Corruption & Development

A couple of weeks ago, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, was attending an event to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. In a group including the Queen herself, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Commons Speaker John Bercow, Cameron said “We had a very successful Cabinet meeting this morning to talk about our anti-corruption summit. We’ve got the Nigerians… actually we’ve got the leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain. Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” The Archbishop tried to diffuse things by stating that the current Nigerian President, Mr Muhammadu Buhari, was not corrupt himself. Indeed Mr Buhari has declared war on corruption in Nigeria, saying that “If Nigeria doesn’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”. Downing Street has since insisted that Mr Buhari had previously acknowledged that corruption became “way of life” in Nigeria under “supposedly accountable democratic governments”.

It is hard to deny however that Nigeria has a reputation for corruption although this statement may seem rather a generalization. At what level does this corruption occur? At government level only or permeating every level of society? On what does Cameron base his statement? Well, there is actually a ‘league table’ for corruption for countries. It is produced by an organization called Transparency International (TI). TI was set up in 1993 by a number of individuals who shared a vision: a world in which government, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption. It now has bases in over 100 countries and works with partners in government, business and civil society to put effective measures in place to tackle corruption. IT is independent, non-partisan and no donor has any input to its policies. In short, Transparency International wishes to make the world a better place by addressing corruption that spoils societies and relationships, exploits individuals and wastes resources. According to TI, over 6 billion people live in countries with serious corruption problems.

What is meant by ‘corruption’?

At its basic level it is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, usually with a financial element. It can be classified as grand, petty or political, depending upon the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs. This is all much less likely to happen where there is transparency and accountability. Hence, why having a free press (absent in many countries) is a key factor in challenging corruption i.e. if the media is controlled by the government, then a significant voice of protest has been silenced.


TI, amongst its many activities, maintains a profile of states in relation to corruption. Nigeria is currently ranked 136 out of 168 countries. Afghanistan is ranked 166. This Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys from a variety of independent and reputable institutions. Nigeria is also ranked low in terms of its freedom of the press, accountability and rule of law. So it would appear that Cameron has some grounds for his opinion, even though it was perhaps not advisable to voice this in public especially when he was about to host an international corruption conference in London at which Mr Buhari would be present.

Incidentally, Ireland is ranked 18 out of 168 and the United Kingdom is at 10. So you could say that we come out relatively well. And who is No. 1? You can probably make a good guess. Scandinavian countries always seem to do well in these things. Denmark is 1, Finland is 2, Sweden is 3 and Norway is 5. What is it about those countries that they seem to do certain things very well and offer people a good standard of living and quality of life? I really recommend that you pay a visit to the Transparency International website and delve into the facts, figures and perceptions around the various countries. It is really fascinating and, interestingly, having a relatively high ranking in the CPI does not save a government from the critical eye of its own citizens e.g. 67% of Irish people believe that corruption increased in the country between 2007 to 2010.


So how is this relevant to the work of Irish Methodist World Development & Relief? Corruption corrodes the fabric of society. It costs people their freedom, health, money and sometimes their lives. In short, corruption can cause poverty and injustice and also prevent people escaping from poverty and injustice. The context for WDR’s work is sometimes regimes that have low ranking in the Corruption Perception Index. The cynic may ask how WDR can operate in such regions. In fact Transparency International’s website offers plenty of ammunition for those who wish to avoid supporting development work by crowing “Sure they’re all corrupt”. However, most of us will agree that an entire society cannot be corrupt. It is individuals who are corrupt and alongside them live individuals who are not.

Zimbabwe is ranked 150 out of 168 in the CPI; even worse than Nigeria and yet WDR has work in Zimbabwe. WDR works there with an organization called Dabane Water Workshops. This is a local NGO (non-governmental organization). WDR considers that it is partnering with the people in Dabane, not the organization itself. This means we are really partnering with Stephen Hussey, Joyce Dube , Doug Nleya and many other staff members; people with whom we have a history and know we can trust. Again, it is WDR’s relational approach to development that helps us avid many of the pitfalls of development eforts.


Corruption exists in all the countries in which WDR is active because corruption exists in all countries. We avoid its potential effects by forming relationships with trustworthy people in local NGOs whilst acknowledging there is corruption around us. By partnering with good people all donations can be maximized. WDR will continue to work with such organisations at grassroots level. They and the beneficiaries they work alongside, prove again and again that they make good use of their resources and honour their vision of a fairer world.


That was a bit of bad luck for David Cameron to be heard at the birthday event. He may seem to be fuelling some people’s doubt over whether it is wise to support development work in certain countries. However, in agreeing with him that some countries do seem to be more corrupt than others, that should not be an excuse to not support development work through those individuals who are not corrupt. We can all too easily excuse ourselves from showing compassion to and solidarity with the marginalised by latching on to a simplistic view of nations or people. But we do not live in a world of absolutes. Let us be grateful that there are many individuals and organisations that have integrity. Let us continue to seek them out and stand alongside them because it is the right thing to do.

Visit Transparency International at


Tim Dunwoody