Which award carries the largest amount of prize money in the world? The Nobel Peace Prize with $1.3 million? Actually there is an award that comes with at least four times more. That is the Mo Ibrahim Prize which was established in 2006. The prize was named after its founder, Mo Ibrahim, 63, who was a successful businessman born in Sudan.
The prizewinner receives $500,000 every year for 10 years, and after that $200,000 every year until he or she dies. The requirements: to be the president of an African state elected through a legitimate election, to retire when his term is over and to face no charges of corruption.
The judges, including Kofi Annan, a former secretary general of the United Nations, have searched thoroughly for leaders who meet the requirements, and so far, two winners have been produced.
The first winner was Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, and the second was Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana. In his acceptance speech, Chissano said he would pay back his debts when he received the prize money, which confirmed that the judges chose the right person.
But some skeptics say the prize money is nothing when Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire or Sani Abacha of Nigeria each siphoned off billions of dollars while in power. They also doubt whether the goal of the prize, which is to provide leaders with an incentive to keep the temptations of corruption at bay, can be fulfilled.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation maintains that the prize can be a good incentive for African leaders to cut off their ties with corruption when they have no other means to earn money after retirement, unlike leaders in the Western world who can earn a fortune after retirement by giving lectures or writing books.
Their solution is understandable considering state officials in Africa take one-fourth of the entire gross domestic product of the continent illegally and drain it overseas.
Africa is not the only place where kleptocracy takes place. In Indonesia under former President Suharto’s rule, state officials even issued receipts when they took bribes, giving rise to the joke, “Don’t bother reporting if your goat is stolen,” as the bribe to police officers would easily be worth more than an ox.
But we can’t pretend this happens only in other countries. We are stunned to see corruption from the former administration continually being revealed. All the more shocking is that the former administration’s members behaved as if they were the most innocent people in the world.
Economist Mancur Olson said a gang of bandits will loot everything in sight as long as they don’t plan to return to the site. The members of the former administration must have wanted to take as much as they could because they didn’t know when they would have the chance again. Perhaps we also should establish a prize for a leader who leaves a post without any trace of corruption.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Shin Ye-ri [email@example.com]