1. Foreword by David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of our problems in the world today. It destroys jobs and holds back growth, costing the world economy billions of pounds every year. It traps the poorest in the most desperate poverty as corrupt governments around the world syphon off funds and prevent hard-working people from getting the revenues and benefits of growth that are rightfully theirs. It steals vital resources from our schools and hospitals as corrupt individuals and companies evade the taxes they owe. It can even undermine our security, as Sarah Chayes argues in her essay, if the perceived corruption of local governments makes people more susceptible to the poisonous ideology of extremists.
The longer I have been Prime Minister, and the more I have seen in this job, the more I believe that we cannot hope to solve the big global challenges of our time without making a major dent in the whole cycle of corruption. If we continue to hide from this problem, how will developing countries blessed with natural resources ever break out of the poverty trap? How will we stop people from risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean unless we enable them to build a better life back at home? In the end, we have to deal with corruption if we are to have any hope of a truly prosperous and secure future.
Furthermore, people actually want us to deal with this problem, every bit as much as they want us to tackle issues like poverty and migration. They want the law to be upheld and they want the corrupt to be punished, with justice and recompense for those who have suffered.
Yet while corruption is such a huge problem, the national and global efforts to deal with it are often weak. No country has a perfect record on these issues – and so there is a hesitation in raising them. For too long there has been something of an international taboo over stirring up concerns. For too long it has just been too easy for those in authority to ignore or pretend not to know what is going on. As David Walsh puts it in his essay: this “longing to indulge the irresponsibility of not knowing” has been the rock upon which corruption is built. I profoundly believe that this has to change – and it has to change in every country. Make no mistake, corruption affects us all, Britain included. From tax evasion and overseas territories who have been accused of hiding the proceeds of corruption, to an MPs’ expenses scandal that tore at the fabric of the world’s oldest democracy, we have our own problems and we are very much still dealing with them.
That is why I have made tackling corruption such a political priority. From the 2010 Bribery Act to becoming the first major country in the world to establish a public central registry of who really owns and controls companies, I am determined that we should do everything we can to demonstrate leadership on these issues and put our own house in order.
Through our chairmanship of the G8 and the Summit at Lough Erne, I put tax, trade and transparency on the global agenda and sought agreement on a global standard for the automatic exchange of information over who pays taxes where. While many said it would never happen, today 129 jurisdictions have committed to implementing the international standard for exchange of tax information on request and more than 95 jurisdictions have committed to implementing the new global common reporting standard on tax transparency by 2018.
Through our chairmanship of the United Nations High Level Panel, Britain secured the inclusion of tackling corruption at the heart of the new Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate absolute poverty from our world. On my watch, the UK has signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – and we’re leading a global drive to get other countries on board and clean up a sector which has for too long been vulnerable to corruption. We are going further still. I am determined that the UK must not become a safe haven for corrupt money from around the world. We know that some high-value properties – particularly in London – are being bought by people overseas through anonymous shell companies, some of them with plundered or laundered cash. So we are consulting on ways to make property ownership by foreign companies much more transparent – and considering whether to insist that any non-UK company wishing to bid on a contract with the UK government should publically state who really owns it.
Yet all of these measures address only parts of the problem. As the Panama Papers show, corruption is a truly global challenge. Criminal networks operate across borders. And wealth that is plundered from the poorest countries can end up hidden away in the richest countries. So nations need to tackle this issue in partnership, developing a truly comprehensive, sustained and coherent international agenda to defeat the causes of corruption. That is why we are holding the Anti-Corruption Summit in London and why I have compiled this book. The essays in this book are not about trying to claim the moral high ground, nor about telling others what to do. Neither do they claim to be a comprehensive guide to tackling corruption. But they are an attempt to bring together some of the most pioneering thinkers on this issue to begin a frank and informed global debate over how to tackle what I believe is one of the most pernicious enemies of progress in our time.
While the essays cover a wide range of perspectives and experiences, there are a number of consistent themes. For a start, we can be clear about the scale and extent of the problem. José Ugaz tells us that every year one in four people around the world pay a bribe to access public services. While in Mexico, a family spends on average 14% of its income on bribes for basic services to which they are already entitled – including water, medicine and education.
Christine Lagarde sets out the indirect economic costs of corruption, including the way corruption can act like a tax on investment and stifle the creation of new business. She also highlights its impact on the poorest and its damaging effect on the moral fabric of our society.
Many of the essays bring home the sheer extent of corruption, reaching every country and affecting so many areas of life – from the desperate stories of the vulnerable paying bribes to get treatment for a sick child, to the world of sport which was for so long indulged with a special status that left some of its participants behaving as if they were exempt from the rules that everyone else was expected to follow.
Some of the essays are very clear about the definitions of corruption. Francis Fukuyama, in particular, analyses the origins of corruption, providing a strong historical and intellectual underpinning to the challenges we face. Running through the essays is the sense that not only do you need the right rules and enforcement but you need to change the underlying culture too. There is a clear message here. We cannot have one or the other; we need both. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key offers us his perspective when he uses a cricketing analogy to describe the national character of his country and its intolerance of “underarm deliveries”. He argues that you have to promote a culture which makes it close to impossible for the corrupt to prosper or escape detection. There is also a striking frankness and directness in the politicians who are writing about the history of corruption in their own countries.
President Ghani describes Afghanistan as, by any measure, “one of the most corrupt countries on earth”. In his essay on tackling corruption in Estonia, Mart Laar says that corruption was so ingrained that it had become a way of life. He writes: “we didn’t even understand that it wasn’t normal.” President Buhari uses that same concept to describe corruption in Nigeria as a “way of life” under “supposedly accountable democratic governments” and points to evidence suggesting that between $300 billion and
$400 billion of public funds have been lost to corruption since Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
But that frankness about the problem will only deliver real change if there is true political leadership. Without that leadership, many of the rules, institutions and mechanisms to address corruption will never actually bite. For years Nigeria had the laws and the anti-corruption agencies, but as President Buhari explains, there was “a complete lack of political will to strengthen these agencies and to faithfully enforce the laws.” These laws were ignored with impunity and procurements were made with a complete disregard for due process. He cites one example of a provision to allow courts to treat unexplained wealth as evidence of corruption. There is a similar provision in Singapore, the use of which is explored in the essay by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. But the difference is that in Nigeria’s case, neither the Code of Conduct Bureau nor the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission has ever invoked such provisions in their decades of existence.
Above all, when I read through the essays I feel both depressed and uplifted. Depressed because the scale of this problem is truly frightening and the human costs are so desperate. It is hard not to pause on Jim Yong Kim’s essay when he describes the situation in Sierra Leone where corruption stopped some mothers from immunising their infant children because nurses demanded rice in exchange for ‘free’ shots.
But I am also uplifted because there is a consistent theme that we can crack this and there are so many encouraging stories of measures that have already had an impact.
Angel Gurría tells us that between 1999 – the year the OECD convention tackling transnational bribery came into force – and 2014, 361 individuals and 126 companies were sanctioned for foreign bribery in 17 countries, with at least $5.4 billion imposed in combined monetary sanctions and 95 people put behind bars.
José Ugaz describes some of the ways that new technologies have already been employed to bring about real change. In Guatemala, a public campaign over a customs fraud scandal forced the resignation of the president and vice- president. In Brazil, 40 civil society organisations mobilised two million Brazilians to use online actions and events to successfully campaign for a new law that prevents candidates who have been convicted of corruption from standing for public office for at least eight years.
