Remember that childhood game, you say a word over and over and it seems to lose its meaning and just dissolves into a melodic sound? I feel similarly about trying to slice up the umbrella concept of corruption and sort it into practical, reasonably comprehensive, and distinctive subcategories – an endeavor that usually gets out of hand, consumes disproportionate amounts of scarce thinking-time and energy, and eventually leaves the participants more confused and in disagreement than at the outset. Yet quite recently I have begun to change my mind a bit about the unproductiveness of typologizing (anti)corruption. In fact, I have begun to derive some surprising enjoyment and inspiration from playing around with different ways to look at and classify different types of (anti)corruption. Here three examples: Continue reading
Over the past three decades much empirical work has appeared on the effect of the criminal law on crime rates. Usefully summarized in review articles by, among others, Professors Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael Tonry of the University of Minnesota (click here and here for examples), this research offers several insights for those engaged in the fight against corruption.
The first is that the criminal justice system can make a difference. Save for acts committed in the heat of the moment, crime is a cost-benefit proposition. Would-be criminals tote up the (usually) monetary gains of violating the law against the risks of being caught and punished and, when the benefits exceed the costs, commit an offense. Thus policies that drive up the cost of crime by increasing the chances an offender will be caught, prosecuted, and appropriately punished reduce the crime rate. Recent studies confirm that corruption crimes are no exception. Putting more resources into to prosecuting corruption in the United States and ensuring corruption in the construction of roads is detected both reduced corruption.
But if the good news from the deterrence literature is that the criminal law can make a difference, the bad news is that that the difference is not easy to realize and that the logic of deterrence can lead policymakers astray. One of the more striking findings is that what would seem to be the easiest way to enhance deterrence, sharp increases in the penalties for corruption crimes, may actually lead to more corruption. Continue reading
In my last post, I suggested that one possible drawback to dramatically ramping up enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act against individuals (from the perspective of those who, like me, favor aggressive FCPA enforcement) is that individual defendants are relatively more likely to litigate than are corporate defendants. This not only might entail a greater drain on the resources of the government enforcement agencies—a familiar and well-understood concern—but it could also lead to adverse appellate rulings on the meaning of key FCPA provisions (particularly if the targeting of more individuals also entails the targeting of relatively more sympathetic individuals). In this post, I want to raise a similar concern in connection with a prominent proposal for increasing the FCPA’s deterrent effect: the addition of a private right of action under the statute.
The FCPA in its current form does not authorize private individuals to sue defendants for alleged violations of the statute. Although some other statutes might authorize certain forms of private FCPA enforcement—for example, in the form of shareholder derivative suits, or suits alleging violations of the antitrust laws or the RICO Act—these forms of private recourse are quite limited in their availability. (I won’t go into all the reasons in this post—Professor Gideon Mark has a nice discussion in his paper on the topic.) Yet many people (including Professor Mark) have advocated the addition of an express FCPA private right of action which, in the view of its proponents, would substantially enhance FCPA deterrence. This idea has attracted at least some interest in the U.S. Congress, though the proposed bills to add an FCPA private right of action have not yet gone anywhere.
My natural instincts are to support a proposal along these lines, both because I’m more of a “hawk” when it comes to FCPA enforcement, and because I’m generally an enthusiast for the “private attorney general” model for enforcing public law. And I could still be persuaded that a private FCPA action is a good idea. But I have concerns similar to those I raised in my last post about greater targeting of individuals, as well as some additional, closely related worries. Here are the main worries, as I see them: Continue reading
Nigeria has a corruption problem. Whether described as misuse of public office for private gain, trading in influence, money laundering, or the theft of public funds, this problem is rife, and we know it. There is also a list of scandals that is as long as it is depressing: that fuel subsidy fraud, those egregiously inflated prices for the purchase of vehicles, the disappearing treasury, and a bewildering pardon for an infamous corrupt convict.
Between 2003 and 2007, it looked as if Nigeria had found a solution to the corruption problem, and that solution had a name: Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. As Chair of the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC), Mallam Ribadu led successful prosecutions of financial crimes, bringing thousands of indictments, over 270 convictions and double that number in arrests. Described by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime as “a crime-buster made of the hardest steel alloy every manufactured”, Ribadu’s work was filled with fearless firsts. Under his leadership, the EFCC conducted investigations leading to the indictment and conviction of the Inspector General of Police (Ribadu was a policeman). The EFCC indicted five governors and secured two convictions – feats previously thought impossible. The EFCC also arrested and prosecuted hundreds of confidence scammers, and served as an effective deterrent to financial crimes. It was also largely due to the EFCC’s efforts that Nigeria was removed from Financial Action Task Force’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions. Ribadu put a face to the previously mythical dependable and trustworthy law enforcement.
Yet for all his well-deserved praise, Ribadu’s tenure at the EFCC, and what happened afterwards, illustrates the limits of strong individuals in weak institutions. While anticorruption heroes are great, institutions matter more.
Professor Paul Lagunes of the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs contributes the following guest post:
The fact the bureaucrats who populate the ranks of the public administration do not run for office poses a significant challenge to electoral democracy—a challenge that is accentuated by citizens’ inability to properly monitor their own government. Citizens, after all, dedicate a majority of their time to private affairs and are often confused, if not repelled, by the complexities of public administration. Given this principal-agent problem, what can be done to improve monitoring, fight corruption, and hold governments accountable?
I recently had the opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of anticorruption monitoring in Mexico. This research indicates that independent audits over sensitive governmental processes can boost the levels of discipline, stringency, and honesty among civil servants. Indeed, even when communities find it difficult to overhaul their governing institutions and renew and professionalize their bureaucracies, they can rely on independent experts to raise bureaucrats’ level of accountability. But the improved monitoring associated with independent audits is only when accompanied by robust oversight and accountability. Continue reading
Both supporters and skeptics of aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have criticized the fact that the act is enforced much more often against corporations than against individuals. Some critics of FCPA enforcement often assert that it is unfair for the government to insist on corporations acknowledging criminal liability when the government is unwilling or unable to prosecute the individuals who committed the actual crimes. At the same time, supporters of aggressive FCPA enforcement argue that the failure to hold individuals personally liable, and to impose criminal penalties (including prison time) on those culpable actors undermines the FCPA’s deterrent effect. And they have a point: many doubt that fines and other monetary sanctions on corporations—at least at the levels that can be imposed under the FCPA—are sufficient to deter bribery, and there is evidence to support this claim.
Of course, individual FCPA liability is hardly novel; a number of past FCPA cases have included criminal convictions of individual company employees. But many have called for dramatically ramping up focus on individuals, and there are some signs that the U.S. Department of Justice may be heeding those calls. For someone like me, who tends to think that FCPA enforcement needs to be even more robust, this would seem like welcome news. And for the most part it is… but I do have a nagging worry, which may be entirely groundless, but that I want to try to flesh out in this post. The worry goes something like this: Continue reading