Universal Asset Declarations Will Not Solve Kazakhstan’s Corruption Problem

In March 2019, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev replaced long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev to become independent Kazakhstan’s second head of state. Apparently recognizing the scope and scale of Kazakhstan’s corruption problem, President Tokayev made combatting corruption a central focus of his agenda from the get-go. And he has continued to emphasize that the fight against corruption is a top priority.

Although it’s not unusual for heads of state to deploy anticorruption rhetoric, often without action to back it up, there are indications that President Tokayev is serious. Over the past year and a half, the Kazakh government has implemented several concrete anticorruption measures—both large-scale and quotidian. Perhaps most prominently among the former category, in January 2020 Kazakhstan joined the Group of States against Corruption, a corruption-monitoring organization run by the Council of Europe. Additionally, a law enacted in December 2019 provides for the dismissal of public officials in managerial roles if their subordinates are convicted of corruption-related charges. Most recently, President Tokayev himself announced a new policy under which high-ranking officials and their family members will be barred from keeping bank accounts abroad. Among the more “everyday” measures, the government has created “anticorruption centers” where citizens can speak directly with employees of Kazakhstan’s anticorruption agency. And to prevent price-gouging during the COVID crisis, the government has required pharmacies to post QR codes that allow customers to easily check the legal prices of medicines.

It remains to be seen whether these measures will be effective in helping to address Kazakhstan’s corruption problem. One additional measure, however, appears unlikely to make much difference: a new system of “universal” property and income declarations that the Kazakh government is beginning to implement (see here, here, and here). Kazakhstan has required public officials to declare their assets and income since 1996, but the new initiative will extend this requirement to all citizens and foreign permanent residents of Kazakhstan in a phased rollout over the next several years. By 2025, all Kazakhstanis will be required to file, in addition to their standard income tax return, a declaration listing the value of their assets and liabilities, including real estate, cars, bank accounts, and jewelry. According to the government, this new system of universal asset declarations will help counteract the shadow economy, increase compliance with tax laws, and reduce corruption.

The new disclosure regime may well be justified as a matter of tax policy or as a measure to combat the shadow economy. However, evaluated purely as an anticorruption measure, the policy is misguided, for two main reasons: Continue reading

Guest Post: Fighting Police Corruption in London, and Beyond

Today’s guest post is from Matt Gardner, who previously served as the Head of Anti-Corruption at New Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police, and who is currently covers police-related issues or CurbingCorruption.Com (whose launch in October 2018 GAB covered here).

The Metropolitan Police in London (the “Met’) is a large city force, with 30,000+ officers policing a city of over 10 million on any working day. Even in a well-trained professional force like this one, keeping police corruption down to low levels is a constant challenge. The ordinary difficulties of tackling corruption are compounded by the authority that the police are entrusted with: If you are a thief, a sexual predator, a bully, or lean towards corruption and criminality, joining the police service in any country is an excellent career choice. You can hide behind your warrant card, police ID, or uniform.

So what can police departments do to keep corruption within their own ranks in check? In this post, I want to highlight the four most important tools for keeping police corruption at low levels, using the Met’s experience to illustrate each of these elements: Continue reading

A Regional Anticorruption Convention in the Asia-Pacific?

In my last post I discussed Transparency International’s proposal for an “ASEAN Integrity Community” (AIC) to promote and harmonize effective anticorruption policies in the Southeast Asian region. The proposed AIC would be part of the formal ASEAN framework but would not impose additional legal obligations on member states. This got me thinking a bit more about whether it would be a good idea to push for a more robust international anticorruption convention, either in ASEAN or in the Asia-Pacific region more generally. (I’m not alone in having at least entertained this idea: the Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission has apparently been developing, and occasionally floating, a proposal for an ASEAN Anti-Corruption Convention.) After all, in addition to the two main global anticorruption conventions—the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention—there are also a number of regional anticorruption conventions, including the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the League of Arab States Anti-Corruption Convention, the Council of Europe’s Civil and Criminal Law Conventions on Corruption, and the European Union’s Convention against Corruption involving Officials. Indeed, the Asia-Pacific region is one of the few regions in the world (along with South Asia, Central Asia, and a handful of others) that lacks a regional anticorruption convention of some kind. Is there a case for creating such a regional instrument in the Asia-Pacific (or, more narrowly, in ASEAN)?

I think, upon further reflection and discussions with people who have much more expertise than I do, that the answer is probably no. But nevertheless I thought it would be worth at least floating the idea, if only to stimulate further discussions. Continue reading