Hardly a day passes without news from Brazil that a senior politician or business person has been charged with corruption or has admitted guilt or found guilty of a corruption offense or is cooperating with authorities in their ever-expanding investigation into the rot that has infected Brazilian politics. Brazil is not only the envy of corruption hunters everywhere, but for those living in countries where big time, grand corruption is the norm, it provides enormous inspiration and hope. “If the Brazilians can do it, we [fill in the blank] can do it too,” is a refrain I have heard in more than one country.
But just how Brazil has “done it” has remained a mystery. Or at least it has until the recent release of The Sum Of Its Parts: Coordinating Brazil’s Fight Against Corruption, 2003 – 2016, the latest in a series by Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Society on how countries are combating corruption. Through revealing interviews with key participants and observers, author Gordon LaForge chronicles how a handful of reformers built the law enforcement institutions now bringing corrupt Brazilian politicians and their private sector co-conspirators to heel. Investigating and prosecuting complex corruption cases takes coordinated action across numerous agencies, and the emphasis throughout is on the painstaking, time-consuming efforts required to build the needed inter-agency cooperation.
The Sum of its Parts is essential reading for those trying to make their country “the next Brazil.” It should also be valuable for those trying to understand the process of political change in developing nations. One of its strengths is that it never loses sight of the fact that human agency is critical element.