The cost of corruption is four-fold: political, economic, social, and environmental.
On the political front, corruption constitutes a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they are misused for private advantage. Though this is harmful in the established democracies, it is even more so in newly emerging ones. Accountable political leadership cannot develop in a corrupt climate.
Economically, corruption leads to the depletion of national wealth. It is often responsible for the funnelling of scarce public resources to uneconomic high-profile projects, such as dams, power plants, pipelines and refineries, at the expense of less spectacular but more necessary infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and roads, or the supply of power and water to rural areas. Furthermore, it hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, thereby deterring investment.
The effect of corruption on the social fabric of society is the most damaging of all. It undermines people's trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership. Frustration and general apathy among a disillusioned public result in a weak civil society. That in turn clears the way for despots as well as democratically elected yet unscrupulous leaders to turn national assets into personal wealth. Demanding and paying bribes become the norm. Those unwilling to comply often emigrate, leaving the country drained of its most able and most honest citizens.
Environmental degradation is yet another consequence of corrupt systems. The lack of, or non-enforcement of, environmental regulations and legislation has historically allowed the North to export its polluting industry to the South. At the same time, careless exploitation of natural resources, from timber and minerals to elephants, by both domestic and international agents has led to ravaged natural environments. Environmentally devastating projects are given preference in funding, because they are easy targets for siphoning off public money into private pockets.
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