Acton Institute Powerblog

Cameroon Catholics Combat Corruption

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The Vatican recently concluded a conference on corruption (insert joke about ‘knowing whereof they speak’). It was an impressive array of speakers, including World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, and many sensible things were said. But one is tempted to respond, “That’s all well and good; but what is anybody *doing* about it?”

Which is why it’s encouraging to see, coincidentally, another story on the same day, detailing the grassroots efforts of Catholic schools in Cameroon to nip corruption in the bud.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • Kevin,

    You skipped this (which does not seem like a very sensible) part:

    “Both the council’s president, Cardinal Renato Martino, and its secretary, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, said corruption has increased due to globalization, so greater global efforts are needed to prevent, monitor and prosecute corruption”

    Has corruption really increased due to globalization? One might think that global competition would reduce corruption. How can a corrupt wine distributor (as an example) when you can buy wine over the internet from a variety of countries?

    I would suggest that globalization has been a primary force in fighting corruption worldwide. Trade is one of the greatest gifts God has given us to eliminate moral hazards.


  • Kevin

    Good point, John. I don’t possess enough expertise to make a strong historical and empirical argument one way or the other, but I’m inclined to agree with your claim as intuitively compelling. Considering, too, that so much corruption is connected to government-to-government aid, it doesn’t make sense to blame globalization–unless one means to include under the term an increase in the practice of direct aid from nation to nation.

  • Clare Krishan

    The UN’s Antonio Costa claims its premature to claim corruption is up, since we have no metric to track this blight on free trade. “A bribe is NEVER a gift…” hear Susie Hodges of Vatican Radio interview him and François Vincke (Advocat, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Belgium) of the International Chamber of Commerce at

    However IMHO the damage of graft is proportional to span of control, an example of subsidiarity. The further removed from the actual goods or services being exchanged, the greater the temptation for unscrupulous conduct, since there’s fewer agents authorized to oversee it. Think quality control fishbone diagrams: fight the fault at the root of the problem, put accountablity in the hands of those responsible for their actions and you’re more likely to be successful. U.S. manufacturing corporations have a good track record of enforcing such ethical code’s of conduct. But it’s harder to see ‘self-regulation’ remedying the scourge in the so-called “extractive industries” (consider the tragedy of Nigeria): multinationals negotiating “behind closed doors” for prospecting rights with fallible officials of nation states. Oxfam’s idea for ‘publish what you pay’ seems like a good first step in tackling the ethics at the highest level (where ‘mere mortals’ have no access, even when its our public land/resources up for sale). And joking aside, the Catholic Church is the first private global organization in the world with the moral force to mobilise society to condemn this evil, deo gratias…

  • Clare (and Kevin),

    I am not convinced that globalization is causal to corruption, even in extractive industries. Take the caes of an Oil Rich Country. Would it be better if:

    1) There was a national oil company stealing the proceeds from sales for family members and politicians.

    2) There was one multinational coming in to pay bribes to a politician or set of poliiticans to gain proceeds from sales.

    3) There were a series of multinationals and local companies perhaps paying bribes, perhaps paying “consulting fees”, perhaps participating in public auctions, but in any case, forming a competitive market for resource extraction.

    If you had more globalization, you would tend towards 3, which, while not perfect, is a much better outcome than 1 or 2.