Corruption and Hypocrisy

Three events inform this title, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Cellist of Sarajevo, and Canadian politicians’ view of their accountability for spending taxpayers’ monies. Stieg Larsson, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander will become familiar names in Canada. Larsson is the late Swedish author whose main fictional characters are Blomkvist and Salander, private investigators who unearth a series of crimes. The siege of Sarajevo 1992 to 1996 and the resulting casualties are the focus of the second title, a novel by Steven Galloway, presently living in Canada, that links to an ongoing war crimes trial at The Hague. And the third is the May 2010 reaction of Canadian federal MPs to the proposal that the Auditor General reviews aspects of their government funded expenses. The last illustrates a lesser type of possible wrong-doing than the first two. All three demonstrate both hypocrisy and corruption.

Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) was an investigative journalist who wrote about right wing extremism following the murder of eight persons by neo-Nazis in Sweden in 1995. He and his companion were the recipients of death threats and some have questioned whether he died from natural causes. Larsson, as a writer, is compared by some to Dumas and Dickens for his description of characters and events. His final work was a Millennium Trilogy entitled “Men who hate women.” The first book is the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which has been made into a film; the next two are The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Films of these two are due out later in 2010. The themes of the trilogy focus on corruption and hypocrisy at the highest levels in the public and private sectors.

The Cellist of Sarajevo deals with ethnic conflict and extreme violence following the declaration of independence by Bosnia Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia and the siege of the city by Serbians. Sarajevo was and is populated by Muslims, Serbs and Croats. The attackers were Serbs so that this is not entirely an ethnic conflict but also involved a kind of civil war due to the loss of formerly Serbian territory in a part of the world where the three ethnic groups had once lived in uneasy harmony, at least until the death of Tito in 1980.The siege left an estimated 10,000 persons dead or missing and 56,000 people wounded. It allowed corrupt officials and gangsters to profit by gouging the inhabitants with high prices for items smuggled into the city. The response of the West, or the lack of it until the intervention by NATO forces, is an example of hypocrisy in the West regarding these events where civilians were the main object of the military assault. Two Serb generals have been sentenced to imprisonment and the former President is now being tried before the international court at The Hague.

The third case arose in 2010 when the federal Auditor General (AG) asked to examine the procedures used by Canadian MPs to manage their financial expenditures which were already audited by a private firm. The intent was not to repeat the audit but to see if there were ways in which the management of their expenses could be improved. The MPs rejected the AG’s offer through an all-party decision by the Committee of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, a committee which does not publish reports. The general public was astounded that MPs resisted transparency, and is overwhelmingly in support of the AG’s request. The public wants not only the programs examined but also details of the already audited expenditures. Reaction by the MPs does not pass the smell test and has alerted the public to the possibility of wrong-doing. This is unlikely to be corruption on a wide scale, because the sums involved are not large, but corruption of an embarrassing nature because monies may have been spent on things which MPs would prefer not to explain.

Elsewhere in provincial legislatures there have been recent cases of elected representatives misusing government allowances, while in the UK MPs of all parties have been caught spending their allowances on personal items. Possible corruption and definite hypocrisy are illustrated by the actions of these members, all of whom, and especially opposition MPs, ask for transparency of government spending.

Why bother to list these examples? It is not unknown for persons in power to act in their self-interest, for people to behave opportunistically or for this to extend to criminal behavior. History provides many examples. In the recent global crisis extreme cases have been uncovered such as the massive financial scams of Bernie Madoff and the actions of Enron as well as Hollinger in Canada. What is unsettling is that in reasonably open societies such as Sweden, the former Yugoslavia and Canada, the media and academia are so slow to uncover instances of wrongdoing that have been ongoing for a long time. It is almost by chance that cases are uncovered and acted upon.

In the Swedish case, Larsson was an investigative reporter but his findings on the actions of extreme right wing groups caused little public response. Persecution of the population of Sarjevo went on for a long time before the west took any action. And it took the AG not an investigative reporter to question the daily behavior of MPs, where there must be numerous persons who could leak information to the press that could spur a journalistic investigation and academic research.

There is now an enormous amount of public information stored in data bases that could be used to investigate events. Academics and reporters are slow to do the grunt work and prefer to look under lamp posts where the light shines. There are notable exceptions such as Glen McGregor, journalist with the Ottawa Citizen, who received a CAJ Award in 2010 for reporting using electronic records. Also journalists were instrumental in researching material that lead to the Oliphant inquiry into the actions of former Prime Minister Mulroney that was declared inappropriate. But there is likely much more that could be gleaned from public information sources now that electronic records exist and the internet permits widespread interaction between individuals. Perhaps the extent of corruption and hypocrisy is no worse than before but the means to spotlight both have increased.

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