How do I perceive corruption in a country? When living in the Middle East, corruption was expected everywhere. It was presumed that even some of the colleagues from the west were deeply ensnared in corruption when our new faculty’s expensive equipment had to be purchased. There was no definitive proof, however, since those involved protected others who were involved as well. The magic word in the corrupt society of Kuwait was wasta which is considered absolutely nescessary to lubricate any individual’s attempt to progress. Doors would open by bribery, and only by bribery.
Believe it or not, I bravely resisted. I would not bribe. Some doors opened when rather honesty and real interest were perceived. I made friends otherwise, rather among non-Kuwaitis (a worrying term used by the “owners” of the tiny oil-rich country when talking about the majority of its expat workers). And when I couldn’t proceed because of lack of wasta, so what? Fighting corruption when it was obvious is a higher value. Sure, westerners were unfairly privileged in the society, another clear sign of corruption. On a list of 175 countries, the 2014 Corruption Perception Index ranks Kuwait 67th, lower than Saudi Arabia (55th).
But remember, it is about perception. Germany ranks 12th but Norway is 5th, just behind Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Denmark, which usually ranks first. When recently discussing the issue of possible corruption in the country with a local, I was very much surprised when I was informed, “There is no corruption in Norway!” And the new report seems to confirm her bold statement.
So, how do I perceive corruption in Norway? Well, it’s everywhere. It is rather disconcerting to learn that some written rules at a major institution, such as my university, may easily be abrogated while backroom “deals” are commonly made when, for instance, a vacant position is not publicly announced but filled with a convenient applicant. There are many more unwritten rules in this society which the common expat might not be aware of. I had recently been told by a senior academic who lives in the country for more than 25 years, that pupils in elementary school learn first and foremeost “to get along” in this rich society, which apparently has adopted an amazing degree of socialism, where hierarchies are disapproved but selected rather than elected leaders (and their subordinates) suffer from Peter’s principle.
A society in which most people do not perceive corruption but proudly deny its existence won’t fight it. They may easily get used to frequent abrogation of rules and regulations and lose the sense of what is corruption.
3 December 2014 @ 11:53 am.
Last modified December 3, 2014.