The Relationship Between Bribery and the Environment

Bribery can lead to environmental degradation. What are the evidences? Are there solutions to this age-old corrupt practice? This article explores these issues.

The recent spate of corruption highlighting a businesswoman allegedly bribing government officials to channel billions in taxpayers money to fly-by-night or bogus non-government organizations prompted me to write this article. Since my concern is largely on the environmental implications of events like this, I reviewed literature on how corruption, specifically bribery, relates to the environment.

Bribery and the Environment

Considering that governance becomes the prime focus of analysis when corruption issues arise, this discussion will examine undesirable practices, specifically offering of incentives to public officials in view of exempting them from the rule of law or pocketing taxpayers money for their own selfish purposes. Bribery occurs at different levels of government, that is, from the highest administrative or lawmaking bodies to operational levels charged with law enforcement responsibilities.

A brief review of reports on the relationship between bribery at different levels of government and the environment yielded the following summaries and conclusions:

1. Bribery of law enforcers leads to low compliance among violators thus pressure to natural resources.

Sundström’s study[1] in South Africa revealed that law enforcers’ acceptance of bribes from small-scale fishers who commit illegal fishing such as poaching decrease their trustworthiness. As a result, fishers tended to exploit their natural marine resources more than what it can sustain. Overfishing upsets the balance of the marine food chain such that the population of target fishes decline and sizes of fish caught by fishermen get smaller through time.

2. Ineffective regulatory systems results to pollution.

Environmental inspections as a regulatory system serve to deter non-compliance with rules and regulations set forth for approval of environmentally critical projects. Once those tasked to do such inspections receive money in exchange for favorable reports on the project’s environmental performance despite exceeding permissible emission levels, pollution results. The effects of pollution may be immediate (acute) or long-term (chronic) depending on the nature of the pollutant.

For example, if a mining project does not have adequate leachate treatment facilities as a result of non-compliance to required mitigating measures, high concentrations of heavy metals will be discharged into waterways. This will disrupt the normal biological processes in aquatic ecosystems where various organisms including man derive sustenance.

3. Environmentally harmful policies are formulated such that disasters occur.

When unscrupulous individuals bribe lawmakers to craft policies towards their favor, environmentally harmful policies result. For example, if the government allows logging in highly elevated or watershed areas, lack of trees to cushion the impact of heavy rains result to flooding of low-lying villages. This will mean loss of lives and property aside from loss of important ecological goods and services.

4. Unfair allocation of environmental resources lead to further environmental degradation.

If high-ranking officials accept bribes to allow large commercial fishing companies to fish in municipal waters, unfair allocation of marine resources occur. As small fishers do not have the means to compete with the efficient, mechanized fishing equipment of large-scale fishers, they will resort to illegal means that further degrade the environment. One of them is the use of dynamite in fishing wherein large areas of productive reef are destroyed. The attitude that prevails is “Well take them (the fish), before they (the large-scale fishers) do.”thief

What has been done so far to curb bribery?

Acceptance of bribes shows the vulnerability of those tasked to govern and enforce the rules and regulations of a country. Many solutions have been suggested, recommended and enforced including reforms to improve transparency and accountability, legislation to reduce flaws in existing laws, reducing the discretionary powers of public officials, greater awareness among the people, involving citizens in government affairs, and so on and so forth.[2] However, despite these measures, corruption persists in many countries.

The Economic Solution

Based on the resource allocation point of view, the practice of bribery continues because it offers those involved to get more than enough resources to satisfy their wants. The one giving the bribe and the one receiving the bribe both benefit from their transaction but third parties suffer. The negative environmental impacts then are externalities of these transactions. There is a need, therefore, to integrate the externality of environmental degradation as a result of bribery.

In view of developing a research concept using the economic solution of internalizing externalities, economic valuation may be used as an approach to determine if there is a relationship between the amount of bribe and the cost of environmental degradation. Thus, the following questions may be asked:

  • Is there a relationship between the amount of bribe and the corresponding cost of environmental degradation?
  • How much environmental degradation occurs for a certain amount of bribe?

For the benefits gained by both the briber and the bribed (my own terms for brevity), monetary incentives to disadvantaged parties can offset the negative effects of environmental degradation. The point is, the guilty parties should be made to pay for the consequences of their actions. Penalties should be proportionate to achieve environmental justice.

Environmental justice is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This means fair allocation of natural resources to everyone should be pursued in a democratic society.

Reference

1. Sundström, A. (2013). Corruption in the commons: Why bribery hampers enforcement of environmental regulations in South African fisheries. International Journal of the Commons, 7(2). Retrieved from http://www.thecommonsjournal.org/index.php/ijc/article/download/370/360

2. Winbourne, S. (2002). Corruption and the environment. Retrieved September 11, 2013, from http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACT876.pdf

© 2013 September 12 P. A. Regoniel

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