Some Recent Commentaries on Corruption and the Coronavirus Pandemic

As I noted last week, although this blog is going to keep on going during the COVID-19 crisis (though perhaps with somewhat reduced output), it’s a bit challenging to proceed with blogging about one problem (corruption) when another problem (the COVID-19 pandemic) is so much at the forefront of everybody’s mind. And in that last post, I noted that although there’s a well-known connection between corruption and public health generally, “so far corruption doesn’t seem to be a major issue in the COVID-19 situation.”

I think perhaps I spoke too soon. We’re already starting to see a number of interesting and useful commentaries on the connections between corruption/anticorruption and the COVID-19 pandemic (several of which readers helpfully noted in comments on last week’s post). I do think we should always try to be a bit cautious about straining to find links between whatever it is we work on and the most salient problem of the day. (I can’t help but remember that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, people suddenly discovered that whatever problem they’d been working on for the past decade was inextricably linked to the threat of global terrorism.) But in this case I’m persuaded that the links are particularly plausible and important that this is something that deserves further study.

At some point, I may post some original content on this topic to GAB, but for now let me just provide links to some of the interesting early commentaries on the possible connections between corruption and the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Natalie Rhodes, who works with the Transparency International Health Initiative, has an essay–subsequently expanded into a longer feature on Transparency International’s website–discusses some of the corruption risks during the response to an epidemic, including shortage-induced bribery risks, diversion of emergency response resources, and kickbacks in the procurement process.
  • Jodi Vittori, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, has a piece entitled “Corruption Vulnerabilities in the U.S. Response to Coronavirus,” which similarly emphasizes corruption risks in medical supply chains, and the greater difficulty in securing transparency and accountability during times of crisis. She lays out a series of measures that, she argues, must be integrated into all COVID-19 response legislation, and also suggests some things that ordinary citizens can do.
  • Another Carnegie Endowment fellow, Abigail Bellows, has a piece called “Coronavirus Meets Corruption: Recommendations for U.S. Leadership,” which emphasizes that the combination of systemic corruption and the COVID-19 crisis could prove especially devastating in the developing world, and suggests that the U.S. government could help ameliorate this situation by targeting more of its foreign aid at strengthening fiscal management systems, and by enacting a number of currently-pending bills that, while not specifically related to corruption in the health sector, would provide greater U.S. support to the fight against kleptocracy abroad.
  • In one of the earliest blog commentaries suggesting a corruption-coronavirus link, Gretta Fenner and Monica Guy of the Basel Institute on Governance wrote a post for the FCPA blog in late January that suggested the original coronavirus outbreak in China may have been linked to the illegal wildlife trade, and that the illegal wildlife trade is made possible by corruption–a string of connections that leads them to ask, in the title of their post, “Did corruption cause the deadly coronavirus outbreak?”

I’m sure that in the days and weeks ahead, more commentaries will appear that explore both the ways that corruption may have contributed to, or exacerbated the impact of, the coronavirus pandemic, and the corruption risks associated with the policy responses to this crisis. I probably won’t be able to keep up with all of them, but I’ll do my best to feature them on the blog when I can, and if readers are aware of other useful commentaries, please send me the information through this blog’s contact page.

Thanks everyone, and stay safe.

New Podcast, Featuring Doron Navot

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this episode, my collaborator Ina Kubbe, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Tel Aviv, interviews Professor Doron Navot, of the University of Haifa political science department. Much of the interview focuses on corruption in Israel, especially the allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and how these allegations have affected Israeli politics and society. The interview also covers broader themes related to corruption in Israel, including widespread “informal” practices that bleed over into illegal exchanges or favoritism. The interview concludes with a discussion about different forms of corruption their relative frequency in Israel, and what can be learned from Israeli anticorruption efforts.

You can find this episode, along with links to previous podcast episodes, at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Blogging in a Time of (Mostly Unrelated) Crisis–A Note to Readers

Dear GAB readers,

The rapidly worsening COVID-19 situation has been disruptive and stressful for people all over the world. My home institution, Harvard University, has sent all students home and asked faculty and non-essential staff to work from home to the extent possible. And many others, including many in our reader community, have things much worse.

I’ve been thinking about the best way to proceed with this blog under the circumstances, especially since, while public health crises are often linked with corruption problems (see, for example, here, here, and here), so far corruption doesn’t seem to be a major issue in the COVID-19 situation. (There have been significant government failures in handling the COVID-19 outbreak, but those seem to be due more to incompetence, mismanagement, and lack of preparedness, rather than greed and graft.) On the one hand, it feels strange to be thinking and writing about anything other than the COVID-19 crisis right now. On the other hand, it’s not like all of the world’s other problems have gone away, and if corruption isn’t a major part of the COVID-19 story right now, I suspect that it will be in the not-too-distant future.

So, at least for now, GAB will continue to operate, though perhaps with somewhat less frequent posts. And if any experts in the public health-corruption link would like to get a discussion going on how corruption issues do relate to the COVID-19 crisis, I’m always open to guest post submissions (which you can send to me here).

Finally, and most importantly of all, I hope that all of you do whatever you can to stay safe and healthy during this difficult and dangerous time.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–March 2020 Update

As regular readers of this blog are aware, since May 2017 we’ve been tracking and cataloguing credible allegations that President Trump, and his family members and close associates, have been corruptly, and possibly illegally, leveraging the power of the presidency to enrich themselves. The newest update is now available here.

A previously noted, while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. (For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

U4 Brief on “An International Anti-Corruption Court? A Synopsis of the Debate”

As regular readers likely know, GAB has featured a number of commentaries over the past few years on the proposal to create an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC), modeled on the International Criminal Court, to try senior figures for grand corruption when their domestic justice systems prove unwilling or unable to do so (see here, here, here, here, and here). The idea has attracted a great deal of interest, as well as both support and criticism. To provide a basic overview of the debate so far, a few months ago the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center Centre’s Sofie Schütte and I published a short U4 paper entitled “An International Anticorruption Court? A Synopsis of the Debate.”(The brief is also available in French and Spanish.)  For those out there who are new to this topic, this U4 Brief is meant to provide some general background information and a succinct summary of (1) the strongest arguments in favor of creating an IACC, (2) the strongest criticisms of the IACC proposal, and (3) an overview of some other approaches to the grand corruption and impunity problems. Hope it’s helpful!

New Podcast, Featuring Roberto de Michele and Francesco De Simone

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. This episode features my interview with Roberto de Michele and Francesco De Simone, who work as work in the state modernization specialists at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). In our conversation, we discuss the work that the IDB does on anticorruption, transparency, and related issues, and also how the IDB (or any other entity working in this area) can assess the impact of its projects. We further discuss the relationship between grand and petty corruption, and closely associated questions concerning incremental versus disruptive anticorruption reform strategies. (This discussion includes some discussions of the recommendations of the report prepared by an outside expert advisory group commissioned by the IDB, which Rick discussed shortly after it came out.) Toward the end of the interview, we talk about the impact that scholarly research has had on Roberto and Francesco’s thinking on anticorruption-related topics, and we conclude the interview with a discussion of the current state of corruption in the Americas–considering both the optimistic and pessimistic views of where things are going in the region.

You can find this episode, along with links to previous podcast episodes, at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

Anticorruption Bibliography–February 2020 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.