Participatory Budgeting: A Way Forward for the Brazilian Anticorruption Agenda

In Brazil’s presidential elections last month, former President Lula, leader of the left-wing Workers’ Party, narrowly defeated right-wing incumbent President Bolsonaro. But even though many Brazilian anticorruption scholars and activists, as well as members of the international anticorruption community (including on this blog), had endorsed Lula over Bolsonaro, there is considerable pessimism about the future of anticorruption reform in Brazil, at least in the near term. Although Lula’s previous administrations had advanced important anticorruption reforms, as well as broader institutional reforms to strengthen the independence and effectiveness of Brazil’s institutions of justice, the fact that Lula was himself incarcerated for corruption offenses until the Supreme Court voided his conviction on procedural grounds has made anticorruption such a polarizing issue—and so associated the anticorruption agenda with the right wing—that many believe that Lula will be much more hostile to an anticorruption agenda this time around. Moreover, even if President Lula were amenable to backing anticorruption reforms, the right wing dominates Congress, making such reforms even less likely to pass.

Although the prospects for significant advances in the anticorruption agenda at the national level are dim, there are more opportunities for progress than the dominant pessimistic view acknowledges. Importantly, Brazil is a federal republic, where both state governments and local municipalities have a considerable degree of autonomy. Furthermore, even if the rhetoric of anticorruption has become unhelpfully politicized in Brazil, there are many reforms that do not overtly target “corruption” but that nonetheless may have significant anticorruption benefits. So, the way forward for Brazilian anticorruption reformers over the next several years involves a shift in focus from federal-level anticorruption prosecutions to local-level institutional reforms with significant but indirect anticorruption effects.

One reform that fits the bill is participatory budgeting (PB). Brazil’s anticorruption community should make common cause with other good-government and pro-democracy advocates to push for the expansion of PB at the municipal level.

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Who Can Commit Honest Services Fraud? The U.S. Supreme Court Will Soon Decide

One of the most potent anticorruption tools for U.S. prosecutors is the “honest services” fraud statute. In essence, the statute makes it illegal for someone to violate their fiduciary duty to the public by participating in a bribery or kickback scheme. The idea behind this law is that when someone owes a fiduciary duty to the public, engaging in corruption deprives the public of their right to “honest services” and thus constitutes a violation of that duty.

Yet while it is relatively clear what activities violate this statute, it is less clear who can violate it. Some cases are obvious: Public officials, for instance, hold a position of power that has been entrusted to them by the public, and in turn must act on behalf of the public when wielding that power. They clearly are the sorts of public fiduciaries to whom the honest services fraud statute can apply. At the other end of the spectrum are ordinary private citizens who have no connection whatsoever to government office. Such people may have a general moral responsibility to behave honestly, but they do not owe fiduciary duties to the public. But between those easy cases at either end of the spectrum are more challenging cases. Consider a person who does not formally hold office but who, by virtue of some relationship to public office or to a public official, have significant influence over government decisionmaking. Do those people owe a fiduciary duty to the public? Are they subject to conviction under the honest services fraud statute? This is the difficult problem that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon address in Percoco v. United States.

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Preventing Corruption in the Reconstruction of Ukraine

It is clear Russia’s attempt to break Ukrainians’ will to fight by attacking the nation’s critical infrastructure is failing. No matter how much destruction its daily bombardments wreak on power plants, district heating systems, and the other facilities that support daily life, Ukrainians remain determined to recover every inch of territory the invaders now hold.

Helping to shore up Ukraine’s determination is the commitment its Western partners have made to financing Ukraine’s reconstruction. But as donors pledge their support, concerns are being raised about corruption. It is no secret that at the time Russia attacked, Ukraine was still struggling with the ingrained corruption it inherited from Soviet rule and the post-Soviet oligarchs who grabbed money and power in the first years of independence.

