Lessons of Moral Psychology for Anticorruption Strategy

Most countries attempt to fight public corruption through policies that increase the magnitude and the probability of punishment, on the logic that rational individuals will be deterred from engaging in corrupt acts if the expected costs exceed the expected benefits. This approach is certainly valuable, but it is incomplete, and anticorruption strategies based exclusively on a view of potentially corrupt public officials as “rational actors” are unlikely to be fully effective. This is because human beings are not (only) rational animals, they are also moral animals: As already discussed on this blog (see here and here), the decision-making process of a potentially corrupt public official is influenced not only by her calculation of expected (material) costs and benefits, but also by her moral values and self-image.

In fact, when people act in accordance with their own moral standards, their brain-reward centers are activated, which may explain why individuals value honesty and desire to live ethically at their own eyes. Notwithstanding, even otherwise morally upright subjects can engage in corruption. What do individuals take into account when choosing whether to engage in profitable dishonesty or to maintain their positive self-image by adhering to their moral standards?

A growing stream of research on moral psychology and neuroscience has shown that individuals employ certain psychological mechanisms, such as rationalization, that enable them to cheat at a certain level without considering themselves as “cheaters”; this, in turn, allows them to benefit from the dishonest behavior while not damaging their positive self-image. But when it becomes more difficult for people to justify their unethical behavior to themselves, the likelihood that they will engage in dishonest behavior will decrease. The tendency to engage in dishonest behavior is also affected by individuals’ ability to exercise self-control when facing temptation — that is, by their capacity to subdue their desire to attain short-term benefits in order to achieve long-term goals.

Greater attention to these insights would make possible the design of anticorruption policies tailored both to inhibit the use of rationalizations and to encourage the exertion of self-control when individuals face the opportunity to act dishonestly. For example, public agencies (especially those in corruption-prone sectors like public procurement) could take the following steps:  Continue reading

Course on Anticorruption in Local Government July 10 – 14, 2017

The International Anticorruption Academy will offer a course this July 10 – 14 on combating corruption in local government.  Its purpose is to provide participants an in-depth understanding how corruption arises in local governments and what can be done to fight it.  The course is designed for local elected leaders, regional government administrators, anticorruption agencies’ professionals, experts from ombudsman offices and local anti-corruption organizations as well as governance specialists from development organizations

Former La Paz, Bolivia, Mayor Ronald MacLean-Abaroa will present his widely-praised work on cleaning up the city administration of La Paz. Ana Vasilache, founding President of Partners Foundation for Local Development, a Romanian NGO, will discuss the role of civil society in dealing with corruption in local government.  This writer will offer a series a modules on “Developing and Implementing an Anticorruption Strategy at the Local Level” drawing from the UNODC’s Anti-Corruption Strategies: A Practical Guide for Development and Implementation and case studies of successful anticorruption initiatives at the local level.

The Academy is located Laxenburg, Austria, a small town 12 miles south of Vienna. Details on the course and registration information is available here

Anticorruption Investigators and Prosecutors: Bookmark this Web Site!

The International Anticorruption Resource Center, a Washington-based group of American investigators and former prosecutors, has developed a first-class web site on how to investigate and prosecute corruption crimes that everyone in the business of investigating or prosecuting corruption crimes should bookmark.  Divided into three main sections – Detection, Proof, and Evidence – the site guides the reader through the entire process of developing and presenting a corruption case: from the first interview with a whistleblower through assembling the facts to proving them in a court of law.  While there are any number of Web sites with material useful for investigators and prosecutors (here and here for examples), this is the only I have found that pulls together in one place the basics that every anticorruption investigator or prosecutor needs.

Although clearly aimed at those in the early stages of their career, I recommend that even the most harden veterans peruse the site.  They will find it a valuable refresher and may well find some helpful tips.  Two pages I particularly liked were – Continue reading

Guest Post: Empowering Youth To Fight Corruption — Examples from Kosovo

Shqipe Neziri, Manager with UNDP’s anticorruption program in Kosovo, contributes the following guest post on behalf of UNDP-Kosovo. [Note: For purposes of this post, in reflection of the fact that Kosovo is not a member of the UN, references to “Kosovo” should be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)):

Young people are often forgotten victims of corruption, left without an opportunity to voice their concerns, to help make positive changes, or to enhance their skills and become active citizens for a better future. Yet young people can play an important role in the fight against corruption. They tend to be more open to wide-scale socio-political transformation and have less vested interested in maintaining the status quo. Moreover, the values and attitudes of young people today will shape the values of the society tomorrow. The question is how to harness then energy and innovation of young people, and to provide the right kinds of support.

UNDP’s recent efforts in Kosovo may provide an example of how to foster a youth-based anticorruption movement. Corruption in Kosovo is a serious problem, viewed by Kosovars as the third-most serious problem, after poverty and unemployment. Kosovo’s population skews young –half of its 2 million citizens are under the age of 30 – and Kosovo’s young people are frustrated by corruption and lack of economic opportunity. (The overall unemployment rate is 35%, while unemployment rate of youth aged 15-24 years is 60%.) For several years, UNDP Kosovo has been placing youth at the core of its development support. Through our anticorruption efforts we have been helping to strengthen the voice of the youth and to foster their participation in decision making through the use of traditional and social media, and working to make institutions more responsive to youth.

What are some of our most successful youth-focused anticorruption initiatives? Here are some examples, which might serve as useful models for others: Continue reading

Guest Post: Spend Anticorruption Resources on Professional Training, Not Postgraduate Education

Alan Doig, Professor at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, contributes the following guest post:

Resources for anticorruption are scare; how should they be spent? In particular, how should the international community (national aid agencies, international institutions, and private donors and foundations) allocate resources for education and training programs for anticorruption professionals?

Although “education” and “training” are often lumped together as one category, in fact they are quite different. Education is about the acquisition of knowledge, with the accompanying change in awareness and understanding, through the provision and assimilation of information. Training involves the acquisition of the applied knowledge and technical skills required to improve individual and organizational performance in the workplace, invariably in relation to specific roles or functions. In terms of impact, education would look for longer-term benefits and impact while training can be judged more immediately by what the person does once trained.

The question of how to spend the even more limited funds that are not tied to the big spenders (the multilateral and bilateral donors) brings this issue into sharp focus, and raises the question of whether too much too much is allocated to postgraduate anticorruption education, at the expense of practical anticorruption training. Continue reading