Tackling Corruption through Culture

The Ukrainian culture of corruption is a heritage of the Soviet system in which bribes where used as a way to speed up long-term administrative processes or receive better products or services

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Economists typically focus on economic incentives to tackle corruption – markets liberalization, simplification of regulation, lustration or better salaries for government officials. However, culture and cultural activities might also matter.

Research of Fisman and Miguel (2007) has showed that in some cases culture can play an as important role preventing bad behavior. They analyzed parking violations of diplomats in New-York. As foreign diplomats have diplomatic immunity, they cannot be forced to pay for traffic violations, and hence only moral considerations will prevent them not to park in illegal place. They found that there is a negative relationship between the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and unpaid parking violations. For example, Sudanese diplomats have on average more than 100 unpaid parking violations and has the second lowest CPI in the world with a score 1.6 (out of maximum score 100 – no corruption). Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are among the countries that score the highest on the CPI and have on average no more than 3.6 unpaid violations, illustrating the good manners of these country’s diplomats.

One eloquent illustration of culture being used in the fight against corruption comes from Bogota, the capital of Columbia. In 1993, Bogota was the homicide capital of the world, with graft and corruption being widespread. Today Bogota has become one of the more law respecting cities in Latin America. A lot of changes started when Antanas Mockus became mayor in 1995. Mockus achieved success in reducing corruption by building a ‘citizenship culture’, mixing psychology with traditional economic incentives. For example, Mockus’s answer on traffic police being bribed was to substitute 3200 policeman by mimes, which were students from the theater school. To change the morality Bogota’s citizens, the street mimes made fun of peoples who violated traffic law – jaywalkers and reckless drivers. As a result, the percentage of law-abiding drivers increased from 26% to 75% over two months.

The Ukrainian culture of corruption is a heritage of the Soviet system in which bribes where used as a way to speed up long-term administrative processes or receive better products or services. Given the historical roots of the problem, changing the behavior will be hard. Rather than focusing solely on economic encouragement and sanctions, it might be a good idea to follow the example of Mayor Mockus, who took into account the cultural aspect of corruption. As Mayor Mockus understood, it is not either economic or cultural incentives, the best way, also for Ukraine is to combine economic and noneconomic incentives to combat corruption.

Therefore, I would like to propose some nonmonetary methods to tackle corruption in Ukraine, non-monetary mechanisms that are easy and cheap to implement, often more so than economic mechanisms.

  1. Following the example of Bogota, why not hire some mimes to perform in the parliament to ridicule politicians that are absent or do piano-voting?
  2. Why not popularize children tales/ TV programs that stimulate ethical behavior? Compare the behavior of Masha in “Masha I Medved” to the behavior of for example Peppa from the English series “Peppa Pig”: you will see that Peppa Pig is typically well behaved and has good manners, while Masha is always naughty. Another local example of wrong role models is the comedy series “Fizruk”, which is one of the most popular comedies among teenagers and young people currently. The main hero is a man with a criminal past in the Soviet economy of the early nineties, whose bad behavior is portrayed as a positive trait. Unfortunately, there are many such popular movies on TV, which promote immoral behavior and show that force and brutality is needed to be successful. Remnants of the Soviet economy thus continue to influence people’s minds and negatively affect their way of doing business and public administration, which lead to a high level of corruption.

Ukrainian artists thus have an important role to play in the fight against corruption  – rather than to confirm stereotypes, they might set themselves as a goal to write popular children tales, stories and TV shows that are both popular and ethical.

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Notes

1.Parents who want to change Ukraine should realize that if their children see their parents bribe the police offer, the doctor, the professor etc., they will see corruption as the natural tool to solve unpleasant problems and corruption will be transmitted from one generation to another. So by stopping being corrupt themselves they will create a better environment for their children.

2.Popularize the use of honor codes among Ukrainian students – using honor codes, which increase the shaming factor of the corruption in education, because, in the most cases, students learn not only new subjects at the educational institution, but also how to give bribes and how to not learn.

3.Fisman, R., and Miguel, E., 2007. “Corruption, norms, and legal enforcement: Evidence from diplomatic parking tickets.” Journal of Political Economy 115, 1020-1048.

4.Fisman, R. “Want to Make a Clean Break?” Editorial. Newsweek. Jan. 2009. http://www.newsweek.com/2009/01/16/want-to-make-a-clean-break.html.


Disclaimer

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations