When and Why Do Corrupt Politicians Champion Corruption Reform? A Character Study

Can corrupt leaders enact effective anticorruption reform? The brief answer seems to be yes: Leaders who are (perceived as) corrupt can initiate and support effective anticorruption reform efforts. For example, as this blog has previously discussed, President Peña-Nieto (who has repeatedly been accused of corruption and graft) supported constitutional anticorruption reforms in Mexico. Egypt’s current President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has similarly launched various anticorruption campaigns, even while fending off numerous corruption allegations.

But why do corrupt leaders institute anticorruption reforms? While there’s no universal explanation, there appear to be at least three archetypes that might help anticorruption activists identify and push unlikely reformers: The Power Player, The Top-Down Director, and The Born-Again Reformer. Continue reading

Why Does the Chinese Communist Party Tear a Hole in its Own Democracy Cloak?

The People’s Republic of China recently uncovered the biggest vote-buying scandal since its founding in 1949. On September 13, 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the national legislature, dismissed 45 of the 102 NPC representatives from Liaoning province for securing their seats in the NPC through vote buying. These NPC representatives had apparently bribed representatives to the Liaoning provincial Congress, which elects NPC representatives; 523 out of the 619 Liaoning provincial congress representatives were also implicated in this scandal, and have either resigned or been removed for election rigging, rendering the Liaoning provincial legislature inoperable. The central authorities stated that the “unprecedented” bribery scandal challenged the “bottom line” of China’s socialist system and the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

For many observers, reports of this vote-buying scandal came as a surprise. Some commentators wondered why people would risk getting caught and punished for corruption, just to secure a seat in a legislature that has been derided as little more than a rubber stamp. The most plausible explanation is that a seat on the NPC facilitates access to the rich and powerful, and it is this consideration, rather than the mostly symbolic power of the legislature itself, that motivates candidates to buy votes in NPC elections. (See here, here and here). There is, however, a second puzzle about the recent vote-buying scandal—one that is in fact more puzzling and important, though it has not received as much attention: Why do CCP leaders care about electoral corruption in NPC elections, if the NPC merely rubber-stamps party decisions? True, the CCP under President Xi Jinping has made the fight against official corruption a top priority—but given the prevalence of corruption in so many areas of Chinese government, many of which have immediate practical consequences, why target electoral corruption in the NPC?

The question becomes even more interesting when one considers that calling attention to vote-buying in NPC elections—a form of corruption that might otherwise not attract much attention—poses certain risks to the CCP. First, even if the NPC is mostly a rubber stamp legislature, it represents the symbolic core of state power, and is central to the CCP’s “socialist democracy,” a model the Party has long used to resist the Western-style multi-party democracy. As one commentator put it has observed, the exposure of the NPC vote-buying scandal has torn a large hole in the country’s “democracy cloak.” Second, exposing widespread corrupt practices could also increase pressure for systemic reforms. So why did CCP leaders choose to crack down on corruption in the legislature so openly? Continue reading

Guest Post: A Behavioral Science Approach to Preventing Corruption

Johann Graf Lambsdorff, Professor of Economic Theory at Passau University, contributes the following guest post:

Some of our current approaches to corruption prevention perform badly. One reason is that many preventive methods are built on distrust towards officials and employees, who are seen as potentially corrupt actors. Yet research in behavioral science has provided us with impressive evidence that (many) people are (mostly) trustworthy, intrinsically motivated, and responsive to encouragement, praise, expressions of gratitude, and criticism. The problem with assuming that everyone is prone to engage in corruption if not carefully monitored is not only that prevention strategies premised on that assumption are very costly, but also that such approaches can be counterproductive: The atmosphere of distrust that they create can reduce interpersonal trust, intrinsic motivation, and the self-esteem that people get from contributing to public goods and working responsibly.

Economists have labelled these adverse collateral consequences “the hidden costs of control.” In a recent paper entitled “Preventing Corruption by Promoting Trust – Insights from Behavioral Science”, I explain how taking this phenomenon, as well related insights from behavioral sciences about creating positive incentives for good behavior, can help us design more effective policies. The paper illustrates this with the help of six examples: Continue reading

Guest Post: The Role of Compensation Systems in Promoting Anti-Bribery (Non-)Compliance

GAB is pleased to welcome back anti-bribery consultant Richard Bistrong, who contributes the following guest post:

These days, most sophisticated multinational firms, at least those that might be subject to liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or similar laws, have official anti-bribery compliance programs. But as many observers have rightly noted, while formal control systems are important, they have their limits: the formal rules in place, or what top-level management asserts when setting the “tone from the top,” may often differ from what actually happens on the ground. As I’ve emphasized my earlier posts on this blog, understanding what actually happens out in the field requires careful attention to the actual incentives of the people on the front lines: the regional managers, salespeople, and the like. And with respect to these individuals, many corporations that have seemingly robust anti-bribery programs, and whose C-Suite executives say all the right things about ethics and integrity and zero tolerance, are actually creating incentives that foster corruption. Here I want to focus on incentive plans for international sales, marketing, and business development teams. I have identifies three common features of the compensation system for salespeople may contribute substantially to bribery risk. Continue reading

Guest Post: Compliance Culture in Emerging Markets — Tone at the Top or Tone in the Middle?

Today’s guest post is from Gönenç Gürkaynak, the managing partner and head of the Regulatory and Compliance Department at ELIG, Attorneys-at-Law, a leading law firm in Istanbul:

When listing the fundamental pillars of a compliance program, guidance on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and UK Bribery Act both stress the importance of the top-level commitment — “tone at the top” — for creating and maintaining a compliance culture within the company. Because the actions and stances of the board of directors and senior executives reflect and shape the corporate compliance culture, these directors and managers are expected to fulfill leadership roles within scope of the compliance program of the company. But the compliance leadership of the top-level management can be undermined by the reckless actions of the mid-level managers who have the obligation to meet operational targets and deal with the various problems posed in the field. Accordingly, a tone from the top is not enough to create or sustain a compliance program — especially in emerging markets — unless such tone is supplemented by the voice of the mid-level management (“tone in the middle”). Continue reading