Today’s Guest Post is from Donald Bowser. Don has worked on governance and anticorruption programs for over two decades for various donor organizations. In July he founded Support to Ukrainian Recovery Initiative, an NGO focused on implementing early recovery and stabilization projects in formerly occupied communities across Ukraine.
First, the baseline level of corruption in pre-invasion Ukraine was likely overstated.
Second, not only do measures like the CPI tend to overstate the baseline level of corruption in Ukraine, but they do not adequately reflect the significant strides Ukraine has made with its more recent anticorruption efforts, including several that have taken place since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
Third, backsliding on Ukraine’s recent anticorruption progress is unlikely—and further progress is expected—given Ukraine’s long-term interest in joining the EU and continuing need to receive support from the international community.
Like Katz, I hope the war ends in a Ukrainian victory soon and that the international community commits the resources required to help Ukraine repair the damage Russia has wreaked on the country’s infrastructure. But as the title of my post asserts, I sharply disagree with her about the spectre of corruption during reconstruction. Indeed, I think the international community should be very afraid of how it might compromise reconstruction and should begin immediately to take measures to combat it.
I’m not much of a tech person, but even I have been following with great interest the rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), particularly the buzz around ChatGPT, Open AI’s natural language chat bot. As most readers are probably aware, ChatGPT has an uncanny ability to generate decent (if rather formulaic) responses to an extraordinary variety of inquiries. It can respond to follow up questions, make modifications upon request, and (I am told) write and revise computer code. I’ve only played around with it a little, and I haven’t come close to exploring everything it can do, but I thought I’d see what sorts of content in generates when asked some basic questions about the fight against corruption. This started as a kind of just-for-fun experimentation, but I actually think the content that ChatGPT generates on this topic might be useful grounds for further reflection from the anticorruption community, both about how this tool might be helpful in our work, and about how the content this tool generates might prompt us to strive to make our own work more creative, distinctive, and forward-looking.
In the remainder of this blog post, I’ll provide — without any editing — the responses that ChatGPT provided to the following three queries/requests:
How can we fight public corruption effectively?
How can we generate the political will to fight corruption?
Write a keynote address for the International Anti-Corruption Conference.
Vote buying is an especially pernicious form of corruption, as it threatens to undermine the democratic process, thereby enabling other forms of corruption and misgovernance. One of the most important institutional mechanisms designed to inhibit vote buying is the secret ballot. First adopted in Australia in 1856, the secret ballot is now the norm in liberal democracies. Yet vote buying remains a problem in many such democracies, especially in the developing world (see here, here, and here). To better understand how to fight this form of corruption, it is important to understand why the secret ballot is not sufficient to eliminate the problem. While different communities face distinct challenges, there are several common mechanisms that allow vote buying to persist, even when it is impossible for the vote-buying politicians to verify that the voters they bribed actually voted the way that they had promised.
Today’s Guest Post is by NicoleFritz, a South African public interest lawyer and executive director the Helen Suzman Foundation, a non-partisan think-tank dedicated to promoting liberal, democratic values and human rights in post-apartheid South Africa.
President Biden’s meeting Friday with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa offers a prime opportunity to show the Administration is serious about its new global anticorruption policy. Issued last December, the Administration promises a raft of new initiatives to not only crackdown on corruption at home but to help democratic, reform-minded regimes root out corruption that they cannot do on their own. President Ramaphosa’s government qualifies on all counts. Where it could best use assistance is in unraveling an American company’s role in the efforts of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, to rob the country blind.
During his nine-year rule, Zuma sought to “capture the state,” to remake South Africa’s fledgling young democratic government into a machine to enrich himself, his family, and his friends. No sooner did he take office in 2009 then he began stacking key government-owned enterprises with cronies and accomplices and purging the public service of professional, independently-minded civil servants. He was finally forced from office after widespread public protest and coordinated efforts of civil society, those few remaining independent state agencies, and reformers within his own party.
As some of you have noticed, GAB has been on a longer-than-usual summer break, but we will be back to getting new content up on a regular basis soon.
In the meantime, I’m happy to say than an updated version of my anticorruption bibliography is now 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. Additionally, the bibliography is available in more user-friendly, searchable form at Global Integrity’s Anti-Corruption Corpus website.
As always, I welcome suggestions for other sources that are not yet included, including any papers GAB readers have written.
The United Nations Development Programme’s mission is to help poor countries become wealthy. As evidence that corruption is a, if not the, major obstacle blocking the way, the agency has devoted a growing share of its budget to finding ways combat it. Not all its investments have met with success — as its underpaid staff and consultants (compared to other international agencies) would be the first to admit.
One clear success is a little heralded guidance note for anticorruption agencies in Southeast Asia UNDP released in May. The region is beset with corruption problems large and small, and in response governments have established anticorruption agencies. But TI’s Corruption Perception Index, the World Governance Indicators, and other cross-national measure of corruption have registered little or no improvement in country scores since the agencies came into existence, and disillusionment has taken hold as policymakers and citizens across the region now sharply question the agencies’ worth.
Strategic Programming for Anti-Corruption Agencies: Regional Guidance Note for ASEANmakes it clear that the problem starts at the top. That agency leaders have let others set the terms for judging their agency’s success. Echoing advice to criminal justice agencies by the closest student of bureaucracy since Weber, the report explains that until anticorruption agencies define success in realistic, measurable, achievable objectives that will make a difference in citizens’ lives, their standing will not improve and continued support will remain at risk.
Along the way the UNDP report doesn’t gloss over the challenges agencies face while offering sound advice on how to overcome them. Some especially important hard truths and good examples of sound advice –
Confiscating assets acquired through corruption is a critical part of the fight against corruption. If those who would profit from corruption know they will be denied the benefit of their wrongdoing, there is no incentive to be corrupt.
