Can Religion Reform Cultures of Corruption? Lessons from the Philippine Catholic Church

During his visit to the Philippines earlier this year, Pope Francis called on the Philippine government to put an end to corruption in the country, and challenged citizens “at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.” While the Pope’s admonishment may seem like mere rhetoric to some, his call to action may have more significant political implications in a country where nearly 83% of the population identifies as Catholic, and where the Church plays a major institutional role in the nation’s culture and government.

In his 2010 piece “’Good News’ in the Fight Against Corruption,” and more recently in a June 2014 working paper on systemic corruption, Professor Roberto Laver highlighted the role religion plays as a cultural force in society, which in turn may impact how societies respond to corruption in government. Religion can affect ethical behavior in obvious ways, but it can also affect how public power and authority are arranged within society. Professor Laver argued that religion, which is often overlooked as a resource for anticorruption efforts, should be used as an “entry point” for a “second generation of reforms” to battle entrenched cultures of corruption.

Assuming Professor Laver is correct that religious institutions are not playing a large enough role in anticorruption efforts worldwide, the Philippine Catholic Church may be an exception to that rule. The Church has been at the center of numerous political debates for decades, and, if the Pope’s speech earlier this year is any indication, it will continue to play a major role in issues involving development, poverty, and corruption. The Philippine example highlights the essential role an institution like the Catholic Church can play in addressing systemic corruption. And by the same token, it demonstrates the costs that come with entrusting that power to religious institutions and leaders.

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Spain’s New Corporate Compliance Defense: What Impact Will It Have?

In the world of foreign anti-bribery law, there has been much discussion (including on this blog – see here and here) about whether to adopt a so-called “compliance defense” that would allow corporate defendants to escape criminal liability for bribery committed by their agents if the corporation can show that it had an adequate compliance system in place. Some countries’ foreign bribery laws – most notably the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – do not have such a defense; others – most notably the UK Bribery Act – do (though the UK Act combines the defense with strict corporate liability not only for the acts of employees, but also of other agents). Spain recently joined the latter group of countries with an amendment to its criminal law (Article 31 bis) that went into effect last month (see summaries here and here). That amendment (which covers not only Spain’s foreign bribery offense, but also domestic bribery and other corporate criminal offenses) allows the corporation to avoid criminal liability if it can establish that, prior to the commission of the crime, the board of directors implemented an adequate compliance program that meets certain requirements laid out in the statute.

Proponents of the compliance defense cheered. And a report on the new law from the law firm Miller & Chevalier predicted that this legal change “should encourage companies doing business in Spain to adopt a rigorous compliance program”—a claim that presumably would also apply to Spanish companies doing business abroad, given that the provisions also apply to Spain’s foreign bribery offense.

I’m not so sure, for reasons I’ve discussed before, but I do think the change in the Spanish law might provide an interesting opportunity to test the hypothesis. Continue reading

Reducing Court Delays: A Critical Element in the Fight Against Corruption

One consistent finding from the research on anticorruption policy is that those tempted to commit an act of corruption can be deterred from doing so if they are afraid they will be caught and punished.  That is the good news.  Deterrence works. But as I noted in an earlier post, deterrence requires a court system that can resolve cases within a reasonable time.  If those contemplating whether to take or pay a bribe or participate in some other form of corruption know that, if caught, they can delay the case for years if not decades, the fear of punishment will be lessened if not eliminated altogether. An effective national anticorruption policy thus requires ensuring cases are resolved without inordinate delay.

Court delay is a long-standing problem in many nations, and courts in any number of jurisdictions have implemented programs to reduce delays. Few, however, have succeeded.  In a new policy brief for the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre I argue that one reason why so many delay reduction programs have failed is that they have ignored how the formal and informal rules governing case disposition shape the incentives of judges, lawyers, court staff, and litigants.  I urge that a successful delay reduction strategy must start with such a “political economy” analysis and that reforms be built around what that analysis reveals. Comments welcome.

A Regional Anticorruption Convention in the Asia-Pacific?

