Posted: February 6, 2016. 4:45 p. m. CST.
By BMG Staff: Year after year, Denmark is ranked among the least corrupt countries in the world. This year is no different. Transparency International has once again ranked Denmark as the world’s least corrupt country over the last year. In contrast, Belize is absent from the list yet again, though of course, only because of a lack of sufficient data from independent sources, however, corruption is clearly rampant in various sectors across the country.
Corruption is broadly defined as abusively exploiting entrusted power/funds for personal gain. It is bribery, illegal payments and facilitation payments. Corruption violates everyone whose life, daily activities and happiness depends on the integrity of authorities and public officials. It threatens stability and safety and undermines democratic institutions and values, and still corruption is widespread across the world.
But how does Denmark continue to top the list as one of the most anti-corrupt countries in the world? Is it that the Danes and the Europeans are better people than those in the Caribbean and Latin America? Of course not, but Denmark, and other countries that rank well on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) have certain systems in place that minimizes citizens’ need to be corrupt.
The Ambassador of Denmark to Hungary explained in a public address some time ago that Danes have a very high degree of trust in other people and in the system. “This trust is strengthening and supporting our entire integrity system,” he said.
Over the years Denmark has developed a welfare system – the so-called ‘Danish Model’ – which is an important part of the Danish integrity system. Fair working conditions, social security, health arrangements, decent salaries and pension schemes are among the things that contribute to giving the Danes reasonable living conditions.
The fact that it is possible to live on one’s salary, that people are protected if they get sick and likewise if they are fired makes it easier to refrain from corruption.
In Denmark there is a high tax burden that contributes to maintaining the welfare state. This means that Danes do not have to pay for their children to go to primary school or high school and they do not save for years to put their children through university. They do not need insurance to go to the hospital, get medication or see a doctor, and if they lose their job, relatively generous unemployment benefits are supplied by a combination of insurance and public funds. The elderly do not need insurance and do not have to pay out of their pocket to get necessary help with cleaning or personal assistance, and most of the costs associated with day care for children are also tax-financed.
In other words one does not have to put money aside for bad times, as citizens are provided for.
The high pressure of taxation in Denmark also contributes to the unwillingness to pay even more, for instance, for social benefits than has already been paid. Danes expect a fair treatment without paying extra.
In Denmark there is a very inclusive political culture as well, and both public and private institutions are highly transparent, which makes it easier to hold politicians and companies responsible for irregularities. The media also has a very defining role in the Danish integrity system and is sometimes referred to as the fourth power of the state, which has the role of watching over the other three, making sure they behave.
Another contributor to the low level of corruption is the intensified focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that Denmark has experienced recently. To have an anti-corruption strategy as a part of the company’s CSR strategy is important as it functions as a trade mark for companies.
In recent years Danes have had a more political focus when shopping – the social responsibility of the producers of the products they buy is important to many Danish consumers. Good business behavior is expected and it is a social responsibility that is expected by the consumer. In order to remain competitive in Denmark, businesses must adhere to this.
Danish companies are to a large extent export oriented. And the Danish export companies are to a still larger degree operating in markets where corruption is more widespread than in our traditional export markets. In these “new” markets the companies, and their employees, are increasingly facing situations where they are pressed to either receive or give bribes.
It is important for the business community to maintain good business practices in a society that wishes to fight corruption.
Although Denmark has continuously ranked atop the anti-corruption lists, other countries like New Zealand, Finland and Sweden have also been constant top five countries on the CPI. These countries are not perfect but they have managed to contain corruption.
Beside law enforcement, there is a broad consensus that fighting corruption involves public participation and transparency mechanisms such as disclosures of information.
Findings from country studies for Finland, Denmark and Sweden indicate that this “integrity system” functions relatively well in those countries.
But what makes their “national integrity systems” more effective?
Beside a strong commitment to anti-corruption by political leaders, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and to a certain extent New Zealand all share a common set of characteristics that are typically correlated with lower levels of corruption.
Recent studies show that freedom of the press is positively correlated with control of corruption in well established democracies. Finland, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand all have high GDP per capita, low inequality rates, literacy rates close to 100 percent, and prioritize human right issues (e.g. gender equality, freedom of information). These countries all perform well in government openness and effectiveness.
This, however, does not fully explain the good performance in fighting corruption. A hundred years ago, before their transition to good governance, Denmark and Sweden were not the darlings of the anti-corruption world. For example, the Swedish principle of public access to official documents is one of the oldest established in the world, dating back to 1766.
Well performing countries typically have a long tradition of government openness, civic activism and social trust, with strong transparency and accountability mechanisms in place allowing citizens to monitor their politicians and hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.
So what works?
Can Belize do it?
The good news is that most countries, including Belize, can copy the transparency/accountability route to good governance. A recent study looking at the Finnish case concludes that, contrary to the Singapore’s top down approach to anti-corruption, which is economically unsustainable for most countries, this bottom-up model based on public trust, transparency and social capital is affordable, transferable and adaptable to very different political contexts.
It is important, however, to point out that these countries still face challenges like protective legislation for whistle-blowers, corruption risk in public procurement, and effective political party financing regulations.
Belize, meanwhile, could adopt many of the mechanisms that have proven to be effective in the fight against corruption. To be fair, Belize has many laws and oversight bodies, on paper at least, that would do much to combat corruption. The problem, however, is that the politicians who have occupied Belmopan since Independence have never had much incentive to enforce those laws.
The Integrity Commission, established by the Prevention of Corruption Act 2007, has the responsibility of ensuring that politicians and public officials make yearly declarations of finances for themselves and their family, before, during and after serving in the capacity of any public office. This body has never functioned effectively in Belize and currently there is no Integrity Commission.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is another body that would allow the Belizean people to investigate exactly how government is using public funds but because the government controls the majority in this body, and because enough pressure hasn’t been put on re-constituting PAC, the status quo remains unchallenged.
The Senate should also be one of the most powerful oversight bodies, but because the Executive decides who occupies the Senate, the Legislative branch is effectively just an extension of the Executive branch. This is why the Prime Minister has decided against installing the 13th senator, even he was the one to advocate for the inclusion of the 13th senator. Given the track-record of both parties, though, it seems unlikely that the current opposition would be in a rush to install the 13th senator if the shoes were on the other feet.
With public resources and tax dollars being properly and effectively used, development in various industries can begin, money can be invested in overhauling and fixing the education system, students can be trained in relevant courses, more capital projects and infrastructural works can be done etc.
The Belizean people need to be the ones to rise up and demand accountability and transparency. When public officers want salary increases they threaten strike and the government of the day is forced to listen because there is power in numbers. This is the kind of approach Belizeans need to take if they are serious about keeping politicians honest because they are wasting public funds on private gain, while the people who should benefit from the countries resources are busy paying attention to everything but the real issue at hand.
Wake up Belize, why can’t we be more like Denmark?
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