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Society & Culture

What the People Say: Banks are the Most Corrupt Institutions in Iran

January 28, 2016
Shima Shahrabi
7 min read
 Hossein Ghazian, one of the sociologists who worked on the survey
Hossein Ghazian, one of the sociologists who worked on the survey

A recent survey conducted by Information and Public Opinion Solutions LLC (iPOS) has revealed that the majority of Iranians consider banks to be the most corrupt institutions in Iran.

Of those polled, 77 percent said they believed that banks in Iran were ‘highly”, “very” or “relatively” corrupt.

People also considered corruption to be rife in city governments and the judiciary, with 63 percent of those polled saying corruption was a serious problems in these public institutions. Fifty-five percent also said police were corrupt. 

Most of the Iranians surveyed (71 pecent) believe that corruption is pervasive, and 96 percent agreed with the view that the only way to tackle the problem effectively was through harsh punishment.

The new survey was conducted by iPOS, a private research institute based in McLean, Virginia in the United States. The survey was conducted through telephone interviews from September 26, 2015 to October 8, 2015, with a random sample of 1,548 Iranian adults aged 18 and older. All of those polled currently reside in Iran.

IranWire talked to Dr. Hossein Ghazian, a sociologist and one of the people behind the survey.


“Corruption” has different meanings for different people. How did this survey define the term? And were the respondents informed of this definition?

Yes. As you say people interpret the term “corruption” very differently. But in this survey we had a specific interpretation in mind, i.e., official and economic corruption — meaning any abuse of one’s position in the government or in the public arena for direct or indirect personal gain, be it financial or otherwise.

Of course, we do know that in the modern usage of the Persian language “corruption” has several meanings. For many the term does not have the same meaning as in specialized texts, i.e., financial and bureaucratic corruption. For some, corruption can be summarized as “boozing and betting,” which refers to activities such as drinking alcohol, gambling and unsanctioned sexual relations. This interpretation refers to personal not public affairs. But our survey deals with financial and bureaucratic corruption. So to prevent misunderstanding we used words such as “embezzlement”, “bribery” and “favoritism” to define what we meant by corruption and arrive at a common understanding with the respondents.


Did the respondents cite reasons for considering an institution to be more corrupt or less corrupt? Or did they simply select their answers from a list of choices?

We did not ask for their reasons. Nevertheless, by looking at institutions that people consider to be most corrupt, such as banks, local governing councils, courts and the Justice Ministry, and the Organization for Registration and Properties, we can conclude that those institutions that deal with people directly are more likely to be considered to be corrupt. People have less daily contact with organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and perhaps that is why they believe it is less corrupt.

If we go a step further than this hypothetical conclusion, we can say that people take it for granted that corruption exists in state and public institutions unless they have had no dealings with them and have not arrived at a negative judgment. A more detailed analysis of the survey’s findings shows that people group corrupt institutions into three categories. In the first category are service organizations such as banks, the police, city governments and the traffic police. Next are institutions that were created after the revolution like the Mostazafan Foundation [the second-largest commercial enterprise in Iran], the Revolutionary Guards and the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation. The third category consists of “soft” service institutions such as universities, schools and the Environmental Protection Agency. It appears that when it comes to corruption, people categorize them differently.


What percentage of those polled had university educations? Was there a significant difference between the views of those who were educated and those who had not gone on to further education?

Around 72 percent of the respondents had received a high school education or less, 28 percent were college graduates and then about 0.4 percent had received seminary education. In certain cases there are interesting differences between evaluations from the college-educated and those from people who did not go on to higher education. For example, those with a college education believe there is less corruption than the others polled. However, when Iran is compared to other countries, the college-educated give Iran a worst ranking than those without higher education—respectively 86 to 77 among 150 countries. Similarly, those with a college education are more pessimistic about the levels of corruption in Iran in the future, and how it has developed in the past. They believe that corruption in the past five years has gotten worse and it is going to get worse in the coming five years.


The survey finds that the young Iranians are more pessimistic about the future. What do you think is the reason for this?

The meaningful difference really is between those who are under 45 and those who are older. But based on the findings of the survey the age factor is not the deciding factor in this difference, because those under 45 are better educated than those above 45. Since education is what makes the difference, we can assume that the reason why the young are more pessimistic is not age but education, because the more educated they are the more pessimistic they become.


Does this survey indicate that people do not trust government institutions?

In this survey we did not measure the trust in the institutions but the respondents’ evaluation of the level of corruption in those institutions. The topic of “trust” is a complex and multi-faceted one. If we assume that part of a trust in an institution results from a belief in its health and that for a person corruption is a sign of lack of health then we can say that yes, the belief in the existence of corruption in an institution must logically result in less trust in that institution.


Do you think that the findings of such surveys makes people more informed? Do people pay any attention to these surveys?

Very much so. But it depends how widely the findings are published and to what degree people hear about them and take them seriously. Unfortunately surveys are not part of the process of informing people in Iranian society. In general the volume of surveys are low and their findings are only partially published. What is more, one assumes that surveys must constitute part of the information resources for the media but the media do not pay much attention to them.

I must also add that in recent years when statesmen with “clean hands” have been running affairs and have set out to stamp out corruption with their “clean handkerchiefs,” so much horrible news and statistics about corruption has been published that people have become a little desensitized to these reports. To use an expression from journalism, the news that is published these days is not “man bites dog.” It’s more likely to be “dog bites man,” which of course does not surprise people, because it is not an unexpected development.


On the whole, what role do these surveys play and how do they affect society?

Surveys are part of the processes and methods of democratic societies, where people’s views and demands are supposed to rule. They are also an indispensable part of a free-market economy where the customer has the final word. Iran is defective in both aspects. As a result, surveys do not play an important role in the policy-making and decision-making process — not in public life and not in the economy. However, if people are informed of these surveys and if people turn this knowledge little by little into a demand for change, then we can say that even if surveys do not affect how the government works they can arm people for change and progress — aware of what they do not want and armed with what they want or with what they can demand.


Related articles:

“The Walls Have Ears”: Finding Out what the Iranian Public Really Thinks

A Tale of Corruption: The Missing $88million Oil Rig


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