The Ukrainian government must the lead the fight against corruption during reconstruction, and draft legislation now circulating in Kyiv recognizes this. All funds would be channeled through an independent government entity with a 20-person board of directors of which 15 would be drawn from donor organizations and five would be Ukrainian officials. That the majority will be drawn from outside Ukraine is a critical provision, one that should reassure donors that oversight will not be wanting.

A second critical provision is that the entity would have a strong internal audit department reporting directly to the board of directors. The proposed bill provides the department would conduct financial audits, ensure the fund operates within the law, that information the board requested was supplied, and that managers did not act beyond their authorized duties.

As important as these provisions are, they are mainly backwards looking, aimed at identifying where corruption has occurred. More important is preventing it from occurring in the first place.

Ukrainian officials and their partners should thus include strong prevention measures in the final draft. All contractors should have an anticorruption compliance program that has been independently certified to be compliance with the standards for an antibribery management system found in ISO 37001. The legislation should also create a prevention department. One model is that the Millennium Challenge Corporation has. Its unit trains grantees responsible for overseeing construction projects in the creation of a risk register and development of an action plan to reduce if not eliminate corruption in both the award and execution of construction contracts. Regular field visits monitor how well grantees are doing in implementing their action plan.

Current estimates are that rebuilding Ukraine will run upwards of $350 billion, a number sure to grow as Russian bombs continue to fall. That Western nations are prepared to invest such an extraordinary sum in rebuilding a victim of aggression is the most reassuring sign to date that despite economic turmoil, social upheaval, and the election of demagogues, there is indeed a broad and deep global consensus on the value of a liberal, democratic order. Every step possible should be taken to ensure corruption does not undermine it.

Reminder: Workshop on Specialized Anticorruption Courts Starting Imminently! Join Us on Zoom!

As I mentioned in my announcement last Friday, the Christian Michelsen Institute is hosting hosting a panel today, which I will be moderating. on specialized anticorruption courts, featuring panelists Sofie Schütte, Olha Nikolaieva, Marta Mochulska, and Ivan Gunjic. The panel starts in half an hour (at 8 am US East Coast time/2 pm Bergen time), and it is possible to join by Zoom. I hope some of you out there will join us, as I think, based on the quality of the panelists and the inherent interest of the topic, that it should be a good discussion.

Online Workshop on Specialized Anticorruption Courts

This coming Monday, November 14th, the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway will be hosting a panel on specialized anticorruption courts, which I will be moderating. The outstanding panel includes Sofie Schütte, a Senior Adviser at CMI’s U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Olha Nikolaieva, a Legal and Judicial Adviser for USAID, Professor Marta Mochulska of Lviv National University, and Ivan Gunjic, a PhD Candidate at the University of Zurich. The one-hour panel will start at 8 am US East Coast time (2 pm Bergen time), and it is possible to join by Zoom. The official panel description (also available here) is as follows:

Anti-corruption courts are an increasingly common feature of national anti-corruption reform strategies. By mid-2022 the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre at CMI counted 27 such courts across Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Reasons for their creation include the resolution of backlogs but also concerns about the ability of ordinary courts to handle corruption cases impartially. While there are no definitive best practices for specialised anti-corruption courts, existing models and experience provide some guidance to reformers considering the creation of similar institutions.

In this panel discussion we launch an update of “Specialised anti-corruption courts: A comparative mapping” and discuss experiences with the establishment of anti-corruption courts in Eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular.

Guest Post: U.K. Court Refuses to Compensate Victims of Foreign Bribery

Today’s Guest Post is by Dr Helen Taylor, senior legal researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, a charity that shines a light on the United Kingdom’s role in corruption at home and abroad. Helen leads Spotlight’s court monitoring programme, tracking the enforcement of the UK’s anti-corruption law in major court cases and building an evidence base for advocacy and policy recommendations on asset recovery, victim compensation, and other corruption-related issues.

