The hidden cost of corruption

Recent events have thrust corruption scandals into the global headlines. But what may not be easily seen is that there is a hidden cost to corruption.

Aug 08, 2020

By Anil Netto
Recent events have thrust corruption scandals into the global headlines. But what may not be easily seen is that there is a hidden cost to corruption.

Corruption drains the public coffers, erodes trust in leaders and deprives the public of funds that could have eased their suffering. It undermines community solidarity as well, when the public are cheated of funds that could have been used for their benefit.

For example, if it costs say RM15 to provide a person with a couple of decent meals per day, then RM1bn in public funds could finance the meals for 182,000 people for one year!

Assuming we lose billions of ringgit through corruption every year, we are talking about staggering sums of money that could have provided for the basic needs of millions of people.

Recent corruption sagas have given us a glimpse of the stupendous amounts of wealth that the nation has lost.

That’s not all. An alarming report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) called Trade-Related Illicit Financial Flows in 135 Developing Countries: 2008-2017, shows how funds can even be funnelled away through trade misinvoicing.

According to GFI, “trade misinvoicing occurs when importers and exporters deliberately falsify the stated prices on the invoices for goods they are importing or exporting as a way to illicitly transfer value across international borders, evade tax and/ or customs duties, launder the proceeds of criminal activity, circumvent currency controls and hide profits offshore.”

By comparing figures in bilateral trade with 36 advanced economies, GFI estimates that Malaysia had a value gap of US$36.7bn from 2008 to 2017. ( report/trade-related-illicit-financial-flowsin-135-developing-countries-2008-2017/).

Money lost through corruption and illicit outflows drains public coffers or deprives the nation of revenue from taxes or customs duties.

In the Gospels, Jesus lashes out against the money changers in the Temple, describing the place as a den of thieves. The temple at that time was the seat of collaboration between the religious authorities and their Roman political overlords, who called the shots discreetly.

The ordinary people in Jesus’ time paid the price, groaning from the heavy burden of a multitude of taxes and other religious levies.

The cry of Habukuk (Chapter 1:2-4) must have resonated among them:

“How long, Yahweh, am I to cry for help  while you will not listen; to cry, ‘Violence!’ in your ear while you will not save?

“Why do you make me see wrongdoing, why do you countenance oppression? Plundering and violence confront me, contention and discord flourish.

And so the law loses its grip and justice never emerges, since the wicked outwits the upright and so justice comes out perverted. Many ordinary people during the time of Jesus must have endured tremendous hardship. That did not escape Jesus’ notice: he told them to pray to the Father to “give us our daily bread”.

This hardship must have been felt by fisherfolk and the surrounding communities near the Sea of Galilee. In 1986, during a drought, two fishermen discovered an ancient fishing boat from the lake dating back to around the time of Jesus. An examination of the boat revealed it had been repeatedly repaired and patched up with 10-12 different types of wood. (Such boats were usually constructed with two or three kinds of wood.) This boat was, perhaps, used for decades before it was discarded as beyond repair.

This alone shows how tough the lives of the fisherfolk were during the time of Jesus, and the weariness of the fisherfolkApostles comes through in the pages of the Gospels.

When he sat down to observe people putting money in the treasury, Jesus observed a widow donating two small coins, all that she had. Immediately before that episode, in Mark 12: 38-40, Jesus had condemned the scribes: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted respectfully in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who devour the property of widows and, for show, offer long prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.”

In other words, he decried the social system that made it possible for the elite to squeeze the vulnerable and grab what rightfully belonged to them while lording it over them.

These elite grew fat from the suffering of the people and spent the money on grandiose projects to feed their ego, instead of easing the plight of the vulnerable and dispossessed, like the widow, who gave up all she had.

This is what makes corruption and illicit accumulation of wealth all the more insidious as it is often gained at the expense of the suffering of ordinary people.

But God works in his own time and the cries of the people who suffer will not go unnoticed.

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Dear Anil Netto We write to ask permission to use your material "The hidden cost of corruption" in our website ( as a reflection piece. Looking forward to your response. Thank you. Sincerely, Agnes Chai Associate editor for Catholic Sabah