The Five Levels of Corruption

Published on 11th July 2016

A Proverb is a simple and concrete statement that expresses a truth based on common sense or experience. An entire book in the Bible is dedicated to these terse assertions and truisms we call proverbs. An interesting passage is located in Proverbs 1, and I find it enchanting that several years even before the advent of modern legal societies, God, through wisdom, had defined the five levels of human depravity. Apparently, it is these set of behaviours which modern states codify as law.

Proverbs 1: 10-14: “My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them.  If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot” (NIV).

FIRST LEVEL: Violence (an invitation to behave badly), “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood…”

Remember, these are proverbs. Here is a depiction of an innocent soul who must follow a voice of violence. Most people who are violent are called into it or are provoked into violence. They usually lack what in law is called a requisite “mens reas” or an evil intent. They would never have made the decision to be violent by themselves. But a mob or a voice of violence will entice them into “joining” others and end up committing violent acts. Notice that this invitation is predicated upon a reason, “…wait for innocent blood.” This seeming innocent soul is called to participate into act that will lead to hate or harm of innocent people or property. It is a voice we hear through speeches, news, magazines, rallies and social media. It keeps ringing into our ears until we act upon it. If we ignore it, nothing will happen.

SECOND LEVEL: Abuse of trust (hurting the harmless), “Let’s ambush some harmless [innocent] soul…”

The violent stage is less ominous to the abuse of trust and privileges. At this stage violent predisposition turns into abuse of trust and this may lead to harm of the innocent. Let us frame it another way. The innocent is simply that, innocent, deservedly or not. If it’s in politics, all the people are innocent, but someone in the position of authority, and therefore of trust, will amass wealth and steal national resources for themselves. When that happens, the innocent, the people, will suffer. The level where someone does not care the consequences of their behavior in hurting or harming public or private good is a depraved situation we call corruption. It is abysmal because the consequence of this behaviour harms innocent people. At the person level, this level is antithetical to morality in that it attacks the vulnerable (children, elderly, mentally incapacitated, physically incapable people and other challenged situations). Therefore, this level is injurious to what in law is called “fiduciary duty,” the relationship or position of trust. These positions are diverse but they all stand for trust. A teacher-student, parent-child, doctor-patient, accountant-client, seller-customer, law practitioner-client, pastor/priest-congregant, politician-people relationships, are some of the examples of fiduciary.

The danger with this level is that it has become a crime in the composition of the thought and action. “Let us…ambush…” means there is premeditation and planning, and then action. In criminal law the ingredients that make up a crime (“mens rea and actus reus”) are met. At this stage of corruption, the matter is criminal. The thinking and actions have married and given birth to “blood” or offence. Abuse of trust or position is a criminal behavior that affects negatively those who are weak and unprotected. It is a breach of bona fides, or the good faith that others have entrusted upon them. Thus, teachers who molest their students; parents who abuse their children; doctors who are negligent with patient confidentiality or even physically injure their patients; accountants or banks or lending institutions or investment trusts which swindle its customers and clients of their savings and investments; law practitioners who flounder on confidentiality and trust; and religious leaders who take advantage of the vulnerability and trust of their parishioners and congregants in terms of sexual abuse, abuse of tithes and offering, and demanding favors “in the name of God,” are all in breach of the trust of utmost good faith. This is criminal.

THIRD LEVEL: Total damage (complete fraud), “Let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit…”

At this level of corruption, the perpetrator is just one step away from the bottom-less pit. The aim is not just to corrupt but also to destroy, “Let’s swallow them…” In the State of California, the highest crime one can commit is called “Felony Murder,” and this is more egregious than first degree murder. Felony murder happens in this fashion. A bank robber intends to rob a bank. He ambushes the workers and gets his loot. When he is about to escape, he spots a person who has witnessed the robbery. So, in order to eliminate eye witnesses, he shoots and kills this innocent person. Thus, he has committed the ultimate, felony murder. While robbing a bank is grave in itself, the killing of the innocent person in order to “protect” the proceedings of crime is a graver crime.

This level of corruption is very dangerous. It does not only steal and rob and take for itself, but does not intend to leave anything behind it as well. It is a matter of total destruction, total depletion of coffers, total elimination of the means of wealth building, total destruction of evidence. If it is arson, it means burning down the building with a murdered body in it. These kinds of corruptors opine thus, “I don’t want to leave behind anything for anybody…I will take all and destroy the remaining.” At the personal level, the voice of total destruction is ardent at killing the person or dream with everything else. At the public level, this voice kills the system with everything in it.

FOURTH LEVEL: Plunder (joy in another person’s misfortune), “We will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder.”

The corruptor goes further and performs stints of mockery, desecrates the body and enjoys the proceeds of crime. This is the stage at which the victim is now out of the picture and the perpetrator lives to enjoy the “plunder.” At the personal level, the corruptor has thoroughly annihilated its victim and is busily enjoying all that he plundered from the victim. He is laughing and enjoying watching the victim suffer. He has achieved ultimate humiliation of the victim. He is not only enjoying while the victim suffers, but he also taunts, mocks and “dismembers” the victim in a slow but deliberate pain-inducing fashion. It is death in slow motion. At the public or national level, it is the level of corruption where the corruptors are enjoying themselves while the majority wallows in abject poverty, die from preventable diseases, and walk in total indignity and shame. The corruptors are even using the same resources they plundered to enslave the victims with, and the worst part of it is that the victims are hopeless and are forced to eat their own defecations, and from which they will die because of health complications. In criminal law, this may be called dishonorable murder with intent to damn, or some equivalent. This is a very, very dangerous level of corruption.

FIFTH LEVEL: Doom. “Cast lots with us; we will all share the loot.”

This level is the final nail in the coffin. The corruptors are now corruption itself personified. They don’t just commit fraud, they are fraud itself impersonated, and so on. At this stage, it is hopeless for the corruptor to do anything else except to corrupt. Even if it’s not necessary, they still corrupt. They can sell their own heart even if they know they will not live to benefit from its proceeds. They have become one with the voice of corruption, “We shall all share the loot.’ Both at the personal and public levels, these kinds of souls are unredeemable, all they know is corruption. It has become a second nature. They can’t function unless they corrupt, or hurt someone, or defraud or destroy another’s fortune or life. This is the most dangerous of all stages of corruption.

Solomon charges, “To understand a proverb and an enigma. And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,” Proverbs 1: 6).

By Charles Mwewa

Author of “The Seven Laws of Influence” and a novel called, “A Spy in Hell,” and other books.


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