Guest Post: Ensuring Adequate Anticorruption, Accountability, and Transparency Measures During the Pandemic

Today’s guest post is from Shruti Shah and Alex Amico from the Coalition for Integrity:

We are living through an emergency more severe than anything in recent memory. The COVID-19 public health crisis has triggered an associated economic crisis, and both will require a dramatic government response. But the fact that we are dealing with an emergency situation—in which swift and drastic government action is essential—does not mean that we should put aside our concerns about government corruption, or relax our vigilance about demands for transparency and accountability in government programs. Quite the opposite: In order to respond effectively, and to demonstrate that they can be trusted, governments other institutions need to demonstrate that they are committed to honest oversight of the extraordinary actions necessary to combat this pandemic. The need to act swiftly does not abrogate the government’s responsibility to adhere to principles of anticorruption, accountability, and transparency.

There is no better illustration of this than the stimulus package being negotiated (at the time of writing) in the U.S. Congress. This stimulus will result in a flow of an enormous amount of money, and the risks of corruption, fraud, and misappropriation or diversion are extremely high. It is therefore essential that the stimulus bill incorporate meaningful transparency, oversight, and anticorruption provisions. For example: Continue reading

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.

How Can Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court Succeed?

Following more than two years of advocacy efforts by Ukrainian civil society and pressure from the international community, Ukraine established a specialized High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC) to try high-level officials accused of serious corruption offenses. The HACC, which was authorized in June 2018 and began operating this past September, is rightly seen as a major victory for Ukrainian anticorruption activists, and the first round of judicial selection for this court (a process that entailed special procedures, including the participation of a foreign expert panel in assessing candidates’ integrity) appears to have gone well. But the HACC faces daunting challenges—it is a brand-new institution, operating in an uncertain but pervasively corrupt environment, tasked with addressing extremely complicated and sensitive cases under intense public scrutiny. Its success is by no means guaranteed.

Some of the factors that will affect the HACC’s performance are external to the court itself. For example, the HACC’s success depends in part on the quality of the work done by Ukraine’s anticorruption investigative and prosecutorial bodies, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). And given the history in Ukraine of political interference with the courts (despite the constitution’s guarantee of judicial independence), one must always worry about whether the HACC will face similar threats. But even if we put those concerns aside, there are several additional steps that can and should be taken to help ensure that the HACC lives up to its potential. Continue reading

Guest Post: Assessing the Relationship Between Parliament and Anticorruption Agencies

Today’s guest post is from Franklin De Vrieze, a Senior Governance Advisor for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), a UK public body that works with parliaments, political parties, and civil society groups to promote fairer, more transparent, and more accountable democratic political systems.

In many countries, especially developing or transition countries, an independent anticorruption agency (ACA) is an important part of the country’s national anticorruption strategy. Today, there are more than 100 ACAs around the world, and though there are many different types of ACAs—some have only preventive and policy coordination roles—many ACAs have law enforcement powers (investigation and/or prosecution). To be effective in carrying out these law enforcement responsibilities, particularly when dealing with high-level corruption, ACAs must be sufficiently independent and sufficiently powerful. At the same time, though, the interest in autonomy may sometimes be in tension with other interests. For one thing, an ACA needs to maintain constructive working relations with state bodies dealing with corruption, including courts and the police. For another, accountability is also important. Any entity with law enforcement powers might wield those powers abusively, and in extreme cases, one must worry about the politicization of ACAs

What is the appropriate role of the parliament in addressing these challenges? Somewhat surprisingly, relatively little has been written on this topic. Relatively few ACAs report directly to parliament, probably due to understandable concerns regarding the need for independence from politicians who might themselves be the target of anticorruption investigations. Yet some have argued that for ACAs to be effective, they must be overseen, at least to some degree, by multiple external bodies, including parliament. More generally, in a democracy parliament will often bear ultimate responsibility for establishing measures that guarantee ACA independence but that also provide for sufficient ACA accountability.

In order to assist researchers and the democracy assistance community in optimizing parliament’s relationship to an ACA, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) has recently published a research paper on parliament and independent oversight institutions (including ACAs), together with a companion assessment framework for the analysis of the relationship between parliaments and independent institutions. The assessment framework, which is rooted in existing international and comparative standards such as the Jakarta Statement on Principles for Anti-Corruption Agencies, focuses on four main aspects of parliament’s relationship with the ACA: Continue reading

A Welcome Analysis of Where Mozambique’s Goats Eat

To say that a successful attack on corruption begins with a political economy analysis is commonplace.  To declare that absent such an analysis of the political, economic, and social conditions that foster a particular type of corruption, an anticorruption policy has little chance of succeeding is hardly remarkable.  What remains noteworthy is in the two decades plus since the global war on corruption began how few such analyses have been done.

Of the more than 7500 entries in Matthew’s corruption studies bibliography, titles of fewer than 50 indicate a political economy focus. The corruption and development “gray literature,” reports on corruption in developing nations commissioned by donor organizations, is little better.  Perhaps a larger number of studies, but few quality ones, and perhaps surprisingly, a real dearth of analyses of petty corruption, the kind that citizens of developing nations, most often the poor, regularly encounter in their daily life.

That’s why it was a pleasure to discover Inge Tvedten and Rachi Picardo’s recent study of where Mozambican goats eat.  The Mozambican expression cabrito come onde está amarado (“goats eat where they are tied up”’) refers, as they explain, to the two-legged species rather than the four-legged one.  The kind that exploit their place in government to enrich themselves, friends, and supporters.  The two draw upon years of accumulated research to show how, in a variety of thickly described situations, “a set of structuring principles and common schemes” lead to the “internalization” or “embodiment” of corruption.  (Others might term the principles and schemes “institutions” and internalization or embodiment a “Nash equilibrium.”) An especially thought-provoking example is how traditional norms of deference to authority figures interacts with the way the District Development Fund, a program to help the poorest, is managed to keep beneficiaries marginalized.

Whether hunting for how to deprive a greedy Mozambican goat of nourishment or for a first-rate example of political economy analysis of petty corruption, readers will profit from perusing Tvedten and Picardo’s article.

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.