3 Things To Do About Corruption Rather Than Gripe

Most of what passes for commentary or learned analysis about corruption in the press, on social media, or elsewhere does little more than say (again and again and again) that corruption is a pressing problem and that it should be addressed.  However valuable such calls to action might have been in the early years of the anticorruption movement, as Matthew suggested some time ago (almost two years ago to be exact), the principle of diminishing returns has long since set in.  I have serious doubts that another newspaper op-ed, “thought piece,” or (even) blog post will prompt one more policymaker or citizen to take up the anticorruption cause. If they have not by now, they simply aren’t going to.

Rather than wasting energy and time and sending more innocent trees to their death in the hopes of enlisting the remaining holdouts to the cause, here are three projects activists can tackle that will make a difference in the fight to curb corruption.

1) Track the fate of payers and takers in the same cross-border bribery cases.  Although no longer a rare event, it is still newsworthy when, following the conviction or guilty plea of a company or individual for bribing a public official in another country, the bribe-taker is prosecuted. For every payer there is a taker, and so for every case where a bribe-payer is called to account, there should be one calling the taker to account.  The excuses for why there is not ran the gamut from impunity to political pressure to a lack of capacity to some combination thereof. Ending or at least sharply curtailing transnational bribery requires cracking down on the “demand side” as well as the “supply side,” and spotlighting those governments that aren’t prosecuting their officials for bribe taking will put pressure on them to start cracking down. Instead of one more screed about how bad corruption is, why not use the time to start a “Wiki” where the fates of payers and takers in transnational cases are recorded?  Instead of writing another call to action, why not put time in updating the site?

2) Tweet the private air travel of corrupt officials. Last week Richard Cassin reported on a Twitter account that tracks planes registered to or used by despots when they fly into and out of Geneva, Switzerland.  As Cassin explained, not every dictator is traveling to Geneva to launder the proceeds of corruption or participate in other corruption-related acts.  Some surely are though, and creating a permanent record of their travel to a destination where they might not only shines a light on what they could be up to but creates an evidence trail for prosecutors and investigators.  Flight data on other airports is online as is data on what kleptocrats and kleptocratic governments own what planes. Let’s get tweeting.

3) Update the IMF’s Public Investment Management Index.  Infrastructure development is considered critical for economic growth, particularly in low income countries, yet as any number of reports show (here and here for examples), the construction industry is laced with corruption; indeed Transparency International’s Bribe Payers Index regularly rates it the most corrupt of the industries surveyed. Reducing corruption in infrastructure development is therefore a must for developing nations, and one of the best ways they can do so is by benchmarking their procedures for overseeing infrastructure spending against those of other nations.  An IMF-created index allows governments to do so, but it has not been updated since 2011.  Anticorruption advocates could update the figures, if not for all countries then for a handful, say those in a particular region.

All three of these projects are time-consuming to be sure, but unlike time devoted to writing one more piece on the evils of corruption, the time spent on each of these will advance the anticorruption cause.

5 thoughts on “3 Things To Do About Corruption Rather Than Gripe

  1. Thank you for the post. I agree that doing more than simply praising anticorruption and excoriating corruption is necessary. But will these tactics prove more persuasive? If I was a member of the public or a policy maker that wasn’t particularly interested in anticorruption efforts before, would I be any more likely to look through a database than I would be to read an op-ed? Perhaps, but I’m not sure. Are there any examples where these tools helped shame bribe takers or corrupt officials?

  2. I agree on all points. Regarding the third, updating the IMF index is an excellent idea, and infrastructure will remain a critical lever for growth (and not just in low-income countries). Cutting corruption from the public procurement process for infrastructure is a laudable goal. But the IMF index should also be flushed out and augmented. In addition to the infrastructure, I would like to see better data on the transportation sector itself. Corruption in the transport sector inflates prices and limits trade competitiveness. In some areas, such as West Africa, corruption in the trucking industry is the limiting factor to competitiveness, not a lack of roads, and so it’s possible that trucking cartels might be a more important target for anticorruption efforts than the underlying infrastructure construction (http://reports.weforum.org/africa-competitiveness-report-2015/chapter-2-3-tapping-the-potential-of-global-value-chains-for-africa/). It would be good to get away from the simplistic mantra of “building roads will fix everything”.

  3. I really like this post. In particular, your first suggestion strikes me as a very worthwhile effort: No matter how effective FCPA/UK Bribery enforcement is, without the naming and shaming of government officials accepting bribes, demand for bribes will likely remain pretty constant. In fact, this might be a means to help level what some critics have noted is an unfair playing field for corporations subject to anti-bribery legislation – by putting pressure on politicians to be less corrupt, corporations that fall outside the scope of international bribery laws might be less able to beat out compliant companies through bribery. Harnessing the information-generating power of corruption prosecutions could help advocates and reformers more effectively map out hotspots and track bad actors over time. Although enforcement actions might only provide a limited sample of corrupt transactions, their scale and political significance might provide particularly useful leverage to pressure governments to prosecute or politically punish corrupt actors.

  4. Is it possible that a public Geneva “flight tracker” might disincentivize global leaders or their surrogates from coming to Geneva for perfectly legitimate purposes, even for anti-corruption meetings or efforts (a variety of anti-corruption research institutions are based in Geneva)? As Cassin mentioned, “passengers in tracked planes could have legitimate reasons for being in Geneva and aren’t necessarily there to hide money.” But if leaders are being publicly outed / shamed for traveling to and from Geneva, they may be less inclined to come because there might be a public assumption that they are there for nefarious, corruption laden reasons.

    • This concern might not arise in the case of, for example, a Panamanian “flight tracker”. My apologies to Panama, but government officials who are jetting there may well be utilizing its corporate and finance laws to launder and hide money stolen from the public. After all, there are few international organizations promoting good governance which are permanently based out of Panama City. That said, why shouldn’t there be a “flight tracker” for all global leaders to all cities? Doesn’t the public have a significant interest in knowing how their representatives are spending their time and tax money?

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