It is a word that elicits disquiet and erodes trust. It can bring down governments, politicians, businesses, and anyone entangled in its grip – if caught out.
While we hear a fair amount about corruption, few of us question just what the word means or whether it could indeed mean different things in different places
But here at Torrens University Australia, a group of our academic researchers are examining the definition of corruption from an international business perspective focusing on developing countries.
The gaps in research
“In our research, we have found that there are gaps in the definition of corruption, especially where business to Government corruption is involved,” explains Luke Webster, Senior Learning Facilitator for Global Project Management Program at Torrens University Australia.
One of the main reasons for this is that there is little research on what Webster describes as the ‘demand side of corruption’. That is the demand for payments from governments.
“Corruption from business to government perspective is rarely looked at because the demand side is hard to get data from – because governments don’t admit to corruption,” Webster says.
Combating corruption relies on accurate research
The World Bank recognizes that corruption involving governments, businesses, officials, and institutions is a serious problem which poses a challenge to ending extreme poverty and boosting prosperity for the poorest in developing countries.
Webster and his team strongly believe that unless there is more research into this ‘demand-side’ and unless the definition of corruption is re-examined, it will be difficult to identify the factors contributing to corruption and the real consequences of corruption. Without these, combatting corruption will remain a challenge.
A few weeks ago, Luke Webster presented a paper at The Academy of International Business Annual Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark titled “Whither corruption in international business: a review of contributing factors and consequences of corruption in international business”.
Jointly written with his Torrens University Australia colleagues Alex Kouznetsov and Justin Pearce, the paper presented the team’s findings on existing research into government to business corruption.
It pointed out the gaps in research and inconsistencies in the definition of corruption. The paper also raised issues which likely contributed to the gaps and proposed new areas of enquiry to be explored.
“It is vital that there is more research done – especially into emerging, developing economies. Their institutions, formal and informal have to be looked at,” Luke Webster says.“There are big arguments when it comes to the definition of corruption.
“The reason being is sometimes it is said that for a developing economy to develop, there needs to be that “underhanded goings on.
“There are many people who argue that what we define as corruption, is actually necessary for a developing economy.
“Once the country becomes more internationalised, it has to start to conform to international laws, legalities, and standards. That’s when you start to see changes.”
Luke Webster and his colleagues are also very interested in what the link is between corruption and neurology. That is, the behavior of professionals who come from countries where corruption exists to countries such as Australia. What happens to them when they return to their home country after a few decades?
“How susceptible are they to falling back into the corrupt ways if they represent this country [Australia]? How susceptible are they to falling back [into corrupt practices]?” Webster asks.
International interest in Torrens research
“They know how the system works?”
It was raising these questions which led to an invitation being extended to Luke Webster to present at The Academy of International Business Annual Conference in Copenhagen. Fourteen hundred people attended the conference.
“For Torrens name to be recognized at such a high level is so important,” Luke Webster says.
“This is what our team wants to do. We want to be recognized as specialists in this field.”
The team hopes that their inquiries into existing research and gaps lead to more international research in government to business corruption.
“Well this particular paper is exploring what is already out there. What we see with this particular paper is [that] it will lead into the ones that are probably going to impact industry itself,” Webster says.
Real change is the ultimate goal
“Importantly, everyone in our team wants to see a change in the industry. We don’t just want theory.”
But could their work actually lead to a revised definition of corruption?
“Yes, yes – absolutely!” Webster confidently says.
“In fact, the paper that we presented at the conference, is being [further] developed. We actually had two themes to it. And now we have three themes. The last theme is combatting corruption.
“It’s going to be submitted to a journal as a fuller paper, fuller development. We’re expecting it to a well-read and well-cited paper.”
If the response to Luke’s presentation of the Torrens paper is any sign, his hopes do not sound misplaced at all.
“It was received very well. I was even allowed to go over time because everyone was so engaged,” he says.
Another highlight for Luke Webster in Copenhagen was chairing a session. Pre-reading the papers submitted by his peers during his 26 hour flight drove home the significance of the international conference.
“Absolutely. Reading these papers was very interesting. This is the theory that hasn’t been released.
“These papers often have not been published yet. So I am reading cutting edge theory.
I was reading papers going “Wow! Wow! This is good stuff!”