharto was also able to escape prosecution like Marcos. Erap underwent trial and found guilty but pardoned. no sense of justice!

  17. did you know that when I attended the money laundering seminar, the faces of these two men are part of the slide presentation. Grrrrrrrrr.

    I thought the lecturer is biased on Pinoys so I asked him personally if he did it with malice. He told me, sorry Mr…., no malice intended but this the truth. To prove to me that what he is doing is “trabaho lang”, he gave me the clippings and the this web site.

    The irony or perhaps the worst thing about this is that the seal of the president of the republic of the philippines is clearly shown on the right side of both macoy and erap’s pictures. Kumulo ang dugo ko ng wala sa oras…. ha ha ha

  18. Ipanema – on one hand credit goes to the Pinoy for booting out corrupt dictators without bloodshed but another one in the list would be tragic 😦

  19. Tutubi – ironic isn’t it ? I think we have tremedous skills as a people but the way we manage the country is like the way we drive – to each his own, no right of way 🙂

  20. MyePinoy – it’s too bad that their legacy causes their countrymen supreme embarrassment 😦

    I know of U.S. financial institutions that paid the Feds heavy fines up to $500M due to irregularities in trading practices. The fine was one thing but a drastric reorganization and revamp of procedures and practices was part of the deal. After the ENRON debacle the Feds have authored stringent compliance rules on the corporations especially on trading practices and the way they use information technology to manage their businesses.

    My point here is governments have to step in and regulate the private sector. But if the government can’t even regulate itself, then who will lead the way?

  21. I found this quote by Lord Acton quite apt: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    I don’t like the word “embezzle”. They should just call it “stealing.” There’s pickpockets who steal your wallet and then there’s real thieves like these guys on the list.

  22. I hereby congratulate the Philippines for having garnered two spot in this top ten list. Way to go! 🙂 It’ll gonna increase to three soon, I guess.

  23. Wil – that quote is spot on. That is what happened to the regimes of the dictators on the list 😦

    You mean embezzle looks mild ? We can use loot, misappropriate, plunder, misuse but I think steal is heavier and more straight to the point 🙂

  24. Major Tom – I hope it is not going to be three 🙂

    If it is any consolation, Gloria might be impeached or step down but I don’t think she would have stolen enough money to be included in the rouge’s gallery – we hope 🙂

  25. “What strikes me as the most tragic is judicial corruption. I happen to think that a country with a corrupt judicial system is destined for doomsday for if the institution that we expect to defend our rights and preserve the rule of law can be manipulated, then where can else we seek justice ?”

    A harrowing thought, indeed, BW.

  26. It is gratifying to hear words such as ” anti-corruption handbook” and ” the corruption fighter’s toolkit….

    – I can’t believe there’s such a thing. LOL.

  27. Senor Enrique – it is harrowing to think that if high profile, controversial cases aren’t dealt with expediently and resolutely by our justice system, how can the ordinary citizen trust the system?

    Moreover, when I think that past administrations had been toying with Phil constitution one may ask the question – what the heck are these guys trying to do ?

    I think that the change for a 6 year, single tenure for the president is a reflection of what lawmakers precisely want the president to do – a license to plunder and say aloha 👿 Is there an incentive for the president to perform when he knows he isn’t going for a re-election? 😯

  28. Jeff – These are things we thought shouldn’t have to be written in the first place but believe it or not, it does exist 🙂

  29. where did all the money go?

  30. Estrada believe it or not was mysteriously able to withdraw the 3 billion from the infamous Jose Velarde account.

    Marco’s ill gotten wealth is difficult to sequester and largely because of the stringent privacy laws of Swiss banks which impeded the recovery attempts. The way the funds were invested in other people’s names also made recovery extremely difficult.

  31. That study was completed in 2004. If they do another one now, maybe we’ll have three Filipinos in the list already. How infamous!

  32. Abaniko – sadly, no one really knows the true monetary impact of corruption in the government. We have come to accept that it can never be curbed an can only react with indignation to those high profile ones that we see on the news headlines 😦

  33. Actually, make that 2 million. Life is tough these days. 😉

  34. Irrealis – why the change of mind ? OK, make it 2 million then 🙂

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