No one ever said politics was a path to sainthood. If you do things the proper way it is almost certainly a path to poverty or at best a modest existence and though perhaps not obviously aspired to, a life of honest modesty is a good thing.
For as long as there are humans involved, there will always be the rotten few who try to get away with illegal profit. No politician cackles like a cartoon wicked witch gleefully rubbing hands in anticipation of brown envelopes. It does not happen like that. Even the word ‘corruption’ signifies in its basic sense turning bad something which starts out to be good.
Like the souring of milk, the original pure and altruistic intentions of a politician who means only to do good are turned by temptation and rationalisation.
Politicians are poorly paid. Certainly here in Malta they are. They have family pressures like the rest of us. They have bills to pay. They have school fees and housing costs. Their husbands and children want to go on yearly holidays like the rest of us.
They also have costs we don’t always take into account. They run constituency offices. They spend huge chunks of their waking hours meeting constituents and trying to find solutions for their problems. They cannot bill for those hours of hard work.
They dig deep in their family’s pockets to sponsor village clubs who chase them bowl in hand with entitlement to recover costs for fireworks, brass instruments, football kits and other paraphernalia from politicians looking for a share of the exposure given by village life.
Politicians fund their own campaigning and electioneering costs especially when they want to avoid owing any obligations to faceless sponsors. And they contribute to the costs of the party’s campaigning and electioneering because that too is expected of them.
When someone dangles in front of them some form of illicit compensation they rationalise they are not allowing that compensation to influence their choices one way or another. They would have chosen the way they did with or without the backhander. And after all the expense they have had to volunteer, a little bit of extra income is morally neutral.
Obviously this is what people who know they are doing the wrong thing tell themselves to manage to sleep at night.
They would do anything to prevent others finding out what they have been up to because whatever they may tell themselves there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Corruption does not only sour the purity of the politician who falls for it. It corrupts the basic sanity of the state. It withers confidence in our institutions. It undermines fairness, justice and equality. It increases taxpayer’s costs that ultimately pay the money to the contractor inclusive of the cut they pay the politician.
There will always be corruption. Which is why it must be stamped out whenever it is discovered, immediately, ruthlessly punishing politicians with the penalty they fear most: embarrassment and public disgrace.
Failure to deal with corruption expeditiously and with the full force of the law is complicity of the institutions in the crime. It is the institutionalisation of corruption.
Letting Jimmy Magro, former Secretary General of the Labour Party, get away with it after the Commission Against Corruption found his actions to amount to “corruption or an attempt of corruption by a public officer” is institutionalised corruption of the first order.
If the rest of us put up with this and accept it as normal and just the way things work around here we are corrupt as well. No one is untouchable. No one should be beyond the reach of the law. If anyone is, there is no law: there is only oppression and discrimination.
We have been trained by a government where corruption starts at the very top, to accept too much.