Tanzania’s President Magufuli Bulldozes the Civil Service: Is This an Anticorruption Breakthrough?

For decades (perhaps longer), the corruption problem in Sub-Saharan Africa has seemed intractable. With only a handful of exceptions (such as Botswana, and more recently Rwanda), Sub-Saharan African countries score poorly on measures like Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), and direct surveys of African citizens tend to confirm that the frequency of petty bribery, while both lower and more variable than some Westerners think, are much higher than in most other countries. Declarations of war on corruption have also been a feature of African politics for decades, to the point where both citizens themselves and outside observers have grown cynical about the will or capacity of leaders to clean up the system.

But there are some preliminary, hopeful signs that in at least some major Sub-Saharan countries, things may be starting to change for the better. The country that probably gets the most attention, at least among commentators outside of Africa, seems to be Nigeria, where President Buhari—a former strongman-style President whom some have characterized as a kind of “born-again” reformer—has made anticorruption a centerpiece of both his election campaign and his administration. (For some discussions of President Buhari’s anticorruption efforts, on this blog and elsewhere, see here, here, here, and here.) But to me—as a non-expert with only the most superficial knowledge of the region or its politics—the more interesting developments are actually occurring in Tanzania, under the administration of President John Magufuli. Continue reading

How Prisons Corrupt – And What To Do About It

In May 2014, Kelvin Melton orchestrated a kidnapping scheme. The perpetrators assaulted the victim with a stun gun, took him from his home, and sent texts to his family demanding ransom. Throughout this time, Melton continued to give instructions to the kidnappers via cell phone. Fortunately, law enforcement was able to thwart the plot and recuse the victim. These facts alone make for a gripping crime. But the story had an extra twist: Melton, the mastermind behind the kidnapping, was in a prison cell the entire time, serving a life sentence for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill; the target of the kidnapping scheme was the father of the prosecutor who put Melton behind bars. Melton was able to orchestrate the crime while behind bars because he had been able to obtain a contraband cell phone from a guard.

While the facts of this case are sensational, the phenomenon of inmates corrupting prison guards in order to obtain contraband is far from unusual. In the wake of Melton’s crime, the FBI launched a new program—Operation Ghost Guard—to root out corruption by correctional officers. The first major case out of the program came in 2016, when the FBI indicted nearly 50 former and current correctional officers for accepting bribes from inmates in exchange for contraband. Over the course of a two-year undercover investigation, federal officials learned how inmates and guards in Georgia formed their own crime syndicate. Guards would bring in liquor, tobacco, and cell phones in exchange for thousands in bribe money. Inmates, in turn, would use the cell phones to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and identity theft. Outside of the prison, guards were using their badges to facilitate drug deals. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia called the levels of corruption “staggering.” And Georgia is not alone; New York state prison officials are currently under investigation by the FBI as well.

The issue of prison corruption is not unique to the U.S. Prior posts on this blog have explored how Brazilian inmates were able to bribe guards in order to facilitate large-scale drug and weapons trading within the complex, and how incarcerated drug lords in the Philippines bought off guards in order to live in comparative luxury behind bars. In the United Kingdom, the widespread practice of bribes in exchange for drugs or cell phones led the penal system to be called “institutionally corrupt” by a report issued by the country’s own Metropolitan police. How do these acts of corruption come about in the first place? And what can we do about them? In her earlier post on prison corruption in the Philippines, Bea Paterno focused on the need for better monitoring and oversight. That’s surely part of the solution, but we also need to pay attention to other aspects of the prison environment, including the guards’ working conditions and the ways in which they interact with inmates. Continue reading

Preventing the Next Sheldon Silver

Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, was arrested last week on federal corruption charges, sending shock waves through New York’s political circles. He is accused of accepting millions of dollars in disguised bribes for more than a decade. Silver allegedly asked developers with business before the state to spend money on a law firm that, in turn, paid Silver for legal work he never did. He was able to disguise the source of the income for so long because New York, like the vast majority of other states, considers its legislature to be “part time,” freeing up legislators to maintain legitimate outside jobs, as well as their government work.

Such outside payments are ripe for unscrupulous dealings (or, at very least, the appearance of impropriety), and have long been decried by anticorruption forces. Outside payments were a primary focus of Governor Cuomo’s anticorruption Moreland Commission, which the Governor then disbanded under pressure from legislators. Governor Cuomo recently proposed a new commission to look at ways to increase disclosure of outside income and to cap the amount of outside income legislators may receive. While Cuomo’s new proposals would be a good start, they do not go far enough. The time has come to ban outside legal work for state legislators and to compensate them fairly for the full time job the people elected them to do.

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