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.
The donor community should improve the training it provides developing country anticorruption investigators: with few exceptions, the training it supplies today is mediocre. Over the past months I have discussed the quality with the staff of developing country anticorruption agencies, reviewed training materials provided, witnessed training sessions, and conducted training sessions myself. What I have found (names withheld to protect sources):
- Little thought or preparation is given to the courses offered investigators. In one country the materials on money laundering used as the basis for a week-long course for senior investigators and prosecutors had obviously been adapted from those for presentations to secondary school students in the trainers’ home country.
- Trainers frequently do little more than recount their experience investigating or prosecuting corruption cases in their home countries (“telling war stories”). Often entertaining, and certainly easy for an instructor to do, but rarely of value.
- “Instruction” sometimes consists of lecturing participants on the merits of laws found in the instructor’s home country. Trainers from one large North American country are renowned for extolling how the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act eases their task of catching corrupt officials. That law may well make it easier for them to collar corrupt actors, but as one investigator who attended such a training told me, “I am not a Member of Parliament, don’t know anyone who is, and have no influence over what laws they pass.” What good did spending a day learning the ins and outs of RICO do her?
- Participants who had attended several investigator courses, including “advanced courses,” had never been taught the value of constructing a timeline or preparing interview outlines.
A quality training program takes time to develop. Would-be trainers need to do much more than read over the anticorruption statutes of the participants’ country in the plane on the way. They need to understand the laws governing investigators’ powers, evidence, trial procedure and the like. It does little good to teach trainees how to covertly surveil suspects or use wiretap evidence if they do not have the power to use either technique. Trainers need also to tailor the instruction to the common problems that arise in the jurisdiction. Many common law developing states require that an elaborate foundation be laid before business records can be admitted into evidence. Investigators and prosecutors in smaller states often find whistleblowers change their stories at trial. How to get business records admitted and ways to corroborate a whistleblower’s testimony should be critical parts of many training program. I have yet to see either topic covered in any training.
Better training programs should lead to higher quality investigations, and higher quality investigations will increase the odds that the guilty are convicted. They can also help create that essential but elusive ingredient in any anticorruption policy – “political will.” For it is much harder to sweep well constructed, well documented cases under the rug than those where the evidence is weak or poorly developed. So maybe improving training for anticorruption investigators isn’t such a dull, boring, humdrum, modest, unimaginative proposal after all.