The newly installed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has taken a major, and for the DRC, unprecedented step in the fight against corruption. At their September 18 swearing in ceremony, each member signed an “Acte d’Engagement,” a one-page letter to Prime Minster Ilunga Ilunkamba containing an ethics code each agrees to observe. Although the code’s provisions are nothing out of the ordinary, what is out of the ordinary is that ministers of the DRC would publicly commit to them. This represents an important milestone in the effort of the Prime Minister and President Félix Tshisekedi to arrest the corruption that has plagued the mineral-rich but desperately poor nation for so long.
Even more out of the ordinary, the signers pledge to resign if they are found to violate any code provision. Most unusually, they agree to post a copy of the letter in their office and to circulate it to their immediate staff and the civil servant they oversee. The one-page letter with code is written in non-technical, easily understandable prose. Ministers cannot excuse a violation by claiming they did not understand it, and its wide circulation and posting in the ministers’ offices increases the chances they will be held to it.
There is no reason why the governments of other nations where corruption is endemic should not follow the DRC’s lead. They too should require leaders to publicly commit to a strong ethics code and to post a copy of the code and their pledge to honor it on the wall of their office. This will remind them and all who meet with them of that commitment.
A translation of the commitment letter/code that each DRC government member signed follows.
Act of Commitment of Government Members
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I, the undersigned, [Minister’s name] in accepting [ the position of … ]
Declare on my honor to respect the fundamental values, the constitution, the laws and regulations of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I pledge to comply with the terms of the code below:
Code of Conduct for Government Members
Public service values. I confirm that I possess the values of dedication, honesty, integrity, fairness, dignity, and impartiality, and that I will treat my colleagues and the public with respect.
Prohibitions. I will not:
- decide on any matter in which I have a direct or indirect personal interest (conflict of interest);
- participate, either personally or any through an intermediary, in any commercial or professional activity, profession, or paid service (incompatibility);
- disclose government secrets (confidentiality);
- use public property for personal purposes (abuse of public resources);
- receive gifts totaling more than CDF 350,000 [$150] per year from those in professional relationship with me directly or indirectly (impartiality).
Other obligations. I understand that this Code of Conduct incorporates by reference the Code of Conduct for Congolese public officials, No. 017-2002, Decree of 3 October 2002 [here]. I will comply with all provisions of it.
Sanction. I agree that if it is established that I have not complied with the provisions of this code, I will resign my office.
Publicity. I will post a copy of this code in my office and provide a copy to all members of my Cabinet and my administration.
I acknowledge receiving a copy of the Congolese Code of Conduct and an annex explaining this code. If I have any questions these codes or my obligations under them, I will ask the Prime Minister’s Office for clarification.
Thank you for sharing this post, this seems like an interesting and low-cost way to use reputation mechanisms to shape anti-corruption efforts. In particular, it seems important that it is written in accessible language and publicly posted, not only to ensure the members understand, but to ensure staff members who may be key witnesses to corruption also understand. I am curious how widespread this effort is—do legislators participate, or is this limited to government ministers?
I also wonder what kind of enforcement mechanisms exist to ensure these obligations are met. Can staff members report corruption where they see it without fear of reprisal? What kinds of punishment do those who break their commitments face?
I’m sure this approach in and of itself won’t end corruption (especially in a location as historically plagued as the DRC). But it seems like a potentially useful mechanism in a larger packet.
I completely agree with Maura’s comment and reply. On the one hand, any benefits (no matter how small) likely outweigh the costs of this system. But if cultural corruption remains rampant and the oath is not accompanied by a commensurate amount of enforcement of some form (including, but not limited, to significant administrative penalties for such activity), I would posit that in the long run this document will likely just become one more piece of paper a prosecutor is obligated to sign.
Prosecutors do not sign anything. While the anticorruption agency or the public prosecutor could enforce a violation, the rationale behind posting it is to use the power of publicity to enforce. Yes, there is a risk that both ministers and the public will ignore it and it thus could actually do harm by increasing public cynicism. But given the state of anticorruption enforcement in the DRC, it is hard to imagine public cynicism could worsen.
Glad the post was of interest. No, unfortunately the code alone won’t end corruption, but as you say, it should help.
The code only applies to ministers although the code from which it is drawn, and which is incorporated by reference, applies to all government employees. Enforcement is still being worked out, I gather. The code itself does not have a whistleblower protection provision and there is none in the Penal Code. Probably an important next step is to enact one. And perhaps post it as well.
This is fascinating! I wonder however whether such a mechanism could also be used by politicians who have no intention to abide by these rules, but merely to please the public in an act of deception instead of actual commitment. While this is probably not the case in Congo, as there is additional evidence that the PM is honestly committed to fighting corruption, I find it easy to imagine that the same step could be cynically taken by politicians that are obviously corrupt themselves
I am not sure there is any law or institution that can’t be used to deceive the public. But those who would try have to bear in mind the observation commonly (if wrongly) attributed to Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Thank you for posting about this interesting initiative. Still I wanted to hear a bit more about the culture surrounding corruption in the country. In many countries (including places I’ve worked) people didn’t classify certain commonly understood corrupt acts, as actually corrupt practices. Additionally many felt powerless to hold their representatives accountable, especially ones with whom they worked with directly. They also feared reprisals that come in economic and social forms. Furthermore, I would like to hear your general thoughts on how this “simple” public pledge mechanism could be paired with a more robust set of protections for potential whistleblowers. Perhaps employees that come forward should be incentivized in some fashion, even financially. What do you think about this? I know this is a controversial concept overall but in certain social and professional contexts, it may be that an employee that exposes ethics violations is then blacklisted in an industry and community. Lastly, could you also tell me if you know of other places where similar tactics have been employed to combat corruption in the public sector?
Thanks for the comment. What “commonly understood” practices that are corrupt have you found people accept for cultural reasons? Bribery? Awarding public contracts to themselves? Or to friends and relatives? Hiring relatives over more qualified individuals?
If people do accept these practices, I suspect it is because they feel powerless to do anything about them rather than the practices are accepted for cultural reasons.
Offering a financial incentive for whistleblowing is a much talked-about reform which some countries have tried. In the abstract, there are obvious pros and many cons. I continue to look for case studies/empirical research explaining under what set of conditions do the pros outweigh the cons. Best I have seen to date, and a model for future work, is “Lessons from Qui Tam Litigation in the United States” by David Kwok in Legal Remedies for Grand Corruption, an Open Society Justice Initiative volume available on the web.
Posting ethics codes in prominent places in government offices is done in the U.S. I have also been told that in a number of Islamic nations, hadiths condemning bribery circulate in government offices.
I’m curious how an a government official would withstand pressure from the international companies in the DRC who are also contributing to this culture of corruption? Are large mining companies operating in the DRC for instance required to adhere to anything (in addition to the law) , they should also make a publi commitment-or have they already?
Not always clear that the pressure comes from foreign investor. Can also be from those in government with power to award mining permits.
More and more countries are requiring companies subject to their jurisdiction to have compliance program. This January 2019 post will bring up the latest list: https://globalanticorruptionblog.com/2019/01/30/vietnam-enlists-the-private-sector-in-the-fight-against-corruption/