Last week a London court fined commodities giant Glencore for bribing officials in five African oil producing nations in return for getting “special deals” on their oil. While the court ordered the company to pay £280 million (just over $318 million) for its numerous violations of the U.K. foreign bribery law, it refused to direct Glencore to compensate those its bribes injured: the governments and citizens of the five nations. In fact, victims did not even get a foot in the courtroom door — the Serious Fraud Office, which prosecuted the case, refused to put a compensation request before the court, and the court itself rejected the Nigerian government’s application for compensation.

The case brings home the pressing need to reform the UK’s compensation framework to ensure overseas victims are represented and compensated in complex corruption cases.

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Chile’s Way Forward: Corruption and Disqualification:

Many democracies have sought to preserve the integrity of their governments by prohibiting individuals who have been convicted of corruption-related offenses (or other serious crimes) from holding public office, either for a period of time or permanently. Such a prohibition was on the ballot this past September in Chile, when citizens voted on whether to adopt a new constitution. That proposed constitution included, among its many provisions, a specific article (Article 172) that would have disqualified from public office any person who had been convicted of a corruption offense. The provision did not become law, however, because Chilean voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed constitution for reasons that had almost nothing to do with the relatively obscure Article 172.

The inclusion of that article in the proposed constitution does, however, invite the consideration of two distinct but related questions: First, should Chile—or another similarly situated democracy—adopt a law disqualifying those convicted of corruption from holding public office? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, should that disqualification rule appear in the constitution (as opposed to an ordinary statute), which is, by design, much harder to change?

The answer to the first question, at least for Chile, is probably yes. The answer to the second question, though, is no. Chile should experiment with a disqualification law, but should not constitutionalize it.

This conclusion arises from a careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of disqualification laws and, perhaps more importantly, the conditions that must obtain for those laws to be beneficial:

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November 2 OSCE Webinar: Asset Recovery and the Concept of Social Reuse

The OSCE Polish Chairpersonship and the Office of the Coordinator of the OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities are holding a series of three webinars on the contribution of the OSCE in preventing corruption and promoting transparency and good governance as part of resilient economic recovery.

The first webinar is entitled:  Innovations in Asset Recovery in the OSCE: The Concept of Social Reuse was held today November 2, 2022, 3:00 to 4:15 pm CET via Zoom webinar.

Opening remarks 

Ms. Courtney Austrian, Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Mission to the OSCE 

Ambassador Igli Hasani, Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities 

Ambassador Alena Kupchyna, OSCE Co-ordinator of Activities to Address Transnational Threats 

Speakers: 

Mr. Tristram Hicks, OSCE Asset Recovery Advisor 

Mr. Andrea D’Angelo, Senior Project Manager, Balkan Asset Management Interagency Network (BAMIN) Secretariat  

Ms. Melika Sahinovic, OSCE Expert on Social Re-Use in BiH 

Moderator: Prof. Anita Ramasastry, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairmanship on Combating Corruption 

Asset recovery is a powerful anti-corruption tool ensuring that stolen assets and proceeds of criminal activities are given back to societies and victims of crime.  It remains one of the most effective ways to disrupt serious and organized crime as organized crime groups survive and thrive through illicit financial gains. 

Since 2019, OSCE has been implementing a cross-dimensional project that aims at building the capacities of national authorities and civil society organizations (CSOs) in Southeast Europe and improving regional collaboration in the seizing, confiscating, managing and re-using of criminal assets. Phase II of the project that has just been launched has also been extended to Eastern Europe (Moldova and Ukraine). The project adopts a comprehensive approach to asset recovery and includes three areas of intervention: i) financial investigations, asset seizure and confiscation; ii) asset management; and iii) asset re-use. 

