CORRUPTION: Devouring and Devaluing our Crops From Within
In 1626, Peter Minuit, the Director-General of the Dutch West India Company, purchased property from the Canarsee Indians for $2,400 worth of metal kettles, knives, axes, guns and blankets. This property was used to establish the town of Nieuw Amsterdam. It is now known as the island of Manhattan in New York City. In 1653, the citizens of Nieuw Amsterdam hired a man name Tomas Bacxter, identified as a “retired pirate”, to build a wall at the northern end of the settlement. They paid Bacxter the equivalent of $1,300 in United States currency today.
Within two years, the poorly constructed wall crumbled. It seems that Bacxter had used inferior, low-grade lumber in constructing the wall. He then pocketed half of the funds designated to purchase the material. Subsequently, the good citizens of Nieuw Amsterdam stole pieces of the wall to use in their homes and businesses as firewood. Today the site of this original wall is known throughout the world as perhaps the world’s most prominent financial center: Wall Street.
As I am editing this chapter, the “Occupy Wall Street”, protests are taking place not far from the site where Bacxter built the wall. The organizers of these protests have formed in their belief that corruption is thriving unchecked on Wall Street and that it needs to come to an end. If this is true, the dread pirate Bacxter must be proud.
The commissioning of Bacxter to construct the wall is among the first recorded stories of public corruption involving procurement fraud in the place where I have spent my career fighting corruption, New York City. It is possible that Tomas Bacxter was the first contractor to defraud the citizens of New York City. Unfortunately, he is by no means the last.
It is unfortunate, but the weaknesses in the procurement process that opened the door for Bacxter’s fraud are alive and well in the 21st century. I do not know what the thought process was in 1653 that suggested it was wise to hire a retired pirate to perform governmental work. The term retired, does not imply reformed or rehabilitated. In fact, if he were able to retire from being a pirate, it suggests that he was successful at his chosen criminal career. There is no reason to believe that Bacxter’s retirement blessed him with a new found desire for honesty. Nor did his success as a pirate in any way indicate he would have been successful at constructing walls and therefore qualified to be awarded the contract.
I make these points only because these are the actions of short term thinkers in our long term world that existed then and still exist today. I see the hiring of modern day pirates, with no intention of retiring, taking place today in the procurement process of many governments and organizations. Their existence continues to have far reaching negative impacts on society.
Tomas Bacxter has produced a bumper crop of corrupt offspring. These spawns have taken up their father’s cause and continued to devour and devalue nations through their corrupt actions. We keep hiring modern day pirates; only today they are smart enough, or their lawyers are, to exploit all deficiencies and weaknesses of the system and all the loopholes in the laws and language. This is a much more daunting scenario for corruption fighters than just outright stealing; by trying to correct the deficiencies and fill in the loopholes, we often inadvertently create new ones. It has taught me to take nothing for granted and to never, ever assume that common sense is alive and well in the process.
There are numerous, colorful and entertaining stories of public corruption in New York City since the building of the wall. In spite of how entertaining these tales of corruption may be; they cannot mask a harsh reality. Public corruption is a global phenomenon. It is far more threatening in the 21st century to the common good of any society than it was more than 350 years ago in Nieuw Amsterdam.
A large percentage of corruption occurring within governments worldwide rests within the procurement of goods and services. Every day, billions of dollars in procurement transactions take place worldwide. It is unfortunate, but not every dollar, yen, euro, peso or schilling ends up in the hands or accounts of the intended recipients. In a multitude of instances, these funds are redirected, embezzled, stolen or just wasted.
The unvarnished truth is that the primary function of government is to procure services for its people. Without the procurement process, there would be no means to secure the goods and services required to educate the people, defend the nation, and build roads, bridges and housing. Without procurement, there would be no hospitals, trains, planes and automobiles. Without procurement, government would cease to exist. It is a monumental undertaking that all governments take on in support of the people as well as the development and sustaining of a nation. Unfortunately, with that endeavor also comes an effort by those who would undermine good government by attempting to achieve a personal benefit by corrupting the established processes from within.
I have worked with more than 75 countries committed to improving, and in some cases, establishing their ability to combat corruption. In order to prevent this unethical and illegal conduct, many governments have created, or are in the process of creating, offices whose primary function is to identify and eliminate corruption. Many of these offices are known as Inspector General’s Offices or called by some name intended to convey the same message, which is, “enough is enough!”
The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none”. We have drawn the line in the sand, and the immovable, unshakable gap between integrity and dishonor has been established. We shall stand in the gap.