As Justin explained Monday, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given asset confiscation a major boost. Many of Putin’s superrich backers, oligarchs or kleptocrats, became wealthy through corrupt deals, and the seizure of their mega-yachts, mansions and other properties now located outside Russian territory offer the West a way, albeit indirectly, to pressure Putin to end the aggression. Italian, German, and other Western prosecutors are thus now aggressively invoking domestic forfeiture statutes to confiscate them.
But as the Washington Post reports today, with the help of pricey lawyers and other enablers (here and here), the oligarchs have hidden their assets inside complex legal thickets of offshore companies that make confiscation hard if not impossible. In response, last Thursday President Biden asked Congress to give U.S. prosecutors new powers to cut through this underbrush (here).
The President’s initiative is welcome. But it also invites the obvious question: Why shouldn’t other Western nations follow suit? All are united in their opposition to the war and desire to make Putin’s associates suffer consequences. Why shouldn’t every Western state ease the task their prosecutors face to the rapid seizure of oligarchs’ assets? And indeed to the seizure of any asset corruptly obtained or unlawfully possessed found in their territory?
A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. As our regular listeners are aware, for the last couple of months we have featured a series of special episodes focusing on how corruption issues relate to Russia’s war on Ukraine. While the war goes on, and we hope to continue to feature experts who can focus on that topic, this week we return to, for lack of a better term, our “regularly scheduled programming,” with an interview with Gary Kalman, the Director of Transparency International’s United States office. Gary has appeared on our podcast twice before (in February 2020 and February 2021), so this interview, which was conducted this past February, can be seen as the continuation of what has become an annual tradition. As in our previous conversations, we focus on anticorruption developments in the United States. More specifically, we discuss ongoing rulemaking proceedings to implement the Corporate Transparency Act, the significance and potential impact of the Biden Administration’s Countering Corruption strategy document, the impact of the December 2021 Summit for Democracy on global anticorruption efforts, proposals for new US anticorruption legislation (such as the proposed ENABLERS Act and Foreign Extortion Prevention Act), and, going forward, what Gary believes are the most important challenges and agenda items for Transparency International’s US office.
You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:
Back in 2017, a Brazilian court convicted former President Lula for corruption offenses in connection with a seaside apartment that Lula allegedly received as a bribe from a construction firm. In 2019, he was again found guilty of a corruption offense in a separate trial, this time for receiving bribes in the form of improvements to his country house. And he faced other corruption charges as well, including an indictment in which Odebrecht—a major construction firm and one of the most significant players in the Car Wash scandal— allegedly bribed Lula by agreeing to construct a headquarters for his foundation, the Lula Institute. The principal evidence for this latter accusation was acquired by prosecutors as part of a so-called “leniency agreement” with Odebrecht. In Brazil, leniency agreements are negotiated settlements, regulated by the Clean Company Act (CCA), in which companies voluntarily agree to confess unlawful conduct, pay penalties, and take other remedial action—including cooperating with prosecutors by providing evidence against other wrongdoers—and, in return, the companies have their sanctions and fines reduced (see, for example, here, here, and here). Such agreements have been critical to the success of the Car Wash Operation, and more generally to the effectiveness of Brazil’s fight against corruption.
But this past June, the Brazilian Supreme Court decided to nullify the evidence against Lula that had been collected under the Odebrecht leniency agreement (here). The Court’s ruling was not only legally flawed, but its reasoning, if accepted, threatens to undo dozens of prior corruption convictions and to create a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the validity of evidence obtained in leniency agreements. Such a ruling would needlessly undermine the ability of Brazilian prosecutors and courts to fight corruption in the future. Of course, the Court may not actually adhere to its legal reasoning in future cases—but that only underscores another problem: though the Brazilian Supreme Court has criticized lower court proceedings as biased against Lula, the Court’s own conduct, particularly in the most recent case, suggests an unacceptable bias in Lula’s favor.
Nuhu Ribadu, first head of Nigeria’s premier anticorruption agency, famously made the observation that headlines this post sometime between the first and second attempt on his life. Speakers at “Anticorruption Prosecutors Under Attack, a side event at the just completed Conference of State Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption, explained that he is not the only one whose life, career, and reputation have come under attack from those being investigated for corruption.
Organized by the government of Norway and the Basel Institute on Governance, the event publicized cases like Nuhu’s (here) and the late Maxwell Nkole of Zambia (here), corruption fighters who fled their homeland to escape assassination. Speakers discussed more recent cases too, including the less lethal but more insidious attack against Italian prosecutors Fabio Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro. The two face trumped up criminal charges and administrative proceedings for having the audacity to prosecute two large, Western oil companies for bribing Nigerian officials (here).
Maxwell and Nuhu likely survived the attempts to silence them permanently thanks to the Corruption Hunter Network. The brainchild of Eva Joly, France’s premier anticorruption fighter and supported by the Norwegian government, the group of anticorruption investigators, prosecutors, and activists meets twice a year to provide one another moral support. It scrounged up funding for year-long “sabbaticals” for Nuhu and Maxwell in countries where their enemies dared not to touch them.
Nuhu and Maxwell’s support was ad hoc and thanks only to a handful of bureaucrats willing to read internal agency guidelines “liberally.” As the fight against corruption intensifies, we can expect more Nuhus, Maxwells, Fabios, and Sergios. Will those in the international community committed to the fight against corruption support these frontline troops?
The full video of “Anticorruption Prosecutors Under Attack” is here, the audio file here. More on the event, the speakers, and the key takeaways is on the Basel Institute’s website here.