Depoliticizing the Removal of Heads of Anticorruption Agencies

In December 2017, a civil society organization that aligns itself with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made good on its threat to submit an impeachment complaint against Conchita Carpio Morales, head of the Philippines’ independent anticorruption agency (ACA), known as the Office of the Ombudsman. This came after President Duterte himself called for the impeachment of Ombudsman Morales, publicly accusing her of engaging in “selective justice” and of being part of a “conspiracy” to oust him. Notably, President Duterte leveled these accusations at a time when the Office of the Ombudsman had opened an investigation into the Duterte family’s alleged hidden wealth, and into a multi-billion peso illegal drug trafficking case that implicates President Duterte’s son. This is hardly a unique case. In Nigeria, Nepal and Ukraine, among other places, conflicts between politicians and ACA heads have resulted in the latter’s actual or threatened removal.

Unfortunately, most countries place the decision whether to remove an ACA head in the hands of their politicians (see here and here). The Chief Executive often plays a key role in removals—sometimes on his or her sole authority (as in Afghanistan, Brazil, Botswana, South Korea, Mexico, Singapore, and Tanzania), or in conjunction with the legislature (as in Uganda and Lithuania) or a judicial body (as in Ghana and Kenya). In most other cases, the power of removal is exercised by parliament or any of its members or ministers, often through an “impeachment” process of some kind. Only Barbados, Bangladesh, and Yemen have removal procedures for ACA heads that are strictly and purely judicial in nature.

While there are, at present, no universally-accepted standards against which ACAs are measured, the non-binding 2012 Jakarta Statement on Principles for Anti-Corruption Agencies lays out principles for states to follow in establishing or maintaining effective ACAs. The Jakarta Statement’s position on appropriate procedures for removing an ACA head may be influential in shaping how at least some countries address this issue. And because the Jakarta Statement is currently being revisited (see here and here), now is an opportune time to consider revising its provision regarding the removal of ACA heads.

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Guest Post: Fishing for the Right ACA Heads, and Keeping Them Safe

Sofie Arjon Schütte, Senior Advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, contributes the following guest post, adapted from her recent U4 research paper, “The fish’s head: appointment and removal procedures for anti-corruption agency leadership”:

There has been much discussion on this blog (see here, here, and here) about the requirements for an effective, independent anticorruption agency (ACA). A number of factors are important, including (as emphasized in the Jakarta Statement) the ACA’s mandate, permanence, budget security, autonomy over financial and human resources, and internal and external accountability mechanisms, to name a few. But among the many important factors, the procedures for appointment and removal are particularly critical. As the saying goes, “a fish rots from the head down”: when the leadership of an organization is unethical or ineffective, these failings infect the entire organization. Undue external interference with an ACA is likely to target the head, and a co-opted or corrupted ACA head can do serious damage to the effectiveness and reputation of the ACA.

My research on the appointment and removal procedures for heads of 46 ACAs around the world has highlighted some of the important factors that can promote or undermine effective, ethical, and independent ACA leadership. Given different contexts, no specific set of procedures for appointments and removals can be considered ideal for all environments. Nevertheless, some general guidelines are possible: Continue reading