Basic Definitions of Corruption

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The lack of consensus on a common definition of corruption has led to the outpouring of several definitions. Researchers, academicians and institutions have offered to define corruption, though, many definitions crafted convey researchers believe constitute corruption at a given time and space.
Some scholars have defined corruption as a private wealth, power or status seeking behaviour by public servants that deviate from the formal rules of conduct governing their actions (Nye, 1967; Rose-Ackerman, 1978; Robert Klitgaard, 1988; Khan, 2004). Also, corruption has been defined as a behaviour and process in which the rule of law, economic and political system are violated (Mo, 2001).
In other instances, corruption has been defined as a transaction between private and public sector actors through which collective goods are illegitimately converted into private-regarding payoffs (See Heidenheimer et al. 1989:6). One of the most widely cited definitions of corruption is the one adopted and used by the World Bank, along with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and Transparency International that define corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain (See Sanchez, 2018. Pg.3; Transparency International, 2018).
These definitions evidently set out that corruption is an activity undertaken by those holding public office, which may imply that basically, the codes of conduct for public officials are well-defined along established separation between the public and private domains. Although these definitions seem to be broad enough to embrace many forms of corruption, defining corruption along this line is quite limited.
The scope of corruption is confined to public office, yet, evidently, corruption also occurs in private sector as well i.e between actors from private sector without necessarily involvement of public officials. Another contention with these definitions is that corruption is defined as being driven by private gains and ignores the fact that quite often, the gains from corruption transcend an individual interest to benefit a company, an organisation such as a political party or a large community; a family, clan, tribe (See Tanzi, 1998. Pg. 8).
Furthermore, the term “abuse” in the definitions of corruption is too broad and can include misconducts such as embezzlement, bribery etc which may not be universally understood as corruption. What may be considered as corruption under one legal setting can be a legitimate practice under another, even if it is harmful to public interests, this is due to differences in legislations across countries (Gardiner, 2007).

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