Corrupt practices, be they at the level of Dh50 or Dh50 million, inflict costs far beyond the economic damage they do.
Each time a public official or business person misuses his office for his own gain, he distorts the just order or the efficiency of markets, obviously. But he also injects a toxin into society's bloodstream: corrosive distrust, tolerance for other abuses and a culture of impunity all flourish where corruption does. It is no coincidence that social peace and general prosperity, those welcome twins, are most common where corruption is most rare.
In this regard the UAE can be proud. The UAE, together with Qatar, are ranked as the cleanest Arab countries in terms of corruption. A new federal anti-corruption law is being drafted and oversight institutions appear to be working efficiently. But the UAE must also be vigilant, and there will always be more to be done.
By its nature corruption is hard to quantify, but for 2012 the well-respected Transparency International, which tallies perceptions of abuse, ranked the UAE as the 27th-cleanest of 174 countries rated; one spot better than in 2011, continuing several years of relative improvement. At 27th, the UAE was tied with Qatar and well ahead of other regional states.
Abuses do occur. Last February the federal State Audit Institution (SAI) said it would demand recoveries of over Dh1 billion from several 2010 cases of fraud, bribery, forgery and misappropriation of public funds.
The political will to continue rising in those rankings is crucial. Another critical step is encouraging greater transparency. More public information about how money is spent highlight areas of strength. "Sunlight," as the late US Supreme Court judge Louis Brandeis used to say, "is the best disinfectant."
Globalisation has altered some corrupt practices, so the response must be international too. The UAE signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2005, and SAI officials, working with a panel of international experts, have recently reviewed the country's compliance. As The National reported last week, the visitors welcomed the UAE's progress but called for better protection for witnesses and informants. There was also discussion of more international cooperation to catch abuse.
The pending federal anti-corruption law is expected to deal with all that, as well as tackle the criminalisation of certain practices and improve cross-border cooperation in asset recovery. Fighting corruption is a job that never ends.