When El Salvador gave citizens the right to ask for information about public officials’ assets, 6,000 citizen requests helped to uncover cases where the wealth of public officials had grown by 300% during their time in office. In Venezuela, a new smart phone app is allowing ordinary citizens to report on instances of bribery and any irregularities during elections, with more than 400 complaints registered for follow-up in the most recent parliamentary elections.
Christine Lagarde also cites an example from Indonesia where the then Minister of Finance partnered with business to create ‘new rules of the game’. These meant that the government delivered a streamlined customs approval process in exchange for a commitment from business not to offer any bribes to officials.
Jim Yong Kim describes how publishing school funding allocations in local newspapers in Uganda transformed the proportion of funds that made it through to the schools, with one study concluding that the amount of funds diverted away by local officials correlated to the distance of a school from a town where there was a newspaper outlet.
All of these examples and more mean that the biggest message of this book is one of optimism. This battle can be won. Furthermore, there are clear lessons coming through that can help us to win it by shaping an international agenda to defeat and deter corruption.
First, corruption should be exposed so there is nowhere to hide. We need to end the use of secret shell companies, so that the corrupt no longer have an easy and anonymous way to hide their loot and move it across borders. We need to drive out the rogue lawyers, estate agents and accountants who facilitate or tolerate corruption in commerce and finance. We need to expose the theft or misuse of taxpayers’ money by opening up budgets and procurement so that people can see exactly how their money is used and they can demand that people are held to account when it is stolen. And we need a sustained effort in those areas which Paul Collier describes as the “pockets of high corruption”, including corruption-prone sectors such as the extractive and construction industries.
At the heart of all of this is international co-operation on transparency. In the UK we have adopted legislation to give the public unrestricted access to beneficial ownership information on UK companies through a public central registry so that people can see who really owns and controls companies. But as Paul Radu argues, tracking international flows of finance requires international co-operation. Well-structured, transparent and accessible databases could allow automated searches of ever-larger, global datasets that could feed real-time alerts to journalists in every country. His vision offers a network of investigative journalists that could help make transparency the natural enemy of international organised crime gangs and corrupt officials all over the world. Given the sheer quantity of data to get through, networks of civil society, activists and journalists – working with law enforcement – will be critical to holding people to account.
Second, we need to deal properly and comprehensively with the corruption we expose. That means bringing the perpetrators to justice, actively enforcing anti-corruption laws and working together across international borders to hunt down the corrupt, prosecute them and send them to jail. One cutting-edge idea to explore here comes from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In Singapore, instead of prosecutors having to prove the guilt of the corrupt, they reverse the burden of proof so the accused have to show that they acquired their wealth legally. The Prevention of Corruption Act also provides for extra-territorial jurisdiction, so that the actions of Singaporeans overseas are treated in the same way as actions committed in Singapore, regardless of whether the corrupt acts had consequences in Singapore itself.
It will be a while yet before everyone is as bold and as far- reaching as Singapore. But what I believe we can all agree is that we should send a clear message to the corrupt that there will be no impunity and that we will restrict their ability to travel and do business as usual in our countries. That’s why we in the UK are looking closely at the potential of Unexplained Wealth Orders, and why I urge other countries to do the same.
Dealing with the corruption we expose also means taking responsibility to support those who have suffered from corruption. I believe that should include doing everything we can to track down looted money and create a trusted system to return it to its rightful owners. The looting of public wealth has been on such a scale in some countries, that returning it safely would make an enormous difference to their development prospects. It would also begin to address the sense of injustice that many in this book have so powerfully described.
Third, we need more than just clear rules that are properly enforced. As so many of the contributors have argued, we also need to make it much harder for corruption to thrive by driving out the underlying cultures that have allowed this cancer to fester for so long. This means tackling head on what John Githongo describes as the ‘pirate sector’ by creating a culture where the corrupt are (in Lesotho vernacular) “bobolu” and made to feel a social stigma that shames them for what they do.
It means challenging corrupt behaviours globally by embracing the vast possibilities that Paul Collier highlights around the twinning of different countries’ institutions and professions. From tax collection agencies, treasuries and civil services to professions such as accountancy and law, twinning can begin to build a newly shared culture of probity and honesty.
Changing the culture of corruption also means embracing the power of new technologies to deliver greater accountability for public money and public services. In India, for example, welfare smartcards are helping to prevent corrupt officials taking a cut of payments to the poor. Technologies like this can provide the information to enable government agencies, businesses, campaigning NGOs and individual citizens to come together in a comprehensive movement against corruption.
But all of this will only really work if political leaders have the courage to stand together, to speak up where previously there was silence, and to demand the strengthening and co- ordinating of international institutions that are needed to put fighting corruption at the top of the international agenda where it belongs. We cannot and must not fail this test of political leadership. As David Walsh writes: “No longer in the dark, we now have the opportunity for change. It would be a crime not to seize it.”
I intend to seize it, with the support of all the authors in this book and together with the widest possible coalition of leaders from politics, business and civil society.
Together we are against corruption. And together we can defeat it.
2. Francis Fukuyama: What is Corruption?
Corruption has in many ways become the defining issue of the 21st century, just as the 20th century was characterised by large ideological struggles between democracy, fascism and communism. Today a majority of the world’s nations accept the legitimacy of democracy and at least pretend to hold competitive elections. What really distinguishes political systems from one another is the degree to which the elites ruling them seek to use their power in the service of a broad public interest or simply to enrich themselves, their friends and their families. Countries from Russia and Venezuela to Afghanistan and Nigeria all hold elections that produce leaders with some degree of democratic legitimacy. What distinguishes them from Norway, Japan or Britain is not so much democracy as the quality of government which, in turn, is greatly affected by levels of corruption.
Corruption hurts life outcomes in a variety of ways. Economically, it diverts resources away from their most productive uses and acts like a regressive tax that supports the lifestyles of elites at the expense of everyone else. Corruption incentivises the best and the brightest to spend their time gaming the system, rather than innovating or creating new wealth. Politically, corruption undermines the legitimacy of political systems by giving elites alternative ways of holding onto power other than genuine democratic choice. It hurts the prospects of democracy when people perceive authoritarian governments to be performing better than corrupt democratic ones and undermines the reality of democratic choice.
However, the phenomenon labelled ‘corruption’ comprises a wide range of behaviours whose economic and political effects vary greatly. It is remarkable that, for all of the academic effort put into the study of corruption, there is still no broadly accepted vocabulary for distinguishing between its different forms. Before we can tackle corruption, we need some conceptual clarity as to what it is and how it relates to the broader problem of good government.
2.1 Corruption as a modern phenomenon
Corruption can exist in many contexts, from bribery in a sports organisation to a secretary stealing from the office pool. I am here going to focus on political corruption, which concerns the abuse of public office for private gain (see Johnston 2005, p. 11).
The first point to note is that corruption is a modern phenomenon. The very terms ‘public’ and ‘private’ did not always exist. In the European medieval era, virtually all regimes were what Max Weber labelled ‘patrimonial’ – that is, political authority was regarded as a species of private property which could be handed down to descendants as part of their patrimony. In dynastic times, a king could give away an entire province with all of its inhabitants to his son or daughter as a wedding present, since he regarded his domain as a private possession. Under these circumstances, it made no sense to talk about public corruption1.
The concept that rulers did not simply own their domains but were custodians of a broader public interest was one that emerged gradually in the 16th and 17th centuries. Theorists such as Hugo Grotius, Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes and Samuel von Pufendorf began to argue that a ruler could be legitimately sovereign not by right of ownership, but out of a kind of social contract by which he protected public interest – above all, the common interest in peace and security. The very notion that there was a potential conflict between public and private interest emerged with the rise of modern European states. In this respect, China beat Europe to the punch by nearly 1,800 years, having been one of the earliest civilisations to develop a concept of an impersonal state that was the guardian of a collective public interest.