In my last post I discussed Transparency International’s proposal for an “ASEAN Integrity Community” (AIC) to promote and harmonize effective anticorruption policies in the Southeast Asian region. The proposed AIC would be part of the formal ASEAN framework but would not impose additional legal obligations on member states. This got me thinking a bit more about whether it would be a good idea to push for a more robust international anticorruption convention, either in ASEAN or in the Asia-Pacific region more generally. (I’m not alone in having at least entertained this idea: the Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission has apparently been developing, and occasionally floating, a proposal for an ASEAN Anti-Corruption Convention.) After all, in addition to the two main global anticorruption conventions—the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention—there are also a number of regional anticorruption conventions, including the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the League of Arab States Anti-Corruption Convention, the Council of Europe’s Civil and Criminal Law Conventions on Corruption, and the European Union’s Convention against Corruption involving Officials. Indeed, the Asia-Pacific region is one of the few regions in the world (along with South Asia, Central Asia, and a handful of others) that lacks a regional anticorruption convention of some kind. Is there a case for creating such a regional instrument in the Asia-Pacific (or, more narrowly, in ASEAN)?

I think, upon further reflection and discussions with people who have much more expertise than I do, that the answer is probably no. But nevertheless I thought it would be worth at least floating the idea, if only to stimulate further discussions. Continue reading

Asset Recovery and the Department of Justice’s Discretion to Return

The U.S. Department of Justice’ trumpets its so-called “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative,” which seeks to freeze and seize illicit assets stashed by corrupt foreign leaders in the United States. When Attorney General Eric Holder had introduced the Initiative before the African Union in 2010, he described it as a program for recovering public funds for “their intended – and proper use”. For his audience, “proper use” was no doubt understood as implying return of the looted assets to the victim countries. Yet over the past few years, these expectations have been eroded, as the US has proved reluctant to turn over seized asses, and the DOJ’s public statements regarding asset return now increasingly incorporate qualifying language to the effect that forfeited assets will be returned to the originating jurisdiction “where appropriate“. This is inequitable and harmful to global anticorruption efforts. Continue reading

The Social Psychology of Corruption

There are many theories about the causes of corruption, ranging cultural explanations to economic models. But relatively little attention has been paid to the social-psychological causes of corruption, especially at the individual level. Yet as the sociologist Marina Zaloznaya persuasively argues in a recent paper, we need to pay more attention to the individual social psychology of corrupt behavior if we are to combat it effectively. And indeed, there is a small but growing number of empirical studies (including some discussed previously on this blog) that have investigated why a person might act dishonestly, and in particular consider how an individual’s tendency to commit corrupt acts may depend on both the person’s moral identity and the surrounding circumstances. Although there is still much we do not understand, this research offers some revealing insights. Continue reading

Do We Need an “ASEAN Integrity Community”?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is taking a major step toward greater regional economic integration at the end of this year, with the long-awaited launch of the “ASEAN Economic Community”, a region-wide agreement designed (among other things) to promote the freer movement of goods, capital, and labor throughout the region. Yet many worry that this greater economic integration might exacerbate the region’s already serious struggles with corruption, especially cross-border corruption. Largely in response to that concern, last April Transparency International published a report calling for the creation of an “ASEAN Integrity Community” (AIC) that would, in the words of the report, “create a coherent regional anti-corruption strategy” and “provide space for civil society and the business sector to be able to have input into and shape this regional anti-corruption agenda.”

It’s an intriguing idea, and the report is worth reading. (Full disclosure: I wrote a background paper for one of the meetings TI organized last September to discuss corruption challenges in ASEAN. Indeed, substantial chunks of the background paper that I wrote appear – uncredited – in the TI Report on the AIC.) Certainly, there’s a good case to be made for greater regional cooperation on anticorruption challenges within ASEAN. That said, I found the TI report on the proposed AIC frustrating in several respects, most significantly the vagueness regarding how, exactly, the AIC would operate, and how it would add value above and beyond the existing regional forms and groupings that address corruption issues. I realize that this is an early-stage proposal, designed to generate political momentum for greater action and political buy-in (particularly in advance of the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Malaysia next week), so it may not really fair to criticize the report for being a bit light on specifics. Still, it’s worth reflecting a bit more on what we might hope to get out of something like an AIC, and whether this is the right way to go about tackling what most experts would agree is a genuine and serious set of problems and challenges. Continue reading