What makes for effective anti-corruption systems? A new paper by Global Integrity’s Marianne Camerer argues that a number of conditions are required to ensure that anti-corruption reforms in any context are effective, sustainable and not easily subverted.
What makes for effective anti-corruption systems? (English .PDF)
How can corruption be countered? Drawing on international best practice, this paper argues that a number of conditions are required to ensure that anti-corruption reforms in any context are effective, sustainable and not easily subverted. These conditions include having the necessary data to inform policy and strategy; comprehensive legal and institutional safeguards to prevent corruption and protect public interest; and, the most difficult to secure, the necessary political leadership and will to tackle corruption credibly and put in place long-term reforms. The paper considers anti-corruption reforms in the context of new democracies and the politics of these reforms. It is clear that to be effective, national anti-corruption/integrity systems require more than a single agency approach. Rather, they need to be supported by an institutional matrix of legal and oversight systems to ensure effective prosecution of offenders. A partnership approach, including active engagement by civil society and the media, is also important. Above all, the reforms need to be implemented by ethical leaders who scrupulously observe the rule of law.
Marianne Camerer is the co-founder and international director of Global Integrity. This paper was originally produced for ‘African Peer Review and Reform: A Workshop for Experts and Civil Society’ hosted by the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg from 20-22 November 2007.
A longer excerpt from Marianne’s paper:
Introduction: The politics of corruption and reform
Corruption, ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’, is widely accepted as an obstacle to economic and social development. It has a demonstrably more harmful impact on the developing world where resources are scarce and institutions are weak.
Unbridled corruption can undermine democratic reform efforts, especially in countries where transitions to a democratic system are relatively new or unstable. Disillusionment and a breakdown in trust are quickly created when leaders, who may have come to office on an anti-corruption reform ticket, promise that things will be different, but then appear either unwilling or unable to intervene effectively to reform the corrupt institutions and practices they have inherited.
Kenya provides an example. President Mwai Kibaki came into office at the end of 2002 promising to reform the corrupted regime of Daniel Arap Moi. Despite initially declaring ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption, and a few high-profile arrests, this policy had limited success, and by the end of his first term in 2007, his regime was widely seen as being as corrupt as Moi’s. Disillusionment was palpable, and corruption was a major issue in the ill-fated December 2007 poll. When citizens start believing that ‘nothing has changed’ or ‘things were better before’, popular support for tough economic steps or good governance reforms may potentially threaten the democratic project as a whole.
The appeal to a ‘new’ society is often premised on a ‘corrupt-free’ state where pledges are made to uncover the corrupt schemes of the previous regime. What is particularly problematic however, is when politicians who have come to office on a ‘zero-tolerance,’ anti-corruption ticket abuse so-called independent anti-corruption agencies or institutions to settle old political scores. For example, critics of the anti-corruption drive in Nigeria have pointed out that only those not in the good books of former President Olusegun Obasanjo were targeted for investigation, arrest, detention and prosecution by the powerful Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The perception was thus created that anti-corruption reforms were a means of targeting political opponents, undercutting the credibility of anti-corruption initiatives in general, as well as the integrity of the new regime and its commitment to the rule of law.
The fundamentals of democracy are threatened when the ‘rules of the game’ are not evenly applied and the criminal justice system is not trusted by citizens but exploited by a new elite with special agendas and interests. The politicisation of anti-corruption reforms, when for instance the police or prosecuting authority are used to target political enemies, undermines popular support not only for good governance reforms but for democracy as a whole.
This fear is reflected in South Africa in the outcry over moves to disband the Directorate of Special Operations, (known as ‘The Scorpions’), a unit within the National Prosecuting Authority, for allegedly having abused its powers in instigating corruption investigations against certain individuals in the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
An increasingly recognised problem is the failure of new democratic governments, particularly in developing countries, to address the institutional legacy they inherit; often a legacy of uneven management skills and resources for investigative and prosecuting authorities that facilitate continuing abuses of power such as corruption. One reason is the lack of a democratic culture within which to nurture new democratic institutions. Another is questionable political will to dedicate limited and scarce resources. Fighting corruption is a long-term effort that may require specific and unpopular decisions affecting those who have benefited illegally. These include tightening up conflict of interest and procurement regulations in the public sector, rules that in the past may have benefited interest groups.
For a number of reasons – largely to do with their foundational values of accountability, openness and transparency – democracies are better suited to fighting abuses of power such as corruption in ways that are supported and trusted by most citizens. One can argue that democratic systems are a necessary but not sufficient condition for fighting corruption because democracies themselves may create new opportunities for corrupt behaviour. For instance the electoral process, in many respects the defining institutional feature of transitions from authoritarian to democratic government, has in many countries been corrupted by the influence of unregulated money flowing into the political process. This is a critical issue in South Africa, as well as other democracies around the world, including the US, Germany and UK. ‘Special interests’ and agendas funded by wealthy corporations and lobby groups now capture public attention, rather than issues that may be more important to ordinary citizens, and special laws affecting the funding of political parties are required. The political will to reform the current electoral system is often absent. One reason is because parties and influential individuals may cease to get funds if corporate donations have to be disclosed.
— Jonathan Werve