Today no rulers dare assert publicly that they ‘own’ the territories over which they exercise authority; even traditional monarchs such as those in the Arab world claim to be serving a broader public interest. Hence we have the phenomenon that political scientists label ‘neo-patrimonialism’ – in which political leaders pretend to be modern servants of the common good in political systems with modern trappings like parliaments, ministers and bureaucracies. But the reality is that elites enter politics to extract rents or resources and enrich themselves and their families at the expense of everyone else.
A modern state which seeks to promote public welfare and treats its citizens impersonally is not just a recent phenomenon, but also one that is difficult to achieve and inherently fragile. The reason for this has to do with human nature. Human beings are social creatures, but their sociability takes the very specific forms of favouritism towards family and friends.
The demand that we treat people on an impersonal basis, or hire a stranger who is qualified rather than a relative or a friend, is not something that comes naturally to human beings. Modern political systems set up incentives and try to socialise people into different forms of behaviour. But because favouritism towards friends and family is a natural instinct, there is a constant danger of relapse – something I have elsewhere labelled ‘repatrimonialisation’ (Fukuyama 2011).
People who live in rich developed countries often look down on countries pervaded by systemic corruption as if they are somehow deviant cases. But the truth of the matter is that, up until a few centuries ago, there were virtually no modern uncorrupt states. Making the transition from a patrimonial or neo-patrimonial state to a modern impersonal one is a difficult and historically fraught process, much more difficult in most respects than making the transition from an authoritarian political system to a democratic one.
But if most countries throughout most of human history were patrimonial or neo-patrimonial, there were still large differences between them with regard to the quality of government. So we need to make some finer distinctions between types and levels of corruption.
2.2 Types of corruption
There are two separate phenomena related to corruption that are not identical to it. The first is the creation and extraction of rents, and the second is patronage or clientelism.
In economics, a rent is technically defined as the difference between the cost of keeping a good or service in production and its price. One of the most important sources of rents is scarcity: natural resource rents exist because the selling price of oil far exceeds the cost of pumping it out of the ground.
Rents can also be artificially generated by governments. Many of the most common forms of corruption revolve around a government’s ability to create artificial scarcities through licensing or regulation. Placing tariffs on imports restricts imports and generates rents for the government; one of the most widespread forms of corruption around the world lies in customs agencies, where the customs agent will take a bribe to reduce the duties charged or expedites the clearance process so that the importer will have their goods on time.
The ease with which governments can create rents through their taxation or regulatory powers has led many economists to denounce rents in general as distortions of efficient resource allocation by markets and to see rent creation and distribution as virtually synonymous with corruption. The ability of governments to generate rents means that many ambitious people will choose politics rather than entrepreneurship or the private sector as a route to wealth.
But while rents can be and are abused in the fashion described, they also have perfectly legitimate uses, which complicate any blanket denunciation. The most obvious type of a ‘good’ rent is a patent or copyright – by which the government gives the creator of an idea or creative work the exclusive right to any resulting revenues for some defined period of time. Economists Mushtaq Khan and Jomo Kwame Sundaram (2000) point out that many Asian governments have promoted industrialisation by allowing favoured firms to generate excess profits, provided they were ploughed back into new investment. While this opened the door to considerable corruption and abuse, it also worked as a means of stimulating rapid growth at a rate possibly higher than market forces on their own would have produced.
All government regulatory functions create artificial scarcities and therefore rents. But while we can argue about the appropriate extent of regulation, few people would like to see these functions simply abandoned. The creation and distribution of rents by governments have a high degree of overlap with corruption, but are not simply the same phenomenon.
The second phenomenon that is often identified with corruption is that of patronage or clientelism. A patronage relationship is a reciprocal exchange of favours between two individuals of different status and power, usually involving favours given by the patron to the client in exchange for the client’s loyalty and political support. The favour given to the client must be a good that can be individually appropriated, such as a job in the post office, a Christmas turkey or a get-out-of-jail card for a relative, rather than a public good or policy that applies to a broad class of people (Eisenstadt and Roniger 1984). Patronage is sometimes distinguished from clientelism by scale; patronage relationships are typically face-to-face ones between patrons and clients and exist in all regimes whether authoritarian or democratic, while clientelism involves larger-scale exchanges of favours between patrons and clients, often requiring a hierarchy of intermediaries (see Scott 1972). Clientelism thus exists primarily in democratic countries where large numbers of voters need to be mobilised (Piattoni 2001, pp. 4–7).
Clientelism is considered a bad thing and a deviation from good democratic practice in several respects. In a modern democracy, citizens are supposed to vote based on the politician’s promises of broad public policies or a ‘programmatic’ agenda. Such choices are supposed to reflect general views of what is good for the political community as a whole and not just what is good for one individual voter.
Of course, voters in advanced democracies cast their ballots according to their self-interest; programmes targeted at one group of citizens are nonetheless justified in terms of broad concepts of justice or the general good. Moreover, targeted programmes must apply impartially not to individuals but to broad classes of people. Targeted benefits to individuals are bad from the standpoint of social justice. In clientelistic systems, redistributive programmes that are supposed to help all poor people, for example, end up benefiting only those poor people who support a particular politician. This weakens support for effective universal policies and preserves existing social inequalities.
Nevertheless, there is reason to think that clientelism is actually an early form of democratic participation. In the United States and other countries, it was a way of mobilising poor voters and therefore encouraging them to participate in a democratic political system. It was suboptimal when compared to programmatic voting, yet provided a degree of accountability insofar as the politician still felt obligated to provide some benefits in return for political support. In that respect, clientelism is quite different from a more destructive form of corruption in which a politician simply steals from the public treasury for the benefit of his or her family, without any obligation to provide a public service in return. The problem with clientelism is that it usually does not remain confined to a mechanism for getting out the vote, but morphs into misappropriation.
A final conceptual distinction that needs to be made is between corruption and low state capacity.
‘Anti-corruption and good governance’ has become an often-repeated slogan in the development community and some people treat good governance and the absence of corruption as equivalents. Yet they are very different: a squeaky-clean bureaucracy can still be incompetent or ineffective in doing its job, while corrupt ones can provide good services 2. Beyond low levels of corruption, good governance requires state capacity – that is, the human, material and organisational resources necessary for governments to carry out their mandates effectively and efficiently. It is linked to the skills and knowledge of public officials and whether they are given sufficient autonomy and authority to carry out their tasks.
Corruption, of course, tends to undermine state capacity (for example, by replacing qualified officials with political patronage appointees); conversely, highly professional bureaucracies tend to be less subject to bribery and theft. Low levels of corruption and high state capacity therefore tend to be correlated around the world. But getting to good governance is a much larger task than simply fighting corruption.
The distinction between corruption and low state capacity allows us to better understand differences between the effects of corruption in countries around the world. In the World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators for 2014, China ranks in the 47th percentile with respect to control of corruption, behind Ghana and just ahead of Romania (World Bank 2014). On the other hand, China has a great deal of state capacity. In the government effectiveness category, it is in the 66th percentile, while Romania is in the 55th and Ghana is in the 44th (World Bank 2014). This validates the common perception that the Chinese Government has a great deal of capacity to achieve the ends it sets, despite strong perceptions of pervasive corruption. The predictability and scale of corruption are also important; if a business owner expects to pay 10% of the transaction value in bribes, they can regard that as a kind of tax, which is less damaging to investment than a bribery level of 75% or one that varies arbitrarily from year to year.
