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THERE are many stories that elaborate the concept of corruption, and how it descends from the highest rank to the lowest of people’s rights. However, the most elaborative story about corruption is the story of a beggar and a foreign tourist.
The beggar used to sit by one of the doors of the National Museum in an Arab country. One day when the tourist passed by, the beggar said to the tourist, “For Allah.”
The tourist asked, “What?”
The beggar answered, “For Allah.”
The tourist again asked, “What?”
When the rich tourist did not understand what the beggar wanted, he left him and walked away on the road after taking a picture of the beggar for memory.
When the tourist went back to his country, he called an Arab friend who works in a European university and asked him, “What does the word “For Allah” mean?”
The friend explained that it is often used by beggars to ask for money to eat.
The tourist’s heart melted, and through the embassy of the country of the beggar, he sent $100,000 in a bag, along with the picture he took of the beggar, and information about the site where he met him!
When the bag reached the ambassador, he said to himself, “One hundred thousand dollars is a lot for a beggar… $50,000 is sufficient for him.”
He then sent the bag to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and as soon as the minister knew about the money, he thought, “20,000 dollars is enough for a beggar.”
He sent that amount to the governor, who in turn felt it was a large amount for this poor person, and that five thousand dollars is enough for him. He then sent the money to the director of the police department in the area.
The director decided that $500 is enough for the beggar, and then he sent that money to the officer in charge to deliver the amount to the beggar. The officer deducted $480 from the amount, thinking $20 is enough for the beggar. He called a police officer and told him, “Take this amount to the beggar at one of the museums. This is his picture.”
The police officer went to the beggar and asked him, “Do you remember the tourist who photographed you”?
The beggar replied, “Yes, I remember him.”
The police officer said, “He tells you that Allah is generous to you.”
This story tells us about corruption when it starts from the top to the bottom. No country has been able to fight it, let alone the fact that integrity is not the main feature of officials, especially their seniors, who should set an example for the rest of the employees, and adhere to the laws that must apply to seniors before juniors.
Nonetheless, some countries have been able to combat it with rigor and determination, and instill the character of adherence to the law.
When Lee Kuan Yew came to power in Singapore in 1965, he confronted many challenges during his rule. The people were poor and backward, and the government thrived on administrative, financial and moral corruption in a country full of bribery and plundering of public money, in addition to ethnic-related conflicts.
The man did not give up. He started enacting laws and put a block to the administrative and financial corruption of his government and people. He was not only able to bring about an economic renaissance, but he also made his country one of the most important countries in the world.
He worked on the principle that there is no economic renaissance except in the investment and rehabilitation of the individual himself. His government developed modern scientific curricula, and focused on building the teachers because the latter is the basic basis for building future generations.
Perhaps the Singaporean model was like many Arab countries today before its renaissance, as corruption pervaded its institutions, and no one was able to confront it. In fact, officials encourage it, considering it a lifeline for them, in accordance with the principle – “When corruption becomes a social habit, it becomes difficult to hold anyone accountable.”
This rule was contradicted by the bold decisions of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and the supervision and implementation by his Crown Prince, Prince Muhammad bin Salman. They decided to pull out corruption from its roots by not focusing on just the junior officials, but rather holding princes, officials and influential people accountable.
This determined move rendered the government to get back about two hundred billion dollars between liquid funds and in-kind assets, and the annual budget was reset after about ten percent was deducted from it for the influential.
Corruption is not an insurmountable case if there are people who are determined to advance their country, and work to spread integrity as a general behavior among all. As for the sleeping countries, meaning the developing countries, this should turn into a state character.
This is what makes it increasingly mired in chaos and “wastas”, because when the institutions become worn out, and the administration operates on the principle of “Whoever saves them lives with his children,” corruption cannot be combated.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times