In Defense of Judicial Elections

Many critics, including on this blog, have argued for abolishing judicial elections, partly on the grounds that judicial elections open the door to judicial corruption. These critics worry that elected judges cannot apply the law neutrally because they will be influenced by those who got them to their position and by the desire to stay there. But these risks are both exaggerated and fairy easy to control. Judicial elections actually promote legitimacy and responsiveness, and reduce opportunities for political gamesmanship. Ultimately, judicial elections can help curb judicial corruption.

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Reforming FIFA: Why Recent Reforms Provide Reason for Hope

Over a year has passed since Gianni Infantino was elected President of FIFA. When elected, Infantino promised to reform the organization and win back the trust of the international football community following the numerous incidents of corruption that preceded his tenure as President (see here and here). Corruption not only existed at the executive level of FIFA, but also permeated down to the playing field, where incidents of match fixing and referee bribery were widespread. On the day he was elected, Infantino remarked, “FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis, but those times are over. We need to implement the reform and implement good governance and transparency.”

Yet despite some reforms in the past year, a recent Transparency International report–which surveyed 25,000 football fans from over 50 countries—showed that the public still lacks confidence in the organization, with 97% of fans still worried about corruption, especially match fixing and bribery of officials. While the results show some improvement compared to the previous year, the numbers should worry both Infantino and FIFA: 53% of fans do not trust FIFA, only 33% of fans believe FIFA is actively working against corruption in football, and only 15% of fans have more confidence in FIFA now than they did during last year’s corruption scandal.

The public’s distrust of FIFA is certainly understandable, as is a degree of cynicism regarding Infantino’s promise to clean up the organization. After all, Sepp Blatter ran on a similar platform to Infantino when he elected President in 1998, also claiming that he was going to reform FIFA. Yet despite the lack of confidence in Infantino and FIFA, there are a few reasons to believe that change may be occurring within the organization, and that FIFA, under Infantino’s leadership, may be making strides in the right direction. Since Infantino’s election, FIFA has undertaken the following steps to curb corruption within football and the organization:

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The Interational Olympic Committee’s Revised Host City Contract: Another Failed Attempt at Preventing Corruption

Recent Olympic Games, including the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and the 2016 Rio Summer Games, have been dogged by corruption scandals (see here and here). The Sochi Games were particularly egregious: Russian politician Boris Nemtsov believes that the total scale of the embezzlement accounts for 50-60% of the stated final cost of the Russian Olympics. One example cited was the main 40,000-seat Fisht Olympic Stadium, which was first projected to cost about $49 million. Anticorruption activist Alexy Navalny estimates that the real final cost could well exceed $520 million and may total more than $700 million, many times the fair value. This has led to some very bad publicity for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which organizes the Games. In response to these and other concerns, this past February the IOC made changes to its Host City Contract, which sets out the requirements that cities must meet in order to host the Olympic Games. For the first time, the IOC included specific anticorruption standards and human rights requirements, which were noticeably absent from all previous versions.

The revised provision in the contract states that [the host city must] “refrain from any act involving fraud or corruption, in a manner consistent with any international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and all internationally-recognized anti-corruption standards applicable in the Host Country, including by establishing and maintaining effective reporting and compliance.” The IOC’s revised language integrated a number of recommendations from organizations such as Transparency International, Amnesty International, and the Sport and Rights Alliance. IOC President Thomas Bach explained that the IOC adopted the changes because “[t]ransparency, good governance and accountability are key elements of Olympic Agenda.”

However, both the substance of the terms and lack of enforcement mechanisms mean this provision does absolutely nothing in fighting corruption. The change is little more than a public relations stunt by the IOC to improve its image following numerous criticisms from recent games. Rather than applauding Bach for placing words in a contract, anticorruption activists should continue to push for meaningful change at the Olympic Games. The revised contract fails to represent genuine progress on fighting Olympic corruption for three reasons:

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The U.S. Combating Global Corruption Act Is a Worthwhile Proposal that Deserves More Attention

I know a lot of what I write on this blog is pessimistic, critiical, or both, but every once in a while it’s nice to call attention to some positive, encouraging developments. In this spirit, I was heartened to read that a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators last week introduced a new bill, the “Combating Global Corruption Act of 2017” (CGCA), that strikes me as quite a good idea overall. Yes, I realize that most bills like this never make it out of committee, let alone get enacted into law. And yes, the bill has a number of problems, some of which might be fixable through the amendment process but others of which are more inherent. But on the whole, it seems to me that this is the sort of bill that the U.S. anticorruption community ought to support.

Here’s a quick summary of what the bill would do, why I think it’s basically a sound idea, and (because I can’t help myself) a few of its problems and difficulties. (The full text of the bill can be found at the link above, and a press release about it from Senator Cardin’s office is here.) Continue reading

The 2016 CPI and the Value of Corruption Perceptions

Last month, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). As usual, the release of the CPI has generated widespread discussion and analysis. Previous GAB posts have discussed many of the benefits and challenges of the CPI, with particular attention to the validity of the measurement and the flagrant misreporting of its results. The release of this year’s CPI, and all the media attention it has received, provides an occasion to revisit important questions about how the CPI should and should not be used by researