Vietnam Enlists the Private Sector in the Fight Against Corruption

Last November Vietnam approved a new anticorruption law.  Initial reports in the English language press recounted the measures cracking down on public officials: the closing of loopholes in the conflict of interest rules, the increased information officials must provide about their personal finances, stiffer penalties for engaging in corruption, and so forth.  The recent publication of an English translation of the law reveals these early reports failed to mention a critical provision. As of July 1, all firms doing business in Vietnam, whether domestic or foreign, must:

  • determine if any employee or officer has engaged in corruption and if so promptly report him or her to the competent authority;
  • train employees on the anti-corruption laws; and
  • implement a code of business conduct that must include a rule barring conflicts of interest.

By my count (nations with anticorruption compliance laws january 2019), Vietnam is now the 25th nation to require some or all of the companies that do business in its territory to have some type of anticorruption compliance program.  Like every other anticorruption policy, requiring the private sector to join the fight against corruption is not a panacea.  But it surely is a part of the solution.

What are the rest of the world’s nations waiting for?  Do they think they can win the fight on their own?  Don’t they think the private sector has something to do with corruption?  Why aren’t they enlisting it in struggle?

A Reminder: Year-to-Year CPI Comparisons for Individual Countries are Meaningless, Misleading, and Should Be Avoided

Today, Transparency International released its new Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2018. At some point, hopefully soon, I’ll have time to look closely at the new data and accompanying materials, and if I have something to say about it, I’ll post it here. But that will probably take a while, and since the media coverage of the CPI is usually pretty intense in the first few days after the release, and dissipates in a week or two, I wanted to get out at least one post right now, on the day of the release, with a plea to everyone out there–especially journalists, but civil society activists and others as well:

DO NOT COMPARE ANY GIVEN COUNTRY’S CPI SCORE TO LAST YEAR’S SCORE TO MAKE CLAIMS ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION.

Just don’t do it. Don’t. I know the temptation can seem overwhelming. Who’s up? Who’s down? Things are getting better! Things are getting worse! Nothing is changing! So many stories can be written based on these changes (or non-changes).

But these sorts of comparisons are virtually all completely useless, and probably counterproductive. Continue reading

Where Is the Behavioral Insights Revolution in Anticorruption?

Behavioral economics—the application of insights from behavioral psychology to economic analysis and regulatory policy-making—is all the rage. In addition to the contributions of this synthesis to academic economics, research in behavioral economics has suggested the possibility of innovative, simple, low-cost policy interventions that can shift behavior in dramatic and productive ways, without as much reliance on the heavy hand of regulators. These so-called “nudges” (named after Richard Thaler’s and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge) include, for example, things like automatic enrollment in retirement plans, which appears to increase the amount of people saving for their retirement more than tax incentives do. The possibility of using nudges or other approaches inspired by behavioral economics has captured the imagination of politicians, international organizations, and others, and there are now approximately 200 so-called “nudge units” in governments around the world looking for ways to employ behavioral insights to solve public policy problems

This enthusiasm has spread to the field of anticorruption. (See here, here, and on this blog here and here). But, while there have been a handful of anecdotal reports of successful nudge-like interventions in this area (e.g. here), there has not yet been much elaboration of what sorts of concrete anticorruption innovations follow from a behavioral perspective, nor of the evidence base supporting these sorts of interventions. Indeed, there seems to be surprisingly little data about successful applications of behavioral insights in the fields of integrity and anticorruption. That’s why I was so excited when last year the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) published Behavioural Insights for Public Integrity: Harnessing the Human Factor to Counter Corruption, a report that, according to the OECD, is the “first comprehensive review of different strands of behavioral sciences to identify practical lessons for integrity policies.”

Alas, rather than providing systematic evidence on how applying behavioral insights can make anticorruption efforts more effective and using that evidence to recommend new integrity tools, the OECD report largely rehashes the last couple of decades of behavioral economics more generally, and makes it seem—at least to me—that, at least so far, behavioral science does not really suggest anything revolutionary for integrity and anticorruption, and there is little or no data-backed guidance on how to apply nudging to solve problems of integrity. Continue reading

Anticorruption Bibliography–January 2019 Update

An updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is available from my faculty webpage. A direct link to the pdf of the full bibliography is here, and a list of the new sources added in this update is here. As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.

Who Will Get to Prosecute Mozambique’s Former Finance Minister for Corruption?

Manuel Chang must surely feel special these days. He is the first former Minister of Finance in history (or at least that history recorded on the internet) whose is being sought for corruption by two countries. As explained here, Chang was arrested in South Africa December 30 after the United States had filed a preliminary request for extradition. Two weeks later, Mozambique filed its own extradition request.  Both countries want to bring him to trial for offenses arising from his alleged corrupt approval of government guarantees for bonds issued by private firms while minster.  Soon after their issue, the bonds went into default, costing the impoverished nation (GNI per capita $1200) as much as $2 billion and throwing the economy into recession.

Which country will get to prosecute Chang will turn on how South African authorities construe recondite provisions in South Africa’s extradition treaties with the United States and Mozambique.  As obscure as the provisions in the two treaties are, how South African authorities choose to interpret them will remain anything but.  For their interpretation will have significant consequences for the global fight against corruption. Continue reading

The Case for Engaging Religious Leaders in Anticorruption Efforts

The Kenyan Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) recently launched a somewhat unconventional initiative: an anticorruption Bible study guide. The EACC collaborated with the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya and the Fellowship of Christian Unions to first publish the guide in 2008, but in September it launched the guide’s use in a formal event with the Inter-Religious Sector. Though the EACC has worked with religious leaders from across traditions in the past, this guide is limited to the Christian faith. (Roughly 85% of Kenyans identify as Christian.) Intended for use in small group studies, the guide has 12 lessons divided into three sections: understanding corruption, developing values, and responding to corruption. Each lesson contains an introduction, discussion questions rooted in Scripture, a memory verse, and a final point of reflection. The EACC Twitter account declared that the study guide “is intended to help Kenyans interact with the Bible and discover God’s position on corruption and his direction on living a corruption free life.” And as the guide’s forward explains, “we believe that this fight will benefit from a much greater impetus if we use places of worship as the vanguard platform of advocacy against corruption in Kenya.”

Many in Kenya are not so sure. The decision to invoke God in the fight against corruption was met with skepticism and outright derision on Twitter and local media. (See here, here, and here.) Critics argued that the anticorruption Bible study guide would be ineffective (and therefore was a waste of resources), and also that anticorruption advocacy should be grounded in general morality, not religion. And it is hard to ignore the hypocrisy of religious groups and leaders speaking out against corruption given their imperfect records. (See here, here, and here). Furthermore, the collaboration between a government agency and religious leaders in producing this guide raises concerns both about the separation between church and state and about whether scarce government resources are best spent recruiting religious organizations into the anticorruption fight.

These criticisms are overblown. Working with religious stakeholders—and framing ethical arguments in religious terms—is a powerful and legitimate tool in the anticorruption movement’s arsenal, and activists should not shy away from using it. Religious leaders and organizations make particularly effective partners in anticorruption efforts for several reasons: Continue reading

Putting Elected Officials in Charge of Elections Is a Recipe for Corruption: Evidence from U.S. States

One of the stories that figured prominently in last November’s U.S. elections was that of Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s Secretary of State and now the state’s new Governor. As Secretary of State, Kemp was responsible for administering the state’s elections—but in 2018 he was administering the very election in which he was running for governor, which creates an inherent conflict of interest. Indeed, there was plenty of evidence that Kemp used his position as Secretary to increase his odds of winning the election: He attempted to close polling locations in neighborhoods likely to vote for his opponent, promulgated abnormally stringent voter registration rules that put thousands of voters’ eligibility into question, and launched what most observers considered to be a groundless investigation into his opponent’s campaign in the week before the election. Ultimately, after ignoring calls for him to recuse himself, Kemp announced that he would resign as Secretary of State two days after the election, while the votes were still being counted. Kemp was eventually declared the winner, though his opponent, Stacey Abrams, never fully conceded, vowing to sue Kemp for “gross mismanagement of the election.”

It’s hard to see how an election administrator’s use of his power to benefit his own political campaign is anything other than corrupt. Indeed, Kemp’s controversial election illustrates how the U.S. electoral process is particularly vulnerable to this sort of corruption. (And, it’s worth noting, while Kemp drew most of the attention, there were two other candidates in the 2018 elections that found themselves in the same position, with one choosing to recuse himself from the recount process back in August 2018 during a close primary.) In most U.S. states, the Secretary of State (who is responsible for administering the state’s elections) is an elected official, and in over half of the states, Secretaries of State can run for public office while serving as Secretaries. This is out of step with most of the developed world, where election administration is independent and apolitical. Reformers have called for changes to this system before, so far without much success. But the atmosphere may now be ripe for anticorruption advocates to propose referenda to create new, independent, and non-partisan systems for election administration. A well-designed system could eliminate the clear conflicts of interest raised by people like Brian Kemp, while also tackling the more insidious and less obvious forms of corruption that arise when party members use their power over election administration to ensure that their party stays in power.

What might such a system look like? Canada may provide a useful model, given its similarities to the U.S., particularly with respect to its federalist structure. In Canada, each province is responsible for administering its provincial elections, while the Canadian national government administers national elections. The Canadian election administration systems share a few key components that keep the electoral commissions independent and non-partisan, and that all U.S. states should adopt: Continue reading