Plenty of good reasons for public’s failing trust in governments

The SNC-Lavalin scandal has more than a waft of corruption, the first such stench emanating from Ottawa … or Queen’s Park … or points closer to home, where the stakes might be lower but the judgment and competence of those in charge are no less suspect. Corruption is the stock in trade of all govern

Last updated on May 03, 23

Posted on Feb 21, 19

4 min read

The SNC-Lavalin scandal has more than a waft of corruption, the first such stench emanating from Ottawa … or Queen’s Park … or points closer to home, where the stakes might be lower but the judgment and competence of those in charge are no less suspect.

Corruption is the stock in trade of all governments, some more than others, of course. Whether it’s something as commonplace as finding a job for family and friends – in that vein, Doug Ford’s penchant for doling out plums to loyalists is the latest in a long history of finding soft landings for failed candidates, hacks and bagmen – or outright bribery and embezzlement, one doesn’t have to dig deep to see corruption in action.

Canada fares better than most in reviews of political and corporate criminality/corruption, as noted in reports by the likes of Transparency International. Its Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 ranks Canada ninth of 180 with a score of 81.

The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. More than two-thirds of countries score below 50 on the most recent index, with an average score of just 43.

The organization’s work reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world. While there are exceptions, the data shows that despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption.

Canada is ninth, wedged in between the Netherlands at eighth with 82 points and Luxembourg, which was tied with 81 points. Canada’s points total is down by one from 2017 and two since the 2015 rankings. The rest of the top ten is led by Denmark (88), New Zealand (87), Finland  (85), Singapore (85), Sweden (85), Switzerland (85) and Norway (84).

Since 2006, 113 countries have seen a decline in their democracy scores. That includes the United States, particularly under the current resident of the White House. With a score of 71, the United States lost four points since 2017, dropping out of the top 20 countries on the corruption index for the first time since 2011, making the most recent list at 22nd. The low score comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.

Down at the bottom of the list are North Korea (14), Yemen (14), South Sudan (13), Syria (13) and Somalia, rounding things out at 180th with a score of 10.

We don’t see the kind of outright bribery that greases the wheels in other parts of the world – the cash slipped to bureaucrats to move the paperwork to the top of the pile, the cop who pulls you over just to shake you down – as corruption is much less overt here. That’s not to say money doesn’t change hand in small quantities, but on the whole the corruption is more involved and less blatant, as lobbying efforts and corporate sales tactics, aided by self-serving bureaucrats and politicians, aim to funnel away tax dollars.

The Transparency International ratings are based on perceptions of corruption, using a wide array of indicators, because actual numbers are difficult to come by: in every instance, the actions are illegal and, thus, out of sight except for those rare instances when they come to light. Cases like Mulroney’s brown envelopes, Adscam, the in-and-out scandal, G8/G20 wrongdoings, robocalls, ORNGE and the like are typically just the tip of the iceberg.

Corruption also extends to the selling out of the public interest to corporations, most notably in the abdication of oversight and regulation that led to the global financial crisis. The resultant meltdown and tough economic times creates an ideal climate for yet more corruption of all sorts.

Thus we see more skepticism about governments, corporations and other organizations, as quantified in the likes of the newly released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer.

The study reveals a pessimistic population increasingly divided on how much to trust the key institutions of media, government, business and NGOs.

Among the general population, trust in all four institutions is up compared to 2018 results, however the gap between the informed public (college-educated, higher income, regular consumers of business and public policy news) and the mass population has never been wider. The trust index of the informed public jumped to 74 per cent, up 12 points from 2018, and is a full 20 points above the mass population trust index, which is at 54 per cent. Canada’s trust inequality between the mass population and informed public is the second highest of all 27 markets studied, the study reveals.

The barometer finds concerns growing among both employees and customers about the trustworthiness of companies, a global phenomenon that touches on reputation – i.e. the much-vaunted branding issue – and the image those dealing with corporations wish to present and preserve.

Such findings are in keeping with a 2017 Gallup survey that found 68 per cent of adults worldwide believed corruption was widespread among businesses in their country. Worldwide, that figure has changed little over the past decade. Residents of more economically developed regions are generally less likely to say corruption is widespread in business; nonetheless, 60 per cent of adults in the U.S. responded this way, as did 52 per cent in Western Europe overall.

We are perhaps not surprised when governments sink into scandal or corporations seek to undermine democracy and threaten the environment, for instance, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be more attentive and ready to punish those who would undermine the public good.

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