• 2005-09-07
Transparency International, the world's only NGO dedicated exclusively to combating corruption, raised eyebrows across the Baltics this week when it proposed conducting sting operations on Lithuanian roads and highways to weed out corrupt traffic officers. The esteemed organization, disgusted by the money-grubbing road inspectors of Lithuania, earnestly wants something done.

The proposal is straightforward: put more operatives and cameras out on the streets and test 's both randomly and selectively 's police officers for honesty. As Rytis Juozapavicius, director of Transparency International Lithuania, explained, if a seasoned cop is caught red-handed accepting a bribe, he fails the test but at least society is spared of another corrupt police officer.

Juozapavicius commented that bribery has become so rampant in Lithuania that only a systematic campaign will bring it back to a normal level. Similar "honesty tests" were conducted in cities such as New York, and the results were ultimately beneficial to the entire law enforcement system, he said.

Naturally, many officials are appalled by the proposal. They cite violations of human rights and provocation, something akin to "testing" a recovering alcoholic by dangling a bottle of schnapps in front of his face. These so-called honesty tests show nothing but the frailty of the human condition, these people argue, particularly with underpaid Lithuanian policemen who have families to feed and children to clothe.

We disagree. By the same logic athletes should not be tested for steroids, federal employees should not be examined for drug use, and schools should not check up on suspicious students. Any system is only as good as its controls, and testing is ultimately the final guarantor of integrity.

Crooked cops will never go away; they will always be among us. The issue is how many of them there will be, and that is essentially a function of how effective the control system is.

At the same time, let's not pick on just the men and women in uniform. There are countless bureaucrats and politicians stuffing their pockets 's and in much larger sums 's and ultimately it is they who do the most damage to a nation's welfare. A health inspector who accepts 1,000 euros to ignore rotten food, or a judge who takes 10,000 to quash evidence, is far more dangerous than a traffic cop who palms 50 litas from someone driving 10 kilometers per hour over the limit.

In the battle against corruption, it would be wise if we keep things in perspective. Fish rot from the head on down, so any coordinated effort to uproot corruption should be top-down, not the opposite. Crack down on the traffic police, for sure, but bust the fat cats in the meantime.