2.3 Overcoming corruption
The first generation of anti-corruption measures taken in the mid-1990s by development finance institutions involved ambitious efforts to overhaul civil service systems along Weberian lines: incentivising officials by increasing wage dispersion and setting formal recruitment and promotion criteria. These measures had very little effect; the problem lay in the fact that corrupt governments were expected to police themselves and to implement bureaucratic systems developed over long periods in rich countries with very different histories. More recent efforts have focused on fighting corruption through transparency and accountability measures – that is, increasing the monitoring of agent behaviour and creating positive and negative incentives for better compliance with the institution’s goals. This has taken a variety of forms: cameras placed in classrooms to ensure that teachers show up for work; participatory budgeting where citizens are given a direct voice in budgeting decisions; and websites where citizens can report government officials taking bribes. Since governments cannot be trusted to police themselves, civil society has often been enlisted in a watchdog role and mobilised to demand accountability. Mechanisms like anti-corruption commissions and special prosecutors have, if given enough autonomy, also shown some success in countries such as Indonesia and Romania.
These later efforts, however, have also had uneven success (see, for example, Kolstad and Wiig 2009; Mauro 2002). In particular, transparency initiatives by themselves do not guarantee changes in government behaviour. For example, in countries where clientelism is organised along ethnic lines, co-ethnics are frequently tolerant of leaders who steal. Elsewhere, citizens may be outraged by news of corruption, but then have no clear way of holding individual politicians or bureaucrats accountable. In other cases, successes in punishing individual politicians are not sufficient to shift the normative framework in which virtually everyone in the political class expects to profit from office. Finally, anti-corruption campaigns may disrupt informal understandings and personal relationships that underpin investment and trade: without formal property rights and contract enforcement under a system of independent courts, the paradoxical short-term effect of prosecuting corrupt officials may be to deter new investment and thereby lower growth.
There is a single truth underlying the indifferent success of existing transparency and accountability measures to control corruption. The sources of corruption are deeply political. Without a political strategy for overcoming this problem, any given solution will fail. Corruption in its various forms – patronage, clientelism, rent-seeking and outright theft – all benefit existing stakeholders in the political system, who are generally very powerful players.
Lecturing them about good government or setting up formal systems designed to work in modern political systems will not affect their incentives and therefore will have little transformative effect. That is why transparency initiatives on their own often fail. Citizens may be outraged by news about corruption, but nothing will happen without collective-action mechanisms to bring about change. The mere existence of a democratic political system is no guarantee that citizens’ anger will be translated into action; they need leadership and a strategy for displacing entrenched stakeholders from power. Outside pressure in the form of loan conditionality, technical assistance or moral pressure is almost never sufficient to do the job. Anti- corruption commissions and special prosecutors who have had success in jailing corrupt officials have done so only because they receive strong grassroots political backing from citizens.
2.4 The American experience
The political nature of corruption and the necessarily political nature of the reform process can be illustrated by the experience of the United States in the 19th century (as I describe in Fukuyama 2014, chapters 9–11). American politics in that period was not too different from politics in contemporary developing democratic countries such as India, Brazil or Indonesia. Beginning in the 1820s, American states began extending the franchise to include all white males, vastly expanding the voter base and presenting politicians with the challenge of mobilising relatively poor and poorly educated voters. The solution, which appeared particularly after the 1828 presidential election that brought Andrew Jackson to power, was the creation of a vast clientelistic system. Elected politicians appointed their supporters to positions in the bureaucracy or rewarded them with individual payoffs like Christmas turkeys or bottles of bourbon. This system, known as the spoils or patronage system, characterised American government for the next century, from the highest federal offices down to local postmasters in every American town or city. As with other clientelistic systems, patronage led to astonishing levels of corruption, particularly in cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago where machine politicians ruled for generations.
This system began to change only in the 1880s as a consequence of economic development. New technologies like the railroads were transforming the country from a primarily agrarian society into an urban industrial one. There were increasing demands from business leaders and from a newly emerging civil society for a different, more modern form of government that would prioritise merit and knowledge over political connections. Following the assassination of the newly elected President James A. Garfield in 1881 by a would-be office seeker, Congress was embarrassed into passing the Pendleton Act. It established a US Civil Service Commission for the first time and the principle that public officials should be chosen on the basis of merit. Even so, expanding the number of classified (i.e. merit- based) officials met strong resistance and did not become widespread until after the First World War. Individual municipal political machines such as Tammany Hall in New York were not dismantled completely until the middle of the 20th century.
The American experience highlights a number of features of both corruption and the reform of corrupt systems. First, the incentives that led to the creation of the clientelistic system were deeply political. Politicians got into office via their ability to distribute patronage; they had no incentive to vote in favour of something like the Pendleton Act that would take away those privileges. The only reason it passed was a tragic exogenous event – the Garfield assassination – which mobilised public opinion in favour of a more modern governmental system.
Second, reform of the system was similarly political. The Progressive Era saw the emergence of a vast reform coalition made up of business leaders, urban reformers, farmers and ordinary citizens who were fed up with the existing patronage system. It required strong leadership from politicians like Theodore Roosevelt who was himself head of the US Civil Service Commission. It also required a clear reform agenda pointing towards modern government, formulated by intellectuals such as Frank Goodnow, Dorman Eaton and Woodrow Wilson. Finally, reform was helped along by economic development. Industrialisation in the US produced new social groups such as business leaders who needed efficient government services, a broad and better-educated middle class who could mobilise for reform, and a grassroots organisation of civil society groups.
The American experience is suggestive of how progress in the fight against corruption may be waged in contemporary societies suffering from it. Reform is always a political matter that will require formation of a broad coalition of groups opposed to an existing system of corrupt politicians. Grassroots activism in favour of reform may emerge spontaneously, but such sentiments will not be translated into real change until it receives good leadership and organisation. Reform also has a socio-economic basis: economic growth often produces new classes and groups that want a different, more modern politics.
America points to another feature of anti-corruption efforts. Control of corruption was very much bound up with efforts to increase state capacity. The period that saw the emergence of an industrial economy was also characterised by huge increases in levels of education – particularly higher education, which produced an entirely new class of professionals who worked for both private businesses and the government. One of the first government agencies to be modernised in the late 19th century was the US Department of Agriculture, which benefited from a generation of professional agronomists trained in the numerous land-grant universities that sprang up around the United States. The latter, in turn, were the product of the far-sighted Morrill Act of 1862 that sought to increase agricultural productivity (among other things) through higher education.
It would not have been possible to reform the old patronage-based bureaucracy without access to the human capital represented by this entire generation of university- educated officials. Every important reform effort undertaken to create modern state bureaucracies – in Germany, Britain, France, Japan and elsewhere – was accompanied by parallel efforts to modernise the higher education system in ways that would benefit public administration. Today development finance institutions focus on helping to provide universal primary and secondary education to poor countries and have largely given up on supporting elite education. The reasons for this are understandable, but do not correspond to the historical experience of state modernisation in countries that became rich in earlier eras.
These general observations about historical efforts to build modern uncorrupt administrations suggest that the process will be an extended one, characterised by prolonged political struggle. Fortunately, having a modern bureaucracy is not a sine qua non of economic development. No existing rich country had a squeaky-clean government in its early stages of economic growth – neither Britain, nor the United States in the 19th century, nor China today. Corruption and weak governance are obstacles to economic growth, but economic growth can happen also in poorly governed societies and will produce, over time, social conditions and resources that will make government reform more feasible. This is perhaps a pessimistic conclusion, given the fact that rentier states and kleptocratic governments are the source of international conflict and instability in today’s world. But it is also a realistic assessment derived from the historical record.
