The Hidden Dangers of Anticorruption Education Initiatives

A little while ago, in a post reflecting on the role of academics in the anticorruption movement, I noted the distinction between anticorruption classes that focus on “teaching of skills” (helping students become effective lawyers, policy analysts, critical thinkers, etc.) and “teaching of values” (using education to inculcate anticorruption norms and reduce cultural tolerance for corrupt activities). In this post I want to pick up on that latter theme, which has become increasingly important to anticorruption activists and policymakers. Fighting the “culture of corruption,” many have persuasively argued, requires not just changing incentives and formal institutions, but also changing norms and values. And one way to change values may be through education–not only formal classroom education at all levels, but other forms of educational campaigns. For example, many attribute the success of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption not only to its law enforcement efforts, but to its broad-based educational campaigns to change the attitude of the Hong Kong population. Many countries have tried to emulate some version of this broad-based “anticorruption advertisement” campaign, and there are at least anecdotal examples of such programs making a difference (though not, to my knowledge, and rigorous assessment through something like a randomized controlled trial).

But these sorts of education efforts, if not carefully designed, can prove not only ineffective, but counterproductive. I recently came across a very nice analysis by the political scientist Frederic Charles Schaffer making this point, drawing on a detailed case study of anti-vote-buying campaigns in the Philippines, and to a lesser extent in Thailand. (I haven’t yet had a chance to read Professor Schaffer’s 2008 book, The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform, but I gather it goes into much more depth and discusses a range of other issues and countries as well.)  The paper is from 2005, so it’s possible some of the specific examples and criticisms might no longer be apt, but my sense is that the larger points are still highly relevant, and quite important to anticorruption reformers who want to use mass education/advertisement campaigns to change citizen attitudes and behaviors toward corrupt practices. I won’t try to summarize all of Professor Schaffer’s nuanced account, but here’s what I take to be the essential argument: Continue reading

Spy Tapes, Scorpions, and Bribe Solicitation: Prosecutorial Decisions in South Africa

South African President Jacob Zuma is currently embroiled in a corruption investigation associated with the so-called Nkandla scandal. This is hardly the first time President Zuma has had to contend with corruption accusations, but he as so far managed to escape unscathed. One of those earlier incidents involved allegations that President Zuma received bribes from a defense contractor, but the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped its investigation of those allegations in 2009. In explaining his decision to drop the investigation, Mokotedi Mpshe, the acting head of the NPA, cited “collusion between the former heads of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO) and NPA to manipulate the prosecutorial process.” The evidence of this ostensible collusion? Wiretapped recordings of conversations between a former NPA head and then-DSO head Leonard McCarthy, who was responsible for directing some of the investigation into President Zuma. Mpshe claimed that the recordings, which have since become known as the “spy tapes,” showed an “abuse of process” via interference in the timing of the prosecution, forcing him to end the investigation.

This 2009 case has been in the news again, both because of the current corruption allegations against President Zuma, and also because the South African Supreme Court of Appeals recently ordered the NPA to hand over the spy tapes and associated documents to the opposition Democratic Alliance. Although the audio recordings themselves have not been made public, excerpts from their transcripts can be read online. From these excerpts (which are more extensive than those previously released in 2009), it appears the NPA’s decision to drop the case against Zuma was wrong-headed.

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FIFA’s Faustian Bargain: Corruption for the Cup?

In a Road to Damascus twist, on Tuesday FIFA President Sepp Blatter asked the Swiss government to launch a criminal investigation into corruption related to Qatar being chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. This unprecedented move comes on the heels of a week of backlash to the FIFA Ethics Committee’s final conclusion on the Qatar question: “The potentially problematic facts and circumstances identified by the report concerning the Qatar 2022 bid were, all in all, not suited to compromise the integrity of the 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”  These “potentially problematic facts” include a swath of bribes (“improper payments”) paid by Mohamed bin Hamman, a chief supporter of the Qatari bid and former Asian Football Confederation president, which the report concludes were not directly related to securing the Cup, as well as payments by Qatari officials themselves, which made a “negative impression” but did not technically fall afoul of FIFA rules. The Committee’s decision was quickly and repeatedly slammed as a farce, and was followed by strong calls for the investigative report upon which it was based to be made public. Blatter adamantly refused to release the report, which made it all the more surprising when he seemed to go a step further by calling for the Swiss Office of the Attorney General to investigate. Should a criminal investigation proceed, not only would the government’s findings be made public, but corrupt FIFA officials would find themselves facing something entirely new: the pinch of handcuffs rather than a pinch to their finances.

While FIFA lodging the criminal complaint should be applauded, singing halleluiahs over Blatter’s conversion to the church of anticorruption would be a bit premature. In fact, this may be his most strategic move yet.

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More on CPI Changes Over Time (or Not)

OK, in my post from a few weeks back, I asserted that year-to-year changes in a country’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score are not meaningful, even after the thoughtful and welcome changes that Transparency International made to its methodology in 2012. My concern was — and remains — that the underlying data sources that TI uses to create the index are themselves not likely to be comparable across years, which means that the CPI inherits the problem. But for purposes of this post, I’m going to completely disregard my own warning in that earlier post, and take a look at whether there have been fact been any notable changes in individual countries’ perceived corruption between 2012 and 2013.  Based on a very quick scan of the data, the answer appears to be (mostly) no.

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Better Training for Anticorruption Investigators: Another Dull, Boring, Humdrum, Modest, Unimaginative Proposal to Combat Corruption?

U.S. Federal Judge Mark Wolf’s proposal to create an international court for corruption crimes was recently the subject of a briefing organized by a commission of the U.S. House of Representatives.  The briefing was the latest example of the attention Judge Wolf’s recommendation for fighting corruption has garnered, attention that has included an appearance on public television where he extolled the merits of his proposal and an interview in a serious policy journal where he expanded on his idea for the court.

Given Matthew’s devastating critique of the court proposal, the attention the judge’s idea continues to attract is surprising to say the least.  What it no doubt reflects is the publicity value of an idea that, at least on its face, appears to be an innovative, imaginative, and “outside the box” way to fight corruption.  Given this media bias, it would do no good to point to further flaws in the judge’s idea (indeed one might write that it would be blogging a dead horse to do so).  What I intend here instead is to protest the media bias for headline grabbing ideas to combat corruption by advancing one that is dull, boring, humdrum, modest, and unimaginative.  The proposal is thus diametrically different in PR value from the judge’s.  It also differs in two substantive ways: it is 1) realistic and 2) will help reduce corruption if followed.

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Anticorruption Bibliography – November 2014 Update

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage.  A direct link to the pdf is here.  As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

Can a Private Right of Action Solve State Capture in the Philippines?: A Skeptical View

Last month, as a part of the LIDS Global initiative (discussed here), a research team at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) put forth an ambitious legal proposal to combat corruption in the Philippines. The centerpiece of the proposal is a private right of action that would allow individual citizens to bring civil claims against public officials for violations of the Philippines’ Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The proposal is designed to overcome the problem of “state capture”–the shaping of laws, rules, and regulations through illegal and non-transparent payments to public officials. Because state capture is so severe in the Philippines—reaching even high-ranking officials within the country’s own anticorruption agencies—citizens cannot “rely solely on the political will of government officials to prosecute their peers in the government.” The private cause of action is intended to address (or at least circumvent) this problem by enabling private citizens injured by corruption to go directly to court, without having to rely on public enforcers.

While I agree that state capture presents a huge problem for anticorruption efforts, I’m skeptical that the proposed private right of action will be effective–at least in the Philippines. The roots of my skepticism are threefold: Continue reading