By Farid A. Khavari
As corruption is all about money and power, ridding of corruption is no easy task. The fact is that power attracts money, money leads to political power, and this in turn breeds into a vicious cycle of corruption. A corrupt society cannot last forever without suffering gradual economic and social declines with no gains for the public. Since the long-term interest of the majority of the people is at stake, sooner or later, members of society would strive towards creating a corruption-free economy. However, to come to this realization, they must first be aware of it.
On the other hand, reforming any rigid system involving different groups with vast financial interests can be a very difficult, if not an impossible task. Since these interest groups are heading towards their limits, demands for reform will become an inevitable issue as we are witnessing already in Miami-Dade County and elsewhere in the nation. For instance, the Occupy movement is one of these phenomena. The question becomes ‘how one should handle this matter without causing too much friction in terms of loss of time, energy and resources, avoiding the potential resistance of all involved special interest groups?’
Since power attracts money, and money leads to power, the main task would be to devise a system that separates these two self-attracting elements from the politics. Then neutralize each other’s influence on the other the same way as we have come to the realization to keep religion separate from politics.
If we give some thoughts to how corruption is created, it becomes very clear that everyone of us have been involved in some way to keep corruption alive. In other words, it’s not just the politicians who are or can be corrupt, but also those who help them to get elected are somehow a part of it, either knowingly or unknowingly. The fact that one cannot truly know anything substantive about the character of a politician with whom they have not spent any time with, or know very little about, and yet they support the politicians because of the power of media, advertisements, or party loyalty, essentially are complicit in the corruption. How? Money buys the media support and public relations, the advertisements, and the party support, which in turn gets politicians voted into the office by poorly informed or ignorant voters. Since favors must be returned for the money spent, corruption is created. As this process continues, it leads to further forms of corruption that were discussed in articles I and II of this series.
Corruption is not always tangible like when money changes hands upon the completion of a transaction or a promise for a certain action. It also happens in an intangible way. This occurs when steps are taken in form of recommendations or incomplete or biased reporting of the media in favor of one or another politician with very little regard to the qualifications of those candidates or politicians. Again, it is safe to assume that this is still an action that can be taken to be a favor expecting some type of return.
Therefore, the first step towards rooting out corruption in Miami-Dade County or anywhere else would be sifting through the election process. To achieve this goal, it would require that:
1) The people are made aware of the issues and the capabilities of the political candidates as well as their background which would include being aware of their education and fields of expertise. In addition, the candidates should be required to present their detailed political agenda to the voters and to the media, which ideally would be “unbiased” but could also be “corrupt.”
2) Candidates should all equally be able to access public financing and not raise donations from lobbying and special interest groups. The yardstick to measure the qualification of candidates should not be the funds they raise, but their agenda.
3) The media should be obligated to give an equal space or time to all candidates without favoring one against another. They should be obligated to give objective reporting. Further, the media should provide space or time to the candidates to correct any misrepresentations made by the media.
4) A popular public Web site should be created where the candidates could present their views of the issues and topics of their concern and agenda as well as having critics give their objective opinions of those views.
5) Ethnic media should be made by law accessible to all candidates regardless of their background and language barriers.
Although, the implementation of these steps would help drastically to resolve some of the major problems leading to corruption, we must make sure that the corruption never takes over the political process once the candidate has been elected into the office.
Until we understand all problems involved that lead to corruption, we will never be able to deal with them in an effective way.
HOW TO COMBAT CORRUPTION ONCE THE CANDIDATES ARE IN OFFICE?
We need to introduce a series of other measures to make sure that the elected officials would be free from all the temptations and dubious activities that would foster corruption. The following is a list of suggested measures:
1) Incompetence, dishonesty and greed: These are the chronic symptoms of politicians that do not have the necessary economic knowledge. They do not understand that running an economy is vastly different than running a business. In business one strives to minimize the cost, and maximize the profits. To run an economy of a county like a business would be disastrous. When one balances a budget by cutting cost and without increasing revenues, you end up with a vicious cycle of unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. In order to run an economy we need to optimize our benefits by implementing policies that decelerate all types of costs. This is not simply a hollow theory; it is the only way to achieve this goal. We will discuss this issue more thoroughly in future articles.
2) Politicians’ ineptness and corruption in feeding cronyism, nepotism, favoritism and unfair treatments of different interest groups for personal gains. Even if an elected politician is honest and has integrity, the system turns him into a corrupt person unless the attraction and the temptation of financial gains and the power of money are eliminated from the equation. This could be achieved when lobbying money is replaced with public financing and a fair economic system is introduced. It should be clear that in a political world, in which power attracts money, and money buys power, honesty and integrity will always remain strangers.
3) Lobbying groups: Any lobbying that is accompanied with money sets the foundation for corruption because favors must be returned for the monies received. You simply end up with legalized bribery. There is a good reason why a growing number of people consider themselves among the 99% of desperate and frustrated societal members as compared to the elite 1%. Regardless of the exact numbers, it would be safe to say that the overwhelming majority of the people that consider themselves among the 99% of the population do not benefit from the lobbying money. On the other hand, why should lobbying exists only for certain special interest groups who cough up big money, and then impose their wills on the rest of us? To resolve this matter, we should again encourage public financing and outlaw lobbying money, big contributions, and even limit the usage of personal funds of the candidates and politicians themselves.