Eisenstadt, S. N. and Roniger, L. 1984. Patrons, Clients and Friends: Interpersonal Relations and the Structure of Trust in Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fukuyama, F. 2011. The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Fukuyama, F. 2014. Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Johnston, M. 2005. Syndromes of Corruption. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Khan, M. H. and Jomo, K. S. 2000. Rents, Rent-Seeking and Economic Development: Theory and Evidence in Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kolstad, I. and Wiig, A. 2009. Is Transparency the Key to Reducing Corruption in Resource-Rich Countries? World Development, 37(3), pp. 521–32.
Mauro, P. 2002. The Persistence of Corruption and Slow Economic Growth. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund. Working Paper No. 02/213.
Piattoni, S. 2001. Clientelism, Interests and Democratic Representation: The European Experience in Historical and Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Scott, J. 1972. Comparative Political Corruption. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. World Bank. 2014. Worldwide Governance Indicators. Available online.
Francis Fukuyama is a Senior Fellow at Stanford University and Director of its Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. His book, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press 1992), has appeared in more than 20 foreign editions. More recently, he is the author of Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy (Profile Books 2014).
3. Paul Collier: How to change cultures of corruption
Corruption does not happen everywhere, it is concentrated in pockets: in particular industries, in particular societies and in particular times. Among industries, natural resource extraction and construction have long been seen as exceptionally prone to corruption. This is partly because projects in these sectors are idiosyncratic and difficult to scrutinise.
Some European countries such as Italy and Greece perform markedly worse than some African and Asian countries, according to Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) (Transparency International 2015). Places where grand corruption is perceived to be flourishing are rare, but Afghanistan and Angola are examples of these extreme conditions.
As to periods, Britain in the 18th century exemplified the behaviours that would now lead to a miserable ranking in corruption indices. More pertinently, there is good reason to think that, globally, there has been an upsurge in corruption in recent decades. Reversing this upsurge calls for concerted effort.
Alongside these pockets of high corruption, other industries, other societies and other times are virtually corruption-free. Denmark is currently seen as the least corrupt place in the world and many non-Western countries such as Botswana are also viewed as relatively untainted (Transparency International 2015). In most societies, corruption is not normal: it is therefore potentially avoidable everywhere.
Corruption is concentrated in pockets because it depends upon common expectations of behaviour. Where corruption is the norm, getting rid of it poses a co-ordination problem: if I expect those around me to continue to be corrupt, why should I change my behaviour? Because of this, pockets of corruption have proved to be highly persistent: the same industries and the same societies remain corrupt for many years.
Similarly, honesty is persistent. In the first TI survey conducted in 1995, Denmark was rated second globally. This persistence is not a matter of chance. Danes are born into an honest society and so inherit the expectation that they themselves will be trustworthy. Being trusted is a valuable asset: it makes many aspects of life much easier. In consequence, individual Danes have a strong incentive not to squander this valuable asset through behaving opportunistically. Because people have rationally chosen to protect their reputation for honesty, the entire society has stayed honest.
But change is possible. Until well into the 19th century, the British public sector was very corrupt. Positions were bought and sold and contracts were awarded in return for bribes. Crises such as military humiliation in the Crimean War helped to shock governments into change. Opportunities for corruption were curtailed: recruitment and promotion were opened to competitive examinations. A new purposive ethic was promoted and serving the nation became the pinnacle of social prestige and self-worth. By the late 19th century, the British Civil Service had become honest and competent. This transformation was largely fortuitous rather than the result of a properly thought-through strategy. But its success reveals the key components of how change can be brought about.
Societies do not have to wait for military humiliation and a moral revival: corruption can be tackled effectively.
In Britain, two key things – closing off the major opportunities for corruption and making working for the public good more prestigious and satisfying than abusing office for private gain – happened together. These two approaches are jointly critical in breaking cultures of corruption. Just as 19th-century Britain implemented both of them without international help, there is much that societies currently beset by corruption can do for themselves. However, the globalisation of business and social networks has created an important role for international action. Countries such as Britain can contribute to encouraging both internal and international initiatives. There is enormous scope for international actions that close off opportunities for corruption. Equally, there is much that can be done to make behaviours that promote the public good more prestigious and satisfying than those that sacrifice the public interest for private gain. This is because corruption, like honesty, tends to persist. Corrupt behaviour is self-reinforcing, and breaking out of it is not easy. A co-ordinated push for international action thus makes national initiatives more likely to succeed and more worthwhile to attempt. It can help those societies that are still struggling with the problems that Britain faced in the 19th century.
Britain has already done much to make global corruption more difficult. One contribution has been to ‘follow the money’. In recent decades, international lawyers and bankers created walls of secrecy that enabled corrupt officials to hide money away in ‘shell’ companies and offshore bank accounts. The Government has led the way in dismantling this labyrinth of deceit: the true ownership of British companies must now be revealed in a public register, and British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are also taking action to improve company transparency. Britain has rapidly changed from being part of the problem to being a pioneer of the solution, but quite evidently following the money is subject to a weakest-link problem.
Corrupt money will hide wherever it can, so it is vital that all the major legal and financial centres close the loopholes. There is scope to extend transparency beyond bank deposits to other major assets such as property. There is also considerable scope for those governments that adopt effective measures for following the money to require all companies that wish to do business with them to comply with these standards, providing global reach for national efforts.
A second contribution has been to increase transparency in key sectors. In 2013, Britain and four other G7 countries signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), helping to bring daylight to a corrupt sector. In North America and Europe, what began as voluntary revenue transparency is now evolving into a legal requirement. Meanwhile the EITI is becoming the established international standard-setting entity for the sector, extending voluntarism beyond simple revenue reporting to matters such as contracts. There is now an equivalent voluntary initiative for the construction sector and it warrants similar co-ordinated propulsion.
A third contribution has been to increase accountability: the Bribery Act 2010 greatly tightened the legal liability of companies and their employees for bribing their way into contracts. Clamping down on bribery is a classic instance of the free-rider problem: no government wants its own companies to be disadvantaged. This is why the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been encouraging a co-ordinated international approach. The alternative to such co-operation is a race to the bottom that the businesses of no decently governed country can win.
There is, equally, plenty of scope for contributing to the complementary approach of making public good more prestigious and satisfying than the private gains generated by abuse of office. Take, for example, tax administration, which is fundamental to effective government.
In many poor countries, tax administration is an epicentre of corruption. As a specific example, consider the administration of Value-Added Tax (VAT), which is a means of revenue-raising encouraged globally by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because it is less distorting than most other taxes. But in several poor societies that followed IMF advice, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, VAT is actually reducing revenue rather than raising it. Even before VAT, many tax inspectors were corrupt, using their power to tax firms as a means of extorting money for themselves: ‘pay me or pay tax’ (Collier 2016). VAT has reduced revenue, because it expanded the options available to corrupt tax officials. It works by firms initially paying tax on their gross sales, but then getting a rebate on the inputs they have purchased, so that they end up only paying tax on the value they have added to those inputs. But in a country that introduces a VAT, a corrupt tax official can now sell a firm phoney tax receipts on inputs, in addition to the standard extortion racket. As a result, the rebate system ends up paying out more than the sales tax component of VAT is paying in. Clearly at the core of this phenomenon are norms of behaviour among tax officials, such that seizing opportunities for private gain is seen as both more prestigious and more satisfying than contributing to the public good of generating tax revenue and the public services it can finance.
How might Britain, and other countries in which VAT collection does not face such problems, help to change this perception?
