Controls to corruption

It is always who and how it is exercised that will determine whether it is used for corruption or something noble.

Lately, I have been thinking about power in general and its ramifications. Particularly, I found myself repeatedly tossing in my head the saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

What does this mean?

The phrase, in its present form, was articulated by the British nobleman Lord Acton in 1887. His inspirations were his contemporaries and earlier intellectuals who stated the same thing in different ways.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Is this accurate for both individuals and society? Both in the public space and private spheres?

As usual, when I pick a topic for this column, I go through the literature available on the internet. I went to the subject of what causes corruption, and surprisingly “power” was not one of the causes of corruption.

Rather, I saw “lack of control to power” as one of the causes of corruption. Such would include the ineffectual enforcement of laws designed to combat corruption.

Control can come from various sources. The most notable is the law, the kind that limits or controls power. Our system of government, for instance, is one marked by controls — the executive, legislative and judicial branches checking one another, so that no one branch dominates the way government operates.

How effective this mutual checking has been, however, is another matter.

Controls to corruption may also exist outside the legal system, and this is where ethics, or the study of right and wrong behavior, comes in. Ethics is akin to morality which, stripped of its spiritual veneer, determines whether conduct is on the right or wrong side of any given situation.

Ethics can be learned in school and at work, but its foundation is learned at home. The church is also influential in molding the minds and ethics of individuals.

When we speak of ethics or morality, the first thing that comes to mind is honesty or integrity. A firm sense of honesty, or of one’s integrity, can be a powerful limitation or control to the exercise of power, especially in those times when there is a tendency to go beyond its exercise.

Problems arise when those around you directly or indirectly approve of what you do, even if they know it is questionable, fully or in part.

When the environment encourages the abuse of power, it is the fundamental principles of ethics of the individuals involved that determines whether there will be abuse.

The abuse takes place when there are no checks and balances, which leads to the strong possibility of the power-wielder getting away with it.

On the other hand, abuse will not happen if there is a strong sense of ethics or morality. Leaning towards propriety will prevent abuses from taking place. This is the judgment call involved when one who can use power for wrongful ends stops short of doing it, even when there is no foreseeable danger to him.

There are many in government who are like this, who in a word choose not to be corrupt, even when a good opportunity is there. However, this behavior is not highlighted and goes unnoticed, therefore not too many know about these commendable individuals.

And so now we go back to where we started.

In this we can say that power only tends to make one corrupt, while it may be assumed that absolute power — the one that does not find any kind of opposition to it — corrupts absolutely.

Or maybe we can just stop blaming power. Power does not lead to corruption. It is always who and how it is exercised that will determine whether it is used for corruption or something noble.

Power and positions where it may be exercised are necessary for a society or an entity to function, the focus should not be on these positions but on the people entrusted with power.

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