At Last, A Good News Corruption Story

It seems that not a day goes by without some gloomy story about corruption appearing in the popular media or online. “Corruption on the rise in Africa poll as governments seen failing to stop it” says a new TI study.  “In Mexico, 200 million acts of corruption a year” the Mexican Competitiveness Institute reports.  Monday’s Washington Post editorial proclaims that “Mali’s corruption hindered its efforts to fight terror,” and the subtitle of a best-selling book warns that it is not only Malians who are at risk but that corruption “Threatens Global Security as Well.”

With all this bad news it was a surprise to discover a recent good news story about corruption.  The news is doubly surprising as it comes out of three unexpected places: Ghana Kenya, and Uganda.  Even better, rather than broad generalizations drawn from a handful of selected anecdotes, the good news in Professors Rebecca Dizon-Ross, Pascaline Dupas, and Jonathan Robinson’s July 2015 “Governance and the Effectiveness of Public Health Subsidies” paper rests on a careful, clever empirical study that employs rigorous scientific methods.  The only bad news about the paper is that it is on a remote internet site beyond the ken of most web browsers.  For readers whose browsers don’t travel to the National Bureau of Economic Research’s web site, a potted summary follows. Continue reading

Guest Post: Monitoring as a Democratic Imperative

Professor Paul Lagunes of the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs contributes the following guest post:

The fact the bureaucrats who populate the ranks of the public administration do not run for office poses a significant challenge to electoral democracy—a challenge that is accentuated by citizens’ inability to properly monitor their own government. Citizens, after all, dedicate a majority of their time to private affairs and are often confused, if not repelled, by the complexities of public administration. Given this principal-agent problem, what can be done to improve monitoring, fight corruption, and hold governments accountable?

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of anticorruption monitoring in Mexico. This research indicates that independent audits over sensitive governmental processes can boost the levels of discipline, stringency, and honesty among civil servants. Indeed, even when communities find it difficult to overhaul their governing institutions and renew and professionalize their bureaucracies, they can rely on independent experts to raise bureaucrats’ level of accountability. But the improved monitoring associated with independent audits is only when accompanied by robust oversight and accountability. Continue reading

Guest Post: Global Shell Games — Experimenting with Untraceable Shell Companies

GAB is delighted to welcome back guest contributor Professor Jason Sharman of Griffith University, Australia, who contributes the following post:

Among the various mechanisms for hiding and laundering large sums of money associated with corruption, shell companies that cannot be linked with their real owners have proved one of the most troublesome. A 2011 Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative report on laundering the proceeds of grand corruption noted that from a total of 213 cases, 150 involved the use of shell companies (or, more rarely, trusts) to launder $56.4 billion. Since 2003, all those governments bound by the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have promised to ensure timely access to information on identity of those owning shell companies, and FATF rates member countries according to their compliance and the overall level of risk they present. Despite (or perhaps because of) a renewed stress on tracing shell companies’ beneficial (i.e. real) owners, most recently at the G20 leaders’ summit in my home state of Brisbane, there are good reasons to be skeptical about whether the standards are really enforced.

Frustrated with the poor measurement of policy effectiveness in this area, Michael Findley, Daniel Nielson, and I decided to try a new approach. We ran a real-world experiment to see whether corporate service providers would comply with the rules on client screening, particularly in cases where the client profile raised “red flags.” Our findings, reported in our book Global Shell Games, were both worrying and counter-intuitive. Continue reading

Should We Use Randomized Trials for Anticorruption Education and Training?

I recently attended two unrelated anticorruption conferences that both raised — in very different contexts — questions related to the appropriate design of education programs designed to inculcate ethical norms and prevent corruption.  In one conference, focused on corporate anti-bribery compliance, the issue had to do with the design of compliance training programs (and associated measures) designed to teach employees about their legal and ethical obligations, as well as the steps they should take to address any potential problems they come across in the course of their work.  At the other conference, focused more broadly on university education in the developing world, participants spent a considerable amount of time discussing (and sometimes advocating) the integration of anticorruption components into university courses — including courses not specifically on corruption — in order to produce a generation of students who would be more likely to resist corrupt norms and promote more ethical conduct.

Notably, although there seemed to be wide consensus in both discussions that education is important, there was much less of a clear sense of what sorts of education or training programs are most likely to be effective, and how much of an impact one can expect such programs to have. That’s understandable, of course: In this context, as in many others, the messiness of reality makes it very difficult to figure out what works, and to isolate the impact of any one intervention. But perhaps some forms of anticorruption education (in both the corporate training and academic contexts) may be suitable for randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Let me use this post to make a tentative case for expanded use of RCTs in this context. Continue reading