There was a news item about corruption in China on the BBC a couple of weeks ago. The correspondent, Martin Patience, made this interesting statement: “In a system where officials are only accountable to the party and not to the public, it’s very hard to see how you can root out corruption.”
The implication is clear. The correspondent is making a direct comparison between the Chinese political system, where officials aren’t accountable to the public, and our own, where they supposedly are, and suggesting that this lack of accountability in the Chinese system is the reason for their corrupt practices.
The suggestion is that corruption is more endemic in China than in the West. But is this true?
The correspondent made a big deal about the amount of money that Chinese officials have been smuggling to off-shore accounts. Up to $120 billion, he said. But according to a report by The Tax Justice Network in July this year, the global super rich in the West may have hidden up to $20 trillion in offshore accounts, enabled by the banks, and by the teams of lawyers and accountants who serve them.
Such figures boggle the mind. Just to be clear: if that $20 trillion had been taxed at the normal rate it would generate in the region of $193 billion a year in income. That’s $73 billion more than the total amount of Chinese corruption.
And note this too: the Chinese figures quoted by the BBC were provided by the Chinese government themselves who have sacked over 18,000 officials in their drive to root out corruption, while none of the Western mega-rich has ever been questioned about their vast stores of hidden wealth.
As for the idea that our officials are accountable to the public, this is clearly untrue. Yes, we can vote out our politicians, but we can’t vote out our bankers or our lawyers or our civil servants; and we can’t stop our politicians moving into the private sector and becoming fabulously wealthy after they’ve left office either, as Tony Blair managed to do.
So which countries are the most corrupt, exactly?