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Battling corruption through discussion

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The University of Calgary brought experts from the United Kingdom, France, the United States and across Canada to discuss and analyze corruption around the world.

Social, economic and political perspectives on corruption were discussed at the early November conference.

Topics included how corruption is perceived, its different incarnations and local and global anti-corruption initiatives.

William Black, associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, talked about the role of corruption in the U.S. financial crisis.

Author of The Best Way To Rob a Bank is to Own One, Black talked about deceit and fraud by elites.

"[The] market system creates an environment of fraud," he said.

Corruption is prevalent in all societies and takes place even in Calgary and on campus, said Black, pointing to the Calgary Flames receiving H1N1 vaccinations before high-risk Canadians as a recent example.

In 1994, the Liberal Party of Canada was accused of misusing public funds. Millions of dollars were defrauded from the government.

In what would become known as the Sponsorship Scandal, funds that were supposed to support Liberal Party advertising were misused and the scam went unattended by high-level government officials.

Allan Cutler, the man who blew the whistle on the scandal, spoke at the forum, describing the events from an insider's perspective.

"[You] don't start out corrupt, you become corrupt," he said.

Cutler emphasized the importance of ethics and backbone to change the system.

"Complacency is our worst enemy," he said.

Change is possible, said Cutler, adding that scandals can act as lessons for the future.

Programs like Canadians for Accountability, an organization committed to drawing attention to corruption within Canada, are addressing the issue.

The organization emphasized that awareness and accountability are key to fighting corruption.

Nathaniel Heller, managing director for Global Integrity, an independent NGO of researchers and journalists that track governance and corruption trends, spoke about corruption around the globe.

Due to high amounts of bribery and theft that take place in Nepal's airport industry, mandatory pocketless pants were suggested for all airport staff in order to curb corruption, explained Heller.

In Macedonia "corruption has become tradition." Bribery and corruption have become entrenched in social and cultural practices, while the country's health-care system is in danger of falling apart.

"Corruption can be literally painful," said Heller.

Women are expected to pay to give birth. Bribes are expected when entering the emergency room.

The argument is put forward that with low salaries corruption is natural.

Heller believes however, that people are offended by these abuses and that there is potential for reform and movement.

"There is a receptiveness to issues, regardless of geography."

According to reports put out by the World Bank, it is estimated that more than $1 trillion U.S. is paid in bribes a every year.

Acquiring corruption statistics are difficult as corruption is usually hidden and hard to document, Heller explained.

"How do you measure what you can't see," he said.

The forum and question and answer session drew a crowd of students, professors, NGO representatives and the general public.

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