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Opinions of Saturday, 2 September 2017

Columnist: Reynolds Agyapong Antwi

The next corruption scandal may involve you, here's why

"The only difference between most of the people that are in a scandal and the rest of us is timing and getting caught" - T. D. Jakes

A couple of days ago, I chanced upon an interview granted by George R R Martin; the writer of the much acclaimed Game of Thrones series. Speaking of his characters, he said, "I like people who have both good and evil in them 'cause I think real people have both good and evil.

There are very few pure paladins in the world and there are very few totally evil people. We all have the capacity for heroism in us. We all have the capacity for selfishness and evil in us".

Perhaps what makes the Game of Thrones series so compelling is its unconventional approach to the concept of good and evil in works of fiction. Many of us, probably conditioned by the movie industry, see the struggle between good and evil as an antagonist vrs protagonist kind of contest where in the end, our favourite character, the good guy, eventually wins. In the real world however, the bad guy doesn't always start off as bad. I'm a strong believer in the power of 'nurture' from our environment as an essential component in shaping our character and attitude.

So let me ask, "Are you corrupt?" Take a moment to reflect on the question, but don't answer just yet.

Sometime ago, an African president was asked in an infamous interview, "Have you been offered a bribe before?" Seemingly caught off guard by the question, he retorted, "Erm, you mean as president"? As expected, his response generated a lot of commentary by people from all walks of life. In the spirit of free speech, many pundits attempted their own psychoanalysis of his response, as internet trolls supplied their comedic versions of the episode.

In hindsight though, wasn't that a legitimate question to ask? Are we always the people we consider ourselves to be, irrespective of our environment and the positions we occupy? Within each of us is the capacity for all the things we despise and accuse others of. Often the only explanation for our discontentment is that we have not attained the conditions that make us a part of the system. Do you ever assume the people who have your money stashed in foreign bank accounts have the same negative opinion about corruption as you do? It is said that where one stands on an issue depends on where they sit.

So you see, the answer to the question of whether you are corrupt or not is not that simple. No one is born corrupt (at least I haven't heard of any baby born with a 'brown envelope' in their hand). Corruption, like any other vice, is an acquired behaviour. It's not something people are, it's something people become.

I did a little study on many of those caught up in some of the worst corruption scandals, and trust me, they are not different from you and I at all. They are our moms, dads, uncles, church members... Infact, some were ardent anti-corruption activists themselves, until they had the sweet and intoxicating taste of power and wealth. Believe me when I say 'they are you and I'. So chances are your perceived pure, decent, bible-believing self has simply not met the enabling environment.

Now you understand why corruption cannot be solved by putting 'good' men and women in office? Because there's no such thing as an inherently good human being (the Bible even says so - and this makes sense otherwise we wouldn't have the level of canker in a nation where more than 95% of citizens claim to be religious). This explains why the philosophical foundation of democracy is law, for without law humans are bound to skulduggery and anarchy. Those wise men and women of old knew that each of us need systems to protect us from ourselves.

A nation is as corrupt as its systems, not its people. The best remedy against corruption therefore is a relevant system that ensure transparency of controls, and adequately punish those who flout laid down regulations. Without them, each of us is a potential corruption scandal waiting to happen.

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