In April 2014, a post on this blog claimed that the People’s Republic of China’s anticorruption campaign was reaching a turning point, and suggested that the campaign might be “significantly curtailed” in light of troubling signs of economic slowdown and strong pushback from other senior Party leaders. This prediction seemed reasonable at the time, yet more than three years later, the campaign shows no signs of winding down: Reports on senior government officials’ downfalls or corrupt fugitives’ repatriation from overseas still hit headlines on an almost daily basis. A recent development, however, does suggest that China’s anticorruption campaign might be reaching a different sort of turning point—turning from a near-exclusive emphasis on aggressive enforcement to institutional reforms that address the root causes of corruption.
GAB is delighted to welcome Cristina Nicolescu-Waggonner, visiting professor of Political Science at Pomona College and Scripps College, Claremont, to contribute the following guest post, drawn from material in her new book, No Rule of Law, No Democracy:
It is fashionable to argue that the only way to root out systemic corruption is to establish a political system characterized by genuine democratic accountability and the rule of law. Unfortunately, corruption – specifically the conflicts of interest of political and judicial leaders – does not allow for this sort of development. True, there may be democracy, but in the presence of widespread corruption it will remain in a perpetual state of unconsolidated democracy, without true rule of law. And in such weak democracies, the electoral process stimulates rather than discourages corruption: Eager to win and short on cash, politicians make deals with businesses and misappropriate public funds to finance campaigns, a vicious cycle that starts political tenure with illicit means. Different from lobbying, this illegal activity puts the breaks on rule of law reform. Corrupt politicians, afraid of retribution, do not reform or establish enforcement mechanisms: supervisory commissions, integrity agencies, anticorruption institutions, genuinely independent courts, whistleblower protection, etc. This dilemma is exemplified by the Czech Republic, which does well on various international democracy and rule-of-law indexes, but in fact is a corruption hotbed, with politicians, members of the judiciary, and business people involved in a web of misappropriation of public funds—partly for personal enrichment, but more importantly for election and re-election. The same vicious cycle is prevalent in new democracies all over the world, from Brazil to Romania to South Korea to Mexico to Tunisia: Corruption negatively affects the process of democratization and stalls it before democracy can have a chance to fight corruption.
So, what can we do? Continue reading
“Political will” is often said to be the sine qua non of a successful anticorruption policy (click here, here, and here for some examples), yet the term remains, as Linn Hammergren complained almost two decades ago, one of “the slipperiest concepts in the policy lexicon.” Derick Brinkerhoff tried to pin down what those advising on anticorruption meant by it in a 2010 U4 policy brief. He concluded that most used the term to refer to some combination of commitment by controlling corruption by top-level political leaders together with the ability to do something about it.
While a reasonable definition, a moment’s reflection will show that advising developing countries that to fight corruption they must have political will is empty advice. If a country’s leadership had the commitment to deal with corruption and the tools for doing so, it wouldn’t need advice on what to do, it would be in the heat of the battle. The reason most countries remain on the sidelines is that their leaders lack the necessary commitment and capacity. So telling developing countries that a successful anticorruption effort begins with political will assumes away the problem.
What would help is advice on how to create the commitment and ability to fight corruption. Continue reading