Corruption done right

March.7. 2014

There’s an art to corruption and in this short essay, I’ll try to give a few basic pointers on how to do it right.

(I must add that these pointers are not drawn from actual experience, but rather from the perspective of one watching from a distance.)

First, create trust.

As in everything else, trust is an important factor in corruption – you must deliver on what you promise.

A number of years ago, I was talking to a timber tycoon in a country in Asia and he lamented on how amateurish the politicians were in his country.

He said, “Look at —–,” and he named a neighboring country, “those guys are pros. When you pay them, you know they will come through. But these guys here,” and he named his home country, “you pay them, and you still don’t know whether you’re going to get what you want.” And he sighed.

You have to sympathize with him. It must be hard doing business in a country where you can’t even trust your corrupt officials.

Second, you must walk a fine line between efficiency and inefficiency.

If you’re too efficient, there’s no incentive for anyone to pay you. Why should anyone pay you if they’re already getting what they want?

But if you’re too inefficient, you might get fired for not doing your job.

A few years ago, I heard about this guy who was extremely honest and tried his best to do his job well.

One day, his colleagues came to him and said, “What about us, James? You work so fast, there’s nothing left for us.”

This honest official did not know how to play the game and eventually he had to resign – there was too much hostility from his colleagues. Which was exactly what his colleagues wanted. Now, they could take their time with their work, and all that extra cash that came from impatient members of the public who needed their paperwork done in time.

Third, don’t do it too openly.

For example, if you’re a politician and you want this piece of premium land which unfortunately belongs to a private entity, don’t try to appropriate it too directly.

Instead, claim it for the public good. Build some public park there first, and when no one’s looking, you can slowly transfer it to yourself.

Because if you were to try to appropriate it from a private entity, you will meet with strong resistance, but if it’s already public land, it’s only one small step from there into your private portfolio.

Fourth, there’s no such thing as ‘enough’ in corruption. You can never have enough.

Remember, if you don’t grab it, someone else will, and if it’s going to go to someone, it might as well be you. And you never know when you might need all those billions on a rainy day.

Fifth, and this is the most important point, don’t be too greedy, don’t try to take it all. Mr. Marcos made that mistake in the Philippines. He grabbed everything for himself.

Here, you must take a lesson from all those famous Mr. Ten Percents who did corruption with so much finesse, they actually became much beloved in their respective countries and some even went down as the “Fathers” of their countries.

Ten percent is the sweet spot.

It’s not so much that your constituents will complain, and you’ll still get rich, very rich.

That’s what Mr. Marcos did not understand. He was Mr. 100 percent and he left the country in abysmal conditions, whereas his counterparts in other countries were smarter.

They were not seen to be taking it all. In fact, for them, the ten percent is an incentive for them to work harder for their countries. Because without their lavish projects, where would all their extra ‘bonuses’ come from?

This system works great. The country gets its ‘development,’ and they get a big fat check. Some people might call this kind of payoffs ‘kickbacks,’ but kickback is a dirty word. Let’s call them financial incentives for politicians to work harder for their beloved countries.

This is just a short essay and I’m sure I’ve overlooked some other salient points.

My hope, however, is that it will help young and upcoming corrupt politicians and officials to do corruption right — with style, finesse, and complete professionalism.

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