Social prestige and personal satisfaction are largely set within peer groups: most people want to be respected by those they see as their peers and they find satisfaction in adhering to group norms. Hence a practical way of changing the behaviour of corrupt officials is to alter the group of people they regard as their peers. Currently, a corrupt tax official is likely to have two key networks in which they seek prestige: their extended family and fellow tax inspectors. Their family will honour them for helping relatives who lack opportunities to earn a large income: he or she becomes the patron of the family. Their fellow tax inspectors, subject to the same family pressures, may see corruption as reasonable. They may even regard honest behaviour as a threat to their own conduct and therefore disloyal.
A useful way of changing this state of affairs is to twin those tax administrations in which corruption is endemic with administrations in countries that are not corrupt. Twinning could involve regular secondments of staff in both directions and the potential for accreditation to international professional associations at various ranks. The purpose would not primarily be a transfer of technical skills, although that could clearly be a component, but rather a gradual transfer of attitudes and behaviours. The new network exposes the official to the potential of a new identity as a member of a prestigious international peer group of modern tax officials, working to global, not local, standards. It exposes the official to a new narrative circulating in the network: that tax officials are vital for the provision of core public services. And it exposes the official to a new norm of ‘good’ conduct. A ‘good’ tax inspector is no longer one who raises a lot of money for their family, but one who rigorously implements the tax code to make the rest of government feasible.
Exposure to these new attitudes creates a tension between the behaviour that would generate prestige and self-worth in the old networks and the behaviour that would generate prestige and self-worth in the new network. Creating this tension is not the end of the story, but it is an essential step. The other key step is to tackle the co-ordination problem: why should I change my behaviour, if nobody else is going to change theirs? Social psychologists have shown that successful co-ordination depends upon generating ‘common knowledge’ (Thomas et al. 2014). A new fact becomes ‘common’ if it is not only widely shared, but also crucially if everybody knows that everybody else knows it.
One way to create the common knowledge that yesterday’s behaviour is unlikely to persist tomorrow is to close an entire organisation and rehire those staff judged to have reasonable integrity into a new one under different management and higher standards. For example, many governments have closed corrupt tax departments within their ministries of finance and replaced them with independent revenue authorities, a change that has usually been reasonably successful. An analogous way for international twinning to overcome the co-ordination problem is for all the staff in an entire unit to be exposed to the international network at the same time. Each official in the unit would then realise that their colleagues were facing the same tension between old and new networks and hence the same choice.
There are already a few examples of institutional twinning. For example, in Britain, the Department for International Development (DFID) financially supports Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the British tax authority, to work with tax authorities in some low-income countries. Also, until a decade ago, governors of the Bank of England used to host an annual meeting for governors of African central banks. But the scope for twinning is vast, relative to what is, as yet, happening both in governments and in the wider society.
Around the world, governments have similar structures. For example, virtually all governments in low-income countries have a ministry of transport, a ministry of health and a ministry of finance. OECD governments have been liaising with these ministries for half a century, but the entities that are linked to them are their aid agencies not their counterpart ministries. Direct links with counterpart ministries have the potential for a very different form of relationship based on peer-group networks, rather than on money with conditions. Often ministries in low-income countries try to keep donor agencies ‘out of their hair’, whereas they would value direct links with their peers. An important example is the regulation of utilities such as electricity. Many governments of low-income countries are now establishing regulatory agencies, which is a vital step in attracting private finance for infrastructure. But the regulation of utilities faces intense pressures for corruption: the decisions of regulators affect both the profitability of companies and voter support for politicians. In the OECD, regulatory agencies have been operating for two or three decades. The OECD has also built peer group networks that have evolved peer standards of independence, transparency and impartiality. New regulatory agencies would benefit from becoming part of this distinctive culture.
Such specialised inter-government peer groups are indeed the core activity of the OECD. But membership of the OECD is confined to the governments of high-income countries. Admirably, the organisation is now trying to broaden its engagement with the governments of poor countries, for example, by the new initiative ‘Tax Inspectors Without Borders’ (OECD 2015). This is designed to embed tax inspectors for OECD governments in the tax authorities of poor countries on secondment for several months: not to train but to work on the job. An obvious extension would be to make this a two-way exchange of staff. The branding of ‘Tax Inspectors Without Borders’ neatly taps into the potential for such secondments to be glamorous: a survey of young French singles found that the ‘ideal spouse’ was a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières!
More seriously, while the OECD initiative is excellent it is a drop in the ocean. The restricted membership of the OECD limits its scope to forge global links and there is no other international institution with the remit to build peer- group links across government departments between rich countries and poor ones. Perhaps this role should become a core function of national aid agencies such as DFID, but it would benefit from a co-ordinated kick-start by several heads of government.
Twinning has the potential to be extended well beyond government: part of the ‘big society’ can be direct links between the civil society organisations and their counterparts in poor countries. Again, historically such links have largely been confined to development non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Oxfam, which channel donations to needs. But an important part of tackling corruption is resetting the cultures of professions, including accountancy, law, medicine and teaching. For example, in many poor countries, it is socially acceptable for teachers not to show up for lessons. Twinning involving things like teacher exchanges between schools could help to shift these dysfunctional values. The global explosion of social media has made this far more feasible. The two approaches of closing off opportunities for corruption and reducing the prestige and satisfaction generated by corrupt behaviour reinforce each other. As the difficulties and risks of corrupt behaviour rise, fewer people will behave corruptly. This directly reduces the esteem from being corrupt because it is no longer so normal. Similarly, as more people start to get their esteem from being honest, those who remain corrupt are easier to spot and so find themselves running bigger risks.
National actions against corruption complement international actions. One major way of squeezing out corruption is to remove obvious sources of rent-seeking such as rationed access to foreign exchange and the award of government contracts through secret negotiation rather than open bidding. Competition within rule-based markets is an important part of the system of checks and balances that constrain public officials from the abuse of office. Another is to prosecute some prominent senior officials. For example, in Ghana, 20 judges were sacked in late 2015 for accepting bribes based on video evidence gathered by an investigative journalist (BBC News 2015). Being based on independent evidence, such sackings cannot be misinterpreted as government attempts to crush political opposition. Further, as high-profile events, they generate common knowledge among officials that all other officials are reflecting on whether they should change their behaviour.
Not all corruption is directly financial. Electoral corruption is highly damaging. New research finds that, under normal conditions, governments that deliver good economic performance enhance their prospects of retaining office, but that the discipline of accountability breaks down when elections are not free and fair (Collier and Hoeffler 2015). Twinning national electoral commissions with their international peers, along with twinning local and international election monitors, can help to raise standards of electoral conduct.
An international initiative against corruption provides an opportunity for national actions and international actions to cohere. As people recognise that the calculus of risks and rewards and the sources of prestige and satisfaction are changing both for themselves and their colleagues, previously entrenched patterns of behaviour could become unstable. Mass shifts in cultures of corruption do happen and it is possible to make them happen.
Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and one of the world’s leading and award-winning development experts. His latest book is Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World (Oxford University Press 2013).
4. John Githongo: An African perspective on corruption
Sebolu is the Sotho word for a ‘spoilt thing’. It is a derogatory word used in Lesotho’s national language and vernacular to mean, among other things, corruption. Someone who is corrupt is described as being bobolu and people have deep disdain for such a person.3
In most of Africa though, there are few similar words of such powerful home-grown cultural resonance. Indeed, the word ‘corruption’ doesn’t exist in many indigenous African languages. It never has – it wasn’t needed. The idea of stealing communal goods was literally taboo. The concept of shuffling papers in a government office in a far-off capital, ‘making good’ and then coming home rich and wearing the ‘corrupt’ tag is, however, more obscure. Indeed, the local son or daughter ‘made good’ who demonstrates generosity back in the village is often lionised. Generosity of heart, even to strangers, but especially to relatives (no matter how distant), is a quality much admired by Africans generally.