4) Unrealistic demands of the Union Leaders: Generally two major problems exist with the union leaders with regard to setting the tone for corruption:
a) When the union leaders enter a deal with a candidate/politician to deliver the respective members’ votes in exchange for a better position for the union leader with higher pay without giving a single thought as to where the funds should come from, and/or
b) Demanding special concessions in the form of benefits and financial gains for the union members in the form of higher salaries, better pension, etc. in exchange for their votes without giving a single thought as to where the funds should come from. In order to resolve this problem, we have to create a fair capitalistic economic system that provides economic security. In other words, a system that serves the general public as opposed to one that serves the richest elite of society. To learn more about the features of a “general capitalistic system,” which I call it “Zero Cost Economy” or “Carefree Economy,” the readers should visit www.zerocosteconomy.com.
5) Removal of the financial power from the political power: Neither the mayor nor any of the deputies should have the power to decide about contract assignments. This would immediately lead to corruptive practices like nepotism such as the case with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his two sons, Carlos Jr. and Julio, which we’ve discussed already in Part I. Further, county contracts must be divided according to some kind of formula among all the companies of that county in accordance to some guidelines that take into account the qualifications of the vendors so that different ethnic groups and other participants obtain their fair share of the work. In order to neutralize the corruptive temptation of the elected officials involved, the task should be given to reputable and professional residents of the county, who would be willing to take over this task by receiving compensation for the services rendered. These professionals should be selected randomly from reputable and professionals of the related field and would function as a blind committee. This group could be created from the qualified applicants. This would help to get rid of favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism to some extent and possibly eliminate it altogether. Certainly, cases like Mayor Gimenez and his sons, and recommendations such as those made by the former chairman of the Miami-Dade Ethic Commission, Robert Myers would never occur, and cronies such as Mayor Gimenez deputies, Genaro Iglesias and Robert Bryson would not be able to serve Mayor Gimenez and his sons interests. (This was covered in Part II) When cronies cannot serve to make financial gain, their existence would become unnecessary. Consequently, the county would save more money from the salaries of un-needed deputies and their staff members. Sooner or later, cronyism and nepotism would become an extinct species.
6) Eliminating arbitrary setting of the salaries for the government employees: It is simply absurd that a secretary in government makes $150,000 and spends the time enjoying “Miami Spice” with her boss. (See Part Two of this series of articles) Government jobs must be compensated similar to those in the private sector. To weed out inefficiency in the government jobs, payments must be based on a low fixed weekly or monthly payments, plus compensation per piecework. This method would make employees work harder to make more money, and those that are less efficient would be on their way out. This concept would not only make the government increasingly efficient, but also reduce the size of the government, and thus reducing the cost drastically. With this method, there won’t be too much room for “favoritism.” (With regard to this issue, please see Part I.)Further, balancing the budget would no longer be a nightmare for an incompetent mayor. Due to increasing revenues and decreasing expenses, the property taxes could be reduced just through this measure.
7) Promoting qualification over ethnic influences: As when a matter of life and death is at stake, never a person in distress would question about the ethnicity of the surgeon, who is about to perform the lifesaving surgery. Similarly, the voters should not care about a candidates’ ethnical background and any other personal issues as long as he/she has the needed qualifications for that position, and can save the economic well-being of this county. The only factors that count are the following:
a) The candidate is qualified, meaning that he/she understands the problems and has solutions to implement, and
b) he/she cares about all the residents of that county without tilting towards one or another ethnic group within that county.
The negative impacts of the drive to elect a candidate with a certain ethnicity as opposed to the candidate’s qualifications and interest in the wellbeing of constituents would be very far reaching. For one, the negative effects of an incompetent elected government official would hurt the people of his/her ethnic group from which that politician was elected. On the other hand, if this practice of candidate selection becomes the norm to follow, then another ethic group may find the overhand, when their population overwhelms that of the other group. The worst part of this practice is that the community would be deprived of a competent politician, and would end up promoting corruption in the form of favoritism, which would divide the community as whole.
8) Have the community involved in deciding to allow insourcing companies to invest in Miami-Dade County. This would help negate the temptation to accept any kind of monetary compensation, especially if it’s turned over to the reputable professionals of the county with no direct and immediate interest in the sought after enterprises. Keep in mind, our primary goal should always be to make sure that the companies operating in Miami-Dade County are owned and operated by the people that live in the county and the generated revenue remains in the county.
9) One simple act of corruption promotion is the recommendation of media without knowing the candidates very well, and basing decisions on an hour or two of superficial interviews with the candidates by the board of editors that ask questions without the expertise to follow up answers. Should this practice be exercised by the media, it requires that the session prior to their recommendation should be a public affair, in which public could watch the event and be able to judge the credibility and competence of the interviewers and the board of editors of the related media.
10) Biased reporting, false advertising and unethical campaigning all are major contributions to political corruption. What can one expect from a candidate who has been pushed into the office with dubious and questionable and unethical methods? To avoid this practice, and make the candidates concentrate on issues, it should be imposed on those who choose this method to be obligated to offer a free space or spot for response or rebuttal by the opposing candidate. This step would weed out a big number of candidates with dubious and unethical character immediately. Decency would return to the government.
Corruption is rooted far deeper in the community than those explained, but these initial steps are the most necessary ones to be taken in order to bring back sanity to our political and electoral process and much needed economic security for all residents of this great county.
Farid A. Khavari, Ph.D., a noted economist and author of ten books dealing with economics, environment, energy, healthcare, financing, banking and other economic and political issues. He is a candidate for Miami-Dade County mayor in 2012.