Friday 30 September 2016


They say you can smell it, the reek of corruption. The guilty parties are presumed to wallow in the stench of it and it is generally accepted as a truism that power causes it. Power over resources, power over things and most especially power over people. Who judges the judges? Who polices the police? But it starts way lower than these lofty heights; corruption, like charity, begins at home. And where corruption goes, hypocrisy usually follows.

Sam Allardyce was swiftly removed from the England manager’s job because of the sensitivity of the Football Association in the wake of the Sep Blatter affair and others and now more dodgy dealings are coming out into the open; it turns out the face of the beautiful game is scarred with ugly backhandery where everybody has his paws in everybody else’s pocket. Nobody is hugely surprised though, the general public have got used to being the mugs who ultimately pay for it all.

Sport and politics may be mired in corruption, whatever the colour of the supporters scarves, but we are hardly free from it ourselves: Getting into a club because your mate is on the door and lets you queue-jump. Blagging a big game ticket via the corporate hospitality allocation. Hot-housing your child to pass an entrance exam simply because you can. Using power to obtain sexual favours; using sexual favours to obtain access to power. Generally speaking, we accept that it happens as long as it is behind closed doors, but as soon as sleaze is exposed we have to feign outrage and cast the first stone.

Public funds, political donations, charity, planning applications, building contracts; all come in for intense scrutiny at some time and all are under permanent suspicion in this paranoid world. Possibly none are so discredited than the uses to which the foreign aid budget is diverted, but foreign aid itself is a form of corruption; greasing the wheels of commerce in the world’s far flung places, to which end I am reminded of the Development Minister of a central African country, newly independent who visited London a few years ago.

At the invitation of UK’s department for trade and development and to gain access to some funding the minister was having dinner with the British secretary. He was mightily impressed by the lavish hospitality and not a little surprised when his host invited him to a private dinner party at one of the most prestigious new addresses in the capital. Apartments in the gleaming landmark tower block cost tens of millions and the African minister asked of his host “How can you afford all this on a public servant’s salary?”

The secretary took him to the picture window and pointed to the Millennium Bridge. “See that? That bridge could not have been built without the direct involvement of my department at the time.” The African minister was duly impressed, but the suave Englishman hadn’t finished. He put a finger to his nose, winked and whispered conspiratorially, “Ten percent”

Two years later a British delegation were visiting the African country to see for themselves how British largess had enriched the lives of its citizens. They were greeted at the airport by a fleet of limousines and sped past crowds of cheering children waving national flags to a lavish reception at a gleaming, gilded palace. The UK Secretary of State was open-mouthed at the grandeur and sought out the African development minister. “I thought you were a poor country” he asked “how can you afford all this?”

The minister laughed and escorted his guest to a window. Beyond, a wide river meandered lazily. “See that bridge?” the minister said. The British official stared. He looked to the left and to the right and could see no sign. He looked again, then turned back to his host. “No,” he said, “I can’t”. The minister laughed, a huge rumble of mirth from deep in his belly. He patted his pocket and declared “One hundred percent.”

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