East Africa’s lingua franca, Kiswahili, gives us ufisadi (meaning corruption) or mfisadi (corrupt one); terms cleverly engineered post-independence. Ufisadi brings to mind ‘hyena-like’ derived from the reputation of the hyena; fisi for being unscrupulous, greedy and ruthless. However, it does not have the same resonance for citizens of the region as sebolu does in Lesotho, which is one of the least corrupt African countries according to Transparency International’s (TI) annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) (Transparency International 2015).
That said, ‘perceptions of corruption’, or better put ‘perceptions of leaders involved in theft’, is one of the most resented attributes of officialdom to Africans at large. Recent research on the experiences and perceptions of Africans in 28 countries regarding corruption indicates that a majority (58%) felt that corruption had increased over the last 12 months. And in 18 of the 28 countries, the feeling was that their governments were doing badly in the fight against corruption. The report said that, despite these disappointing findings, the bright spots across the continent were in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Lesotho and Senegal. Citizens in these countries were some of the most positive in the region when discussing corruption (Transparency International and Afrobarometer 2015).
In environments where corruption is systemic but lacks cultural resonance, creating a climate where social sanction can be applied against corrupt practices has been challenging. People understand the terms ‘theft’ and ‘thief’, but corruption is a modern and ambiguous concept to many Africans. As a Nuer elder once told me, “My daughter cannot be married into a family of thieves.”
The task therefore is two-fold: we need to embed a clear legal framework to deter and punish corruption, and we need to actually change the culture, so that the concept of corruption is both understood and recognised as anathema. The war against graft (political corruption) has reached the point where the shame and social sanctions directed against this kind of theft and thief need to be given greater prominence in the arsenal used to fight corruption. This applies especially in developing countries where its consequences can be – and often are – deadly. In its culturally most compelling form, the social sanction is about ensuring, for example, that the thief is too embarrassed to go to church on Sunday because of the looks they’ll get.
As such, the whole approach to corruption needs to be re-examined: from local cultural assumptions and preconceptions to the legal conventions, constitutions, statutes and, especially, the prosecution-related instruments brought to bear on it at the national and global levels. Integral to this are the principles of legal authority and equality before the law. The equality component is essential: the rule of law must be seen to apply equally to all citizens without fear or favour, regardless of race, creed or class.
The following complementary but separate factors in a society are critical: culture, ethos, ethics and traditions, and legal processes and practices. Each derives its legitimacy from history and the traditional ways in which meaning is made. By their very nature, they are far more negotiable – existing as they do in a constant state of flux in a dynamic world. Our success depends on how effectively we bring and use them together in the fight against corruption. We do this cognisant of the fact that grand corruption, when compared to the drug trade, human trafficking, terrorism finance and other global evils, is the most easily rationalisable major felonious activity on the planet.
4.1 The global anti-corruption agenda
During the years 1993 to 2003, corruption was at the centre of the global development agenda. In 1993, Transparency International was founded. In the mid-to-late 1990s, corruption was adopted as a key development issue by the multilateral and bilateral development institutions. This culminated, in 2003, in the drafting and ratification by a host of countries of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) (UNODC 2015).
The following decade saw the rise of the BRIC nations2 and rapid economic growth across much of the developing world, as well as globalisation and its associated technologies assisting the expansion of trade and commerce. At the same time, the struggle against Islamic extremism captured the attention of policy makers in the international community. Alongside it, unfortunately, has also come a rapid growth in the scale and complexity of corruption. So much so, that anti-corruption work needs to be returned urgently to the heart of the global development agenda. It needs to be part of the DNA of modern nation-states, multinational corporations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and even religious organisations and how they interact on the global stage.
This urgency comes from the fact that graft has served to hollow out key governance institutions in some countries. This includes the defence and security sector and areas of social policy such as health and education, with dire consequences for the public services they are supposed to offer the poor, in particular.
The crippling impact of corruption on the delivery of these essential services has deepened economic inequalities, undermining faith in political processes, parties and politicians. In turn, this increases political volatility as politicians retreat to identity and personality politics with its complex web of non-negotiable irrationalities. It also feeds fundamentalism of all kinds – for example, ethnic, religious and sectarian.
4.2 BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China
The impunity that accompanies crony capitalism results in what I might call both a private sector and a ‘pirate’ sector, causing citizens – especially younger people who increasingly view elections as a pointless game of musical chairs among crooks – to begin to question capitalism in its current form and democracy itself. This also does serious damage to the independence, legitimacy and integrity of the service sector – in particular, banks, law firms and auditing firms – and deepens the challenges corruption poses.
4.3 The ‘pirate’ and private sectors
The traditional private sector, comprising ‘makers of things’, has increasingly been supplanted in the 21st century by the service sector. The growth of the latter has been buoyed by the dramatic expansion and sophistication of the internet and an increasing variety of communication platforms. This has energised traders, who remain vital to the ‘old economy’ where the world’s products are created, built, sold and moved. At the same time, however, we’ve seen a distinct ‘pirate’ sector gaining in influence, particularly over the last two decades.
By design, the ‘pirate’ sector is as virtual as possible, unencumbered by the traditional obligations and processes of rents, payrolls, medical schemes, pensions and so on. Although it can involve an individual or group of individuals, this sector forms itself into sophisticated entities. These can operate with the same ‘apparent’ legitimacy in multiple countries, even if it means they must use vexatious litigation – such as injunctions, court orders and delayed hearings – to allow them to act outside the law for the duration of their business in a country.
The ‘pirate’ sector often chooses to corporatise itself in offshore tax havens, using the skills of professionals, especially lawyers, bankers and auditors. As a result, it has become apparent that even seemingly reputable companies and professional firms sometimes contain ‘pirate units’. The units are able to move unhindered across borders and traverse the legal world like ghosts who disappear as quickly as these so-called ‘special purpose vehicles’ can be shut down.
Theirs is the euphemistic language of ‘commissions’; ‘conclusion’ and ‘success bonuses’; ‘consultancy’ fees; ‘facilitation payments’; ‘philanthropic’ contributions to the relations of ‘politically exposed persons’ (PEPS); and the use of complex financial instruments to move resources around the world at the touch of a button. As I pointed out previously, businesses find corruption the easiest felonious activity to rationalise, especially in cross-cultural contexts. They are the entities that ‘get things done’ in a complex world. For them, relationships are tradable products that can be leveraged for a profit and not a social currency that helps make trade and commerce flow more smoothly within the law.
4.4 Renewing and reinvigorating international action
So how do we fight these piratical shadows? Corruption is defined as the abuse of vested authority for private gain. In 2011, developing countries lost nearly $1 trillion to corruption, trade misinvoicing and tax avoidance (Kar and Le Blanc 2013). Leading global advocacy organisations such as ONE have even made efforts to quantify the cost of graft in lives (McNair et al. 2014). Estimates show that the cost of corruption equals more than 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) (OECD 2016).
As the recent FIFA scandal has demonstrated, unconstrained corruption also threatens valued cultural institutions and traditions that we all hold dear. At the same time, the complexity of the legal compliance environment – vis-à-vis anti-corruption, anti-money laundering and other illicit activities – that the genuine private sector has to contend with has increased exponentially. Indeed there is almost an unspoken ‘compliance paralysis’ as large numbers of lawyers, risk advisors and auditors apply expensive time to scrutinising transactions complicated by the web of demands that compliance has placed upon business.
