What is corruption?

Corruption is commonly defined as “the abuse of public office for personal gain”. While this definition was useful during the first phase of anti-corruption, today it falls short of the evolution of corruption and what we have learned over the past two decades about the nature of corruption.

For the purpose of our work, and without claim to comprehensiveness, we consider corruption to involve not only the abuse of public office, but also the abuse of power and influence vested in a person as a result of holding a political office, of holding an influential role in a corporation, of having personal wealth or access to significant resources, or of having elevated social standing. 

We further expand on the notion of personal gain. Corruption does not only lead to personal gain but can involve gains for a collective entity such as a political party, a corporation, or a group of people. Gain should not be understood as financial gain only but explicitly also include non-financial gains, and in particular the preservation or increase of a person or an entity’s position of power and influence. 

It is important that corruption is not reduced to the monetary form of corruption that is bribery, but that a wide range of behaviours, such as conflicts of interest, patronage, nepotism, embezzlement, influence peddling or the manipulation of legislative processes with an ulterior corrupt objective are understood to be subsumed by the notion of corruption. This list can be further expanded. 

Last, corruption is no longer always a matter of action and immediate or direct consequence. Instead it is increasingly construed as a long-term game, especially when its aim is access to or preservation of power and influence and expanding geopolitical influence.