Portuguese “tolerate corruption less than politicians do”, says study

Portuguese “tolerate corruption less than politicians do”, says study

Politicians interpret corruption legislation in very different way

In the wake of intense ‘issues’ with politicians either being accused of ‘incompatibilities’, or cronyism, a new study has shown that even the way politicians view Portugal’s laws on corruption differ wildly from the way citizens see them.

The question, for example, “a minister has appointed his son-in-law as officer”. On a scale of 1-10 is this corruption? Citizens viewed the scenario as very close to corruption indeed, delivering a score of 7.85.

Politicians “had a different reading”, says Lusa – just 4.83 (out of 10) politicians saw a minister’s appointment of a son-in-law to a paid position as ‘not quite right’.

The study “Ethics and integrity in politics: perceptions, control and impact”, is being presented today – backed by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation.

It was carried out by researchers Luís de Sousa and Susana Coroado from the institute of social sciences at Lisbon University. (Susana Coroado leads the Portuguese arm of Transparency International). 

Its conclusions are that citizens value honesty as the basic principle that should guide the conduct of holders of political office“, while “politicians tend to recognise the law as the only criterion guiding their conduct“.

Detailing situations in which there is a greater disagreement between citizens and politicians, researchers highlight “the nomination of family members to political posts (nepotism) and ‘pulling of strings’ to favour someone“.

But citizens themselves have their own foibles.

“There seem to be two parallel worlds. On the one hand, politicians tend to be more tolerant of corruption, in general, and seem more predisposed to accept types of corruption that are not prohibited by law (…). On the other hand, citizens tend to be, as a rule, more inclined to accept conduct associated with market corruption, which is clearly illegal”. 

In other words, citizens – mindful of their political leaders’ potential bending of rules, see nothing wrong in bending certain rules themselves.

Hence the dubious “levels of confidence” in the system in general.

Drawing conclusions, the study’s authors stress that since citizens condemn certain behaviours that political representatives view as usual, “it is important to take a more preventive approach”.

“It is important that institutions assume, in a consistent and sustained manner, a more prominent role in defining and applying ethical standards to their members, through credible threats and deterrents to improper behaviour in the political sphere”, they conclude.

While politicians tend to recognize the law as the only guiding criterion for their conduct, citizens expect more, considering that politicians should refrain from engaging in practices that, while they may be legal, are nonetheless ethically improper. This divergence of opinions, according to the authors, leads to a “loss of confidence in political institutions” and, consequently, to a “growing dissatisfaction with the performance of democracy – a theme that is close to the heart of president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com