As a result, the temptation for some businesses to rely on the ‘pirate’ sector and/or aggressively ignore or cover up compliance risks has risen. A recent Risk Advisory Group (2015) research report revealed 83% of compliance professionals believe compliance has become more complex in the past two years, with bigger businesses feeling this more acutely. The Risk Advisory Group CEO Bill Waite said, “Worryingly, compliance has become so elaborate that 78% of compliance professionals say that it now represents a risk in itself” (Cassin 2015).
This means we are at a critical juncture. It calls for a renewed global partnership against corruption to match, and even exceed, the concentrated and successful advocacy that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Corruption’s resurgence and complexity threatens not only global security and equitable development but also international trade and commerce, and people’s confidence in freedoms and systems of governance taken for granted since the Second World War.
For example, there has been a debate about creating an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC). It’s proposed this could have the kind of powers granted to international weapons inspectors to target specific transactions and institutions that, when riddled with corruption, escape investigation and prosecution and cause citizens to lose confidence in public institutions and the rule of law and democracy.
The new push needs to identify, disrupt and delegitimise the global networks of corruption in money laundering; terrorism finance; drug, people and environmental trafficking; and other illicit activities.
This requires new global partnerships that target the information-era entities and domiciles that these networks rely on. They may be offshore tax havens or low-compliance jurisdictions where the ever-expanding raft of international regulations aimed at dealing with graft and illicit flows have limited currency. At the same time, the new regime should robustly incentivise self-reporting vis-à-vis corporate compliance, allowing for a ‘cleaning out of the stables’.
4.5 Culture, tradition and social sanction
To be fully effective, however, this reinvigoration of the rule of law must go hand in hand with action to create a cultural climate in which the corrupt – the thieves – are shamed for what they do.
Indeed, effecting change in the culture and traditions – which inform what is acceptable behaviour – is perhaps even more important in societies where legal institutions based on the Western model are nascent, or where their existence is being energetically contested, as it is in important parts of the developing world.
The release by WikiLeaks of US diplomatic cables in 2010 was a controversial episode of unofficial transparency and a powerful interrupter to the global status quo regarding corruption in relations between nation-states. It revealed the corrupt practices that ruling elites are capable of to the growing youth populations of regions such as the Middle East. The reverberations of this are still being felt.
Across Latin America and in the developed world, revelations of inappropriate, corrupt and unethical behaviour by leaders – in both the private and corporate sectors – have created a level of criticism from the public that is unprecedented in some countries. This is especially the case for the ‘millennial’ generation who appear to mistrust politicians and political parties the most.
Presidents have been forced to step down and others turned into lame ducks while still in office by dramatic mass expressions of discontent boosted by social media.
In this sense the change has already begun – untidily, noisily, chaotically and even bloodily – in many places. The outcome is uncertain. But, in the long term, it will be dramatically different from the status quo. This is, in part, because political leaders and ruling elites increasingly recognise the public’s lack of trust and confidence in them, especially that of their younger citizens. They also now appreciate that, in this networked world, a spotlight can be shone on corrupt and unethical relationships with the ‘pirate’ and private sectors.
In addition to institutions such as an International Anti- Corruption Court as a further step towards increasing transparency, strengthening enforcement and securing restitution, the tools of visa revocations, personalised financial sanctions and more harmonised extradition mechanisms could actually be cheaper and more effective in tackling corruption than prosecutions – which are always tortuous. However, for these measures to enjoy legitimacy around the world, they must be applied, and be seen to apply, with equal force across the different regions of both the developed and developing world.
To conclude, a successful international anti-corruption campaign requires co-operation on a global scale and specific legal measures that help transform attitudes towards corruption and the ability to prosecute the corrupt. Although it may take longer, embedding a culture of social sanction and censure for anyone found guilty of engaging in, facilitating or condoning corrupt activity, even to the extent that those holding office lose public trust, would support these measures.
They need to be seen as bobolu. They need to feel the social stigma when they attend family gatherings, visit the golf club or step into the supermarket – as much to set an example to others as to punish the individual, impressing on the whole community that corruption will not be tolerated.
John Githongo is the CEO of Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi Ltd, a non-governmental organisation focused on promoting good governance. Previously he served as Vice-President of Policy and Advocacy at World Vision International. John has been involved in anti-corruption research, advisory work and activism in Kenya, Africa and the wider international community for 19 years. This includes work in civil society, media, government and the private sector.
Cassin, R. L. 25 November 2015. Risk Advisory Group Report: Compliance is so complex, it’s now its own risk. FCPA Blog. Available online.
Kar, D. and Le Blanc, B. 2013. Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2002–2011. Washington DC: Global Financial Integrity. Available online.
McNair, D., Kraus, J., McKiernan K. and McKay, S. 2014. The Trillion Dollar Scandal Study. London: ONE.
OECD. January 2016. The CleanGovBiz Initiative. Available online.
The Risk Advisory Group. 2015. The Compliance Horizon Survey. Available online.
Transparency International. 2015. Corruption Perceptions Index – Lesotho. Available online.
Transparency International and Afrobarometer. 2015. People and Corruption: Africa Survey 2015 – Global Corruption Barometer. Berlin: Transparency International. Available online.
United Nations – Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2015. United Nations Convention against Corruption: Signature and Ratification Status as of 1 December 2015. Available online.
5. Paul Radu: Follow the money: how open data and investigative journalism can beat corruption
The early spring of 2015 saw thousands of angry people on the streets of Chisinau, capital of the tiny Republic of Moldova. While calling loudly for the resignation of the Government and the Parliament, they were shouting, “We want our billion back!” (Calugareanu and Schwartz 2015).
The demonstrators believed the politicians were to blame for the theft of almost $1 billion from Moldovan banks, which had left this poor country’s financial affairs in disarray.
Investigations are ongoing. But the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project’s (OCCRP) research indicates that this $1 billion was the tip of the iceberg, in a country where many more billions of dollars in ‘black’ money appear to have flowed through a flawed banking system – with the help of corrupt politicians and organised crime as well as untrustworthy judges and law enforcement officers (Radu, Munteanu and Ostanin 2015).
We believe that the citizens of Moldova were victims of a transnational web of corruption, benefiting politicians and criminals who used complex multi-layered company structures to conceal both their identities and their activities. Regrettably, this story is not unique.
At the OCCRP, we have identified a number of cross- border money laundering schemes in Eastern Europe, serving criminal groups as diverse as Mexican drug cartels and Vietnamese and Russian organised crime gangs (OCCRP 2011).
Political corruption can feel daunting and remote. So can we really do anything about it? If we speak out about how we’re governed, we can.
We need to call on our politicians and public officials to be accountable for their actions. How can we trust them if we don’t know what they’re doing? We must demand that they put in place regulations which will force them to act openly. Then corruption can’t hide. And our trust in the political process will improve. When leaders act transparently, showing us clearly what they do, we can make informed choices when we vote. And we can hold them to account once elected.
From grassroots groups to big organisations, civil society has a crucial role to play. We can monitor electoral campaigns and parties’ activities. If state resources are abused, we must report it. And if regulations to prevent corruption aren’t in place, we must demand them. Rules about politicians’ conflicts of interest, for example. Or regulations to stop corporate lobbying and political funding from distorting the democratic process. If companies publish their donations, they can show their contributions aren’t intended to win favours.
By speaking out, we can show that everyone gains from honest elections and open decision-making. Even politicians. Go back to the problem