Details for connecting —

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Curbing Corruption in India’s Healthcare System

The Indian healthcare system is rife with corruption, and much of this corruption arises from the way that healthcare is regulated (or not). Because healthcare in India is inexpensive, at least by Western standards, private health insurance is relatively rare, and a sizeable majority of total health expenditures are made out-of-pocket. With little regulation, and without much meaningful price negotiation by either the government or private insurance companies, India’s healthcare system has become a vast “network of unregulated private sector hospitals.” This lack of regulation, coupled with intense competition, encourages doctors (who are often under substantial financial pressure) “to enter a happy axis of corruption where they routinely prescribe expensive investigations and perform operations which a patient might not need” in order to increase their profit margins. Doctors have also been known to take bribes from other healthcare entities in return for patient referrals, or to accept kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies disguised as “professional fees” in order to outcompete other private hospitals. As a recent WHO-Eurohealth publication concluded, health sector corruption in India includes not only “collusion, bribes and kickbacks in procurement which may result in overpayment for goods and contracted services” and doctors’ willingness to accept “payments in exchange for special privileges or treatment,” but also “distort[ions in] medical professionals’ prescribing practices.” 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sought to address some of these concerns through a healthcare initiative known as PMJAY. The main objective of this program is to increase access to healthcare for the poorest 50% of the population—approximately 700 million people—who are given biometric government “smart cards” to purchase eligible inpatient healthcare services at both private and public hospitals. But while PMJAY is principally designed as a system for subsidizing healthcare for low-income people, it also serves as an anticorruption tool by bringing under government oversight millions of previously unregulated out-of-pocket healthcare transactions, requiring enrolled physicians to acquire digital pre-authorization before administering nonemergency services to PMJAY beneficiaries, and giving the government more power to negotiate with private hospitals participating in the program over healthcare rates. PMJAY’s computerized billing platform also serves a surprising secondary role as an AI-powered “comprehensive fraud analytics solution” for millions of transactions that were previously beyond the government’s reach. The program has already detected over 18,000 fraudulent insurance transactions, leading to penalties against hundreds of healthcare entities so far. The government has even made a list of “corrupt” hospitals available on the PMJAY website. Given PMJAY’s early successes, the government should expand the program. Not only would this increase healthcare access in general—a worthy aim in its own right—but it would further reduce corruption in the healthcare system. This is more easily said than done, however, in light of several practical obstacles to further expansions.

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A U.S. Court Just Opened a Huge Loophole in Anticorruption Campaign Finance Laws

A New Jersey election law prohibits any “corporation carrying on the business of a bank” from donating to political parties. The New Jersey Bankers Association (NJBA), a trade group representing the interests of 88 banks in the state, challenged that law as unconstitutional. For those who follow disputes over U.S. campaign finance law, one might have expected that this case would be decided within a familiar framework: Under the Supreme Court’s well-established principle that campaign contributions are a constitutionally protected form of political speech, the restriction would only be permitted if it is narrowly tailored to advance the government’s compelling interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.

The federal appeals court’s surprising decision in this case, though, sidestepped that usual inquiry entirely. Instead, the court determined that the law in question did not apply to the NJBA in the first place. The court reasoned that the law applies only to “corporation[s] carrying on the business of a bank,” and because the banks’ trade association (the NJBA) does not itself make loans and receive deposits, the NJBA is not a “bank,” meaning the law does not prohibit the NJBA (as distinct from its member banks) from making political donations.

That reasoning is at least questionable as a purely linguistic matter. To “carry[] on” a business activity can mean both “to engage in or conduct” business oneself and “to develop [a business] beyond a stage already attained.” While a bank trade association does not do the former, it arguably does do the latter—for example, by lobbying against capital constraints that would impede the loan-making capacity of banks. But more importantly, the court’s narrow, literalist reading of the statute is inappropriate in light of its dangerous consequences for New Jersey’s efforts to restrict corruption and the appearance of corruption in the campaign finance system. The court’s ruling permits (at least for now) New Jersey to restrict banks’ campaign contributions, but allows the representative of those banks to make contributions on their behalf. That’s like saying your child isn’t allowed to reach in the cookie jar, but his friend can grab the cookie for him. This misguided decision has thus created a potentially gaping loophole, one allowing affluent industry groups to engage in campaign-related spending that would ordinarily be deemed to present such a high risk of corruption (or its appearance) that government regulation is justified.

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