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First Faculty Seminar lecture of the year to address corruption

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- You can’t read international news these days without coming across a story about transition economies. Particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, eastern European economies, for one, have been in transition from Communism to free-market capitalism. After spending two years teaching economics in Kazakhstan, Sharon Eicher, Bethel College’s new associate professor of business and economics, has a special interest in corruption in transition economies such as Kazakhstan. She will give the first Bethel Faculty Seminar lecture for 2005-06 on that topic on Monday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Administration Building chapel on the Bethel College campus.

Eicher’s lecture is taken from "Why Didn’t You Offer a Bribe? We Have a Budget for That!," one of six chapters in From Silk Road to Oil Slick: Kazakhstan’s Emergence from Tradition to Modernity. The book, edited by Ben Ostrov, Ph.D., is forthcoming from M.E. Sharpe. Ostrov, Eicher and the other writers were all teaching colleagues at KIMEP, the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Prognosis (Strategic Research).

Eicher first made the presentation in Boston on September 30 at the 6th annual meeting of the Central Eurasian Studies Society. Now based at Harvard, CESS was founded by Dr. Uli Schamiloglu, one of Eicher’s professors at the University of Wisconsin.

Eicher defines corruption in its most simple form as "when someone is not fulfilling their obligations, for personal gain, whether in public or private settings." This goes beyond the traditional definition of corruption, she says, which sees it as something done only by people in government, whereas in her view, corruption should be defined by behavior, not by who does it.

"Corruption is neither new nor original, nor is it a problem only of transitional economies, such as Kazakhstan," Eicher writes at the beginning of her chapter. "Corruption is the result of weak institutions. When institutions that regulate the political and economic spheres are under-developed, and particularly when government practices are not transparent, corruption is the result."

It’s not that developed economies such as those in the United States, Canada or Great Britain "are better," Eicher says. These are much older democracies, with government and economic institutions that are at least two centuries old.

Even so, the recent indictment of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom DeLay on "ethics charges" proves Eicher’s point that the problem of corruption exists well beyond transition economies. Although Eicher will not be addressing current events in U.S. politics in her Faculty Seminar lecture, she notes that those events also prove that "corruption is huge. When we start to look at business ethics and corruption recently, we begin opening cans of worms we weren’t aware of 10 years ago."

She adds, "It’s good for people to realize that in business and economics, we [in the West] represent one facet in a whole range of business and accounting practices. Anyone who is going to work for a company with any kind of international connection has to understand that the assumptions and language [about business] can be very different from one culture to another.

"Unless you’re living in an economy where corruption is the norm, you can’t appreciate how pervasive it is and how broadly it affects government and economics. We tend to think that free elections equal democracy and open up a market economy--but how can you be an entrepreneur when there’s so much graft?"

Eicher’s lecture on "Corruption in Kazakhstan" is free and open to the public.

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