Guest Post: A Defense of Anticorruption Orthodoxy

Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption, contributes today’s guest post.

The international anticorruption movement, which has been so successful over the last 25 years in putting this once-taboo issue squarely at the forefront of the international agenda, is suffering a crisis of confidence. The aspiration to eliminate corruption now seems to many like a fantasy from the dreamy era of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And what had appeared to be an emerging consensus about how to diagnose corruption, and how to respond, is fracturing. There has long been a lively debate within the anticorruption community about the best ways to understand and respond to corruption; and likewise, a growing challenge from several different quarters (including governments, businesses, journalists, and academics) on areas such as measurement, what has been successful, and whether the evidence matches the theory for fundamental approaches such as transparency. The debate and challenge have been broadly healthy, and have led to sharper thinking and improved approaches. But some criticism has veered towards attacking simplistic caricatures of the perceived orthodoxy, or launching broad-brush critiques that, intentionally or not, serve to undermine the anticorruption movement and provide nourishment for those that would prefer to see the anticorruption movement diminished or fail.

Take, for example, two common lines of attack against the “orthodox” approach to tackling corruption, one concerning the diagnosis of the problem and the other concerning appropriate responses: Continue reading

Guest Post: Transparency International UK’s Pledge Tracker–Amateur Research or Different Objectives?

Last week, GAB Editor-in-Chief Matthew Stephenson published a post sharply criticizing Transparency International UK’s new “Pledge Tracker,” which evaluates how well countries are living up to the pledges they made at the May 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit. GAB is delighted to have the opportunity to publish the following reply from Robert Barrington, the Executive Director of Transparency International UK:

“A slapdash, amateurish collection of arbitrary, often inconsistent judgements, unsupported by anything that resembles serious research.” Not since I was taken to task over an undergraduate essay by an eminent professor at Oxford have I had work for which I was responsible receive quite such a stinging critique.  On that occasion, I could not escape a sense that my world view differed from that of the professor, and that—irrespective of the detail—was the root of our misunderstanding.

So is Professor Stephenson’s assessment of TI-UK’s Pledge Tracker merited? Here is my overall assessment: he is right on some but not all of the detail; he is wrong on most but not all of the big picture. At the root of the difference is the question of whether this is an index in which countries are compared with each other according to a consistent global standard, or whether it is the presentation of individual country assessments by local civil society organizations of their own country’s progress against their own country’s commitments. Continue reading

Brexit and Anticorruption

So… Brexit. I don’t know nearly enough to weigh in on what this startling development means for European politics, British politics, macroeconomics, Donald Trump’s chances in the U.S. presidential election, or the price of tea in China. But since Brexit is such a major development, I felt like I should say something about the implications for anticorruption, even though that probably wouldn’t be on most people’s top-ten lists of important Brexit implications.

Fortunately, in coming up with something to say about Brexit and anticorruption, I don’t have to work too hard, because two excellent recent posts—one from Robert Barrington at Transparency International UK, another from Corruption Watch—have very nice, clear discussions of the issue. I don’t really have much to add, but let me highlight three of the key worries raised in both posts, and then throw in one more, somewhat more speculative and longer-term question: Continue reading

The Roles of Anticorruption Academics and Advocates: Insights from the NGO Side

One of the purposes of this blog (as noted in our mission statement) is to promote the interchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries, including–indeed, especially–between researchers and practitioners. It turns out that despite our shared interests in understanding and fighting corruption, there’s often quite a gulf between the academic and advocacy communities. I’ve commented this difference in perspectives in the past (from the perspective of an Ivory Tower academic), both in general terms, and with respect to some particular topics, such as the optimal degree of simplification, the role of university education, and the use of eye-catching statistics. While I recognize that discussion of these issues may seem like navel-gazing, I actually think these conversations are quite important, given the complementary but distinct roles that academic research and advocacy work have in the overall anticorruption project.

I was therefore delighted to read a recent speech by Robert Barrington, the Executive Director of Transparency International UK, on precisely this topic. It’s one of the best discussions of this issue that I’ve come across. (And I’d say that even if he didn’t reference one of my posts on this blog!) Whereas I come at this issue from an academic perspective, Mr. Barrington is a leading voice in the advocacy community, and he has some good advice for all of us. The speech is very short, so instead of attempting to summarize it I’ll just encourage interested readers to click on the link above. But let me close here by quoting Mr. Barrington’s summation, with which I wholeheartedly concur:

We should be two communities that work closely together. There is little excuse not to. As an advocate, this is my message: our subject is too important for academics to be obscure or self-referential, or for NGOs to be ill-informed, misguided or unchallenged. Our choice is not whether to work hand-in-hand, but how we should do so.