USAID’s New Dekleptification Guide

The U.S. Agency for International Development has just published a draft of what it calls a Dekleptification Guide. “Dekleptification,” the authors explain, is the process by which citizens kick kleptocrats out of power and ensure they stay out. The guide discusses a range of projects the agency could fund to support anti-kleptocrat movements, consolidate post-kleptocratic, democratic orders, and prevent kleptocrats from returning to office.

The agency seeks comments on the feasibility and appropriateness of the projects suggested, whether there are others it has overlooked, and generally whether its analysis and approach to dekleptification meshes with experience to date.  

USAID is one of the largest and most influential providers of foreign assistance — thanks not only to the size of its programs but to the quality of analysis that underpins them. The guide will almost surely have an impact far beyond coining a term to organize thinking about how to end kleptocracy. Members of the anticorruption community should therefore take up the agency’s request for comments.

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Guest Post: Anticorruption Recommendations for the Ukraine Recovery Conference

Today’s guest post is from Gretta Fenner, Managing Director of the Basel Institute on Governance, and Andrii Borovyk, Executive Director of Transparency International Ukraine.

Today and tomorrow, delegates from around the world are gathering at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, and we hope that this conference will result in firm pledges by the international community to finance Ukraine’s post-war recovery and reconstruction. But as readers of this blog are well aware, huge infusions of money into countries recovering from war or natural disasters are a tempting target for kleptocrats, organized criminal groups, and other corrupt actors. And although Ukraine has steadily strengthened its anticorruption defenses since 2014, those defenses are not yet sufficiently robust to ensure reconstruction funds are spent with integrity.

For this reason, the Basel Institute on Governance and Transparency International Ukraine are advocating that the Ukraine Recovery Conference, and any future efforts to provide reconstruction funding for Ukraine, embrace a set of anticorruption measures to be integrated into the reconstruction process. The recommended measures include, among others:

  • prioritizing the leadership selection process and reforms of Ukraine’s anticorruption institutions, including courts;
  • using transparent procurement systems, such as Ukraine’s award-winning e-procurement system Prozorro, for reconstruction projects; and
  • strengthening asset recovery systems so that money stolen through corruption in the past can be used to help fuel reconstruction efforts.

You can see the full recommendations here in English (and here in Ukrainian ), and you can also download a shorter infographic that summarizes the key points.

Security Sector Reform in West Africa Must Include Anticorruption Measures

West Africa is beset by internal and external security crises. In addition to burgeoning levels of violence linked to Islamist extremism throughout the Sahel, there has been a string of military coups d’êtat in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea, as well as failed coup attempts in Niger and Guinea-Bissau. The persistence of violence, instability, and military coups throughout the region has intensified calls for comprehensive security sector reform (SSR) throughout the region. (The term SSR, in this context, includes reforms to the policies, structures, and capacities of institutions and groups engaged in the security sector—defined broadly to include defense forces, law enforcement, corrections, intelligence services, border management, and customs agents, as well as certain non-state actors such as private security services—in order to make them more effective, efficient, and responsive to democratic control.) Indeed, many believe that a multilateral, region-wide initiative on SSR is essential during this tense political moment in West Africa.

It was therefore encouraging when, last November, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to announce its commitment to a new Policy Framework for Security Sector Reform and Governance (SSRG). Unfortunately, this Framework is deficient in a number of serious ways. One of the most significant problems is that the Framework focuses too narrowly on things like “resource mobilization and financing” and “professionalization and modernization” of the security sector, while paying insufficient attention to the central role of corruption in the security sector as a key impediment to genuine SSR. As a result, the Framework fails to clearly establish anticorruption as a core principle and a key element of SSR programming, and lacks sufficient guidance to member states on how to mitigate corruption risks in the security sector.

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That corruption in the security sector undermines national security and political stability is well established, both in general and in West Africa specifically. For one thing, corruption in the security sector hollows out defense and security forces, rendering them less effective, less professional, and less well-equipped. Corruption therefore can enable armed groups to gain power and influence—particularly in neglected and under-policed rural areas. Furthermore, when citizens experience or perceive corruption in a country’s security services, this can generate greater resentment and distrust of the central government, which in turn can undermine the state’s legitimacy and the ability of the security services to work effectively with the civilian population.

Yet as Transparency International (TI) correctly observed, SSR initiatives in West Africa—including the ECOWAS Framework—have neglected anticorruption in favor of more technical “train-and-equip” approaches to reform. Especially after the wave of military coups and coup attempts among ECOWAS member states since 2020, it is clear that this approach is insufficient. ECOWAS can and should revise the Framework to include provisions that require member states to implement strong anticorruption measures into their national SSRG programs. Three such revisions are particularly important: Continue reading

Trump’s Attempted Coup Explained

That Donald Trump egregiously abused his power as president in the closing days of his term in office there is now no doubt. Pressuring and threatening election officials and inciting a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol make out abuses that rival if they do not exceed those of America’s most corrupt leaders.

Thanks to the testimony of former Trump officials before the House committee investigating the Capitol riot, we now know the abuses were part of the most serious crime ever attempted against the government of the United States of America and its people: a plot to install Trump as president on January 20, 2021, despite that fact he had lost the election. Trump and accomplices attempted a coup d’état that only just failed.

Americans and democracy’s friends everywhere may find it hard to accept that American democracy narrowly survived a coup d’état. Coups happen in poorer countries with weak governments, not in one of the wealthiest nations in the world with a democracy that has weathered civil war and countless violent demonstrations. But the details that have been exposed, most recently the dramatic, chilling testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, make it clear there is simply no other term that fits.

For those who have not followed the House committee’s work, or who may have but still resist labelling the actions of Trump and accomplices a coup, its broad outlines are described below.

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Why and How Malaysia Must Radically Reform Its Anticorruption Institutions

Back in mid-2018, Malaysia looked like it might have finally reached a turning point in its fight against corruption, following the country’s first democratic transfer of power. The winning parties in 2018 promised significant anticorruption reforms, including swift action to respond to the 1MDB scandal that had led to the ruling government’s defeat. Unfortunately, the hoped-for clean-up of Malaysian politics has not occurred. Part of this is due to the fact that, since the 2018 elections, Malaysia has been embroiled in seemingly unending political turmoil, with two governing coalitions collapsing in fairly rapid succession as a result of shifting party alliances. But part of the problem concerns longstanding problems with Malaysia’s main anti-graft body, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The MACC was created by statute in 2009 as an “independent” body. But like far too many anticorruption agencies around the world, in practice the MACC suffers from a lack of genuine independence from the executive branch. This leads to the public perception, and possibly the reality, of improper political bias. (Indeed, the MACC’s lack of true independence may explain its slack response when investigative journalists and opposition politicians first raised concerns about the 1MDB fund.) Even if Malaysia’s politics stabilizes, it will not be possible for the country to make genuine progress against corruption without reforming the MACC’s structure in order to ensure that it is truly independent of the executive, and seen to be so.

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Corruption in Emergency Procurement: Lessons Learned in the Philippines

As numerous observers have noted, in far too many countries the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been hampered by widespread corruption, particularly in government procurement of medical supplies and other equipment (see, for example, here and here). As the pandemic finally recedes, it is useful to take stock of lessons learned and to implement reforms to emergency procurement procedures that will help mitigate these problems in future emergency situations.

One country where it is particularly important to address emergency procurement deficiencies exposed by COVID is the Philippines, which was mired in corruption scandals from the earliest days of the pandemic. Perhaps the highest profile COVID-19 procurement scandal—though hardly the only one—is the so-called Pharmally scandal. Over 2020-2021, the government of the Philippines entered into a string of multi-billion peso contracts with a company called Pharmally Pharmaceuticals, despite the fact that Pharmally is a small firm that was incorporated only in 2019 and lacked the funds, experience, and credibility to handle major government contracts. It was later revealed that Pharmally has direct ties with Chinese businessman Michael Yang, a close friend and former advisor of President Rodrigo Duterte. While direct corruption in this case has not yet been proven, the circumstances are extremely suspicious. And this is just one high-profile example of questionable COVID-related procurement deals. Speaking more generally, it is quite likely that widespread corruption contributed to the Philippines’ abysmal COVID-19 response (see, for example, here and here). Before the next crisis hits, it is essential that the Philippines learn how to better insulate its emergency procurement system from corruption risks. This is not to say that the procurement rules that apply in ordinary situations—including the usual transparency and integrity safeguards—must apply with full force during emergencies. In states of emergency, acting quickly can make the difference between life and death, and so it is reasonable to alter or relax public procurement rules to some extent, even if this raises the risks of corruption and other problems. But it is possible to design procurement systems so as to limit the ability of corrupt actors to take advantage of emergency procurement rules to enrich themselves. In the Philippines, the experience with corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests the following reforms—influenced by international best practices but tailored to the Philippines’ particular context—to clean up the country’s flawed emergency procurement system:

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New Podcast Episode, Featuring Michel Sapin and Valentina Lana

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this episode, I interview Michel Sapin, who served in several senior positions in the French government (including as Minister of Finance from 1992-1993 and again from 2014-2017), and Valentina Lana, a French lawyer, compliance consultant, and lecturer at the Sciences Po Law Faculty in Paris. Our conversation focuses principally on the major legislative reform to French anticorruption law known as the Loi Sapin II (named for M. Sapin), which was adopted in December 2016 and went into effect in 2017. We discuss the changes in the political and economic environment that led to the passage of this law–which represented a dramatic shift in the French government’s approach to transnational bribery–and the impact that the law has had during the five-plus years that it has been in effect. My guests emphasize the positive impacts that the law has had in France, how it differs from the approach taken by the US and the UK, and how France and other countries should move forward on the anticorruption fight in the years to come. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations: KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (ICRN). If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Cleaning up Corruption in Lebanon’s Central Bank

Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank (the Banque du Liban, or BdL), was once hailed as a “financial wizard” for his stewardship of the Lebanese banking system. But a flurry of recent investigations, led mainly by French and Swiss prosecutors, have implicated Salameh in a variety of corruption schemes. These investigations found, among other things, that Salameh illicitly moved over $300 million of public funds from the BdL into his brother’s company, Forry Associates, between 2002 and 2015 and that Salameh laundered millions in Europe through luxury real-estate purchases. And in March 2022, after Swiss prosecutors asked Lebanese authorities to carry out a separate investigation into embezzlement and money laundering by Salameh and his associates, a Lebanese district court judge charged Salameh and his brother with illegal enrichment and money laundering.

Though Salameh denies all allegations, many Lebanese citizens consider the accusations against him unsurprising. Indeed, if anything is surprising about the case against Salameh, it’s that he is being prosecuted in Lebanese courts. Government elites in Lebanon—including the BdL’s leaders—have long benefited from a culture of impunity. It is encouraging to see Lebanese prosecutors and courts taking steps to hold corrupt actors at the BdL accountable. But cleaning up the BdL, and ensuring that in the future cases like Salameh’s are detected early or prevented altogether, will also require more structural reforms to address the institutional and regulatory problems at the BdL that have enabled such corrupt practices. Three reforms to the BdL are especially important:

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The U.S. Supreme Court Has an Appearance Problem: What FEC v. Cruz Got Wrong

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, campaign contributions are a form of political “speech” and are therefore protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, the government may restrict such contributions only if doing so serves a compelling state interest. Currently, the only interests that the Court has recognized as sufficiently compelling to justify restrictions on political spending are preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Though sometimes presented as a single interest, the prevention of actual corruption and the prevention of the appearance of corruption are not the same. The reason the government has an interest in preventing actual corruption is obvious. The Court has explained the related but distinct interest in preventing the appearance of corruption by appealing to the importance of maintaining public confidence in the electoral process. If a certain campaign finance activity creates the appearance of corruption, then ordinary citizens may start to view their political participation as futile, and may lose faith in the integrity of elections. Because Congress has an interest in preventing this erosion of public trust, the government can regulate campaign finance activities that the public perceives as corrupt, even when those activities are not associated with actual corruption.

At least that’s what the Court has said. In practice, however, the Court has often failed to apply the appearance of corruption standard in a way that serves these objectives. This is nowhere clearer than in the Court’s recent decision in Federal Election Commission (FEC) v. Cruz. The case concerned a federal law that prohibited a candidate from using post-election campaign donations to repay more than $250,000 of personal loans that the candidate made to his or her campaign prior to the election. The government justified this law partly on the grounds that it prevented the appearance of corruption. After all, when a candidate uses donations to repay personal loans, the donor’s contributions go straight into the candidate’s pockets; the public could easily view such payments as fostering corruption. In support of this argument, the government pointed to a public opinion poll in which 81% of respondents thought it was “likely” or “very likely” that donors who make post-election contributions expect a “political favor” in return. Additionally, the government cited an academic study that found—on the basis of over three decades of empirical evidence—that politicians with campaign debts are “significantly more likely” than debt-free politicians to switch their votes after receiving contributions from special interests.

This evidence, on its face, would seem to support the government’s claim that the limit on using post-election donations to repay a candidate’s large personal loans furthers its compelling interest in preventing the appearance of corruption. However, the Court’s majority opinion dismissed the government’s appearance-based argument in a brief passage with relatively little sustained analysis, apparently treating the flaws in the government’s arguments as self-evident. The Court’s dismissive attitude to the government’s evidence in this case indicates a worrisome approach to the appearance-of-corruption issue more generally.

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Hard Truths/Sound Advice: UNDP’s Strategic Programming for Anti-Corruption Agencies

The United Nations Development Programme’s mission is to help poor countries become wealthy. As evidence that corruption is a, if not the, major obstacle blocking the way, the agency has devoted a growing share of its budget to finding ways combat it. Not all its investments have met with success — as its underpaid staff and consultants (compared to other international agencies) would be the first to admit.

One clear success is a little heralded guidance note for anticorruption agencies in Southeast Asia UNDP released in May. The region is beset with corruption problems large and small, and in response governments have established anticorruption agencies.  But TI’s Corruption Perception Index, the World Governance Indicators, and other cross-national measure of corruption have registered little or no improvement in country scores since the agencies came into existence, and disillusionment has taken hold as policymakers and citizens across the region now sharply question the agencies’ worth.  

Strategic Programming for Anti-Corruption Agencies: Regional Guidance Note for ASEAN makes it clear that the problem starts at the top. That agency leaders have let others set the terms for judging their agency’s success. Echoing advice to criminal justice agencies by the closest student of bureaucracy since Weber, the report explains that until anticorruption agencies define success in realistic, measurable, achievable objectives that will make a difference in citizens’ lives, their standing will not improve and continued support will remain at risk.

Along the way the UNDP report doesn’t gloss over the challenges agencies face while offering sound advice on how to overcome them.  Some especially important hard truths and good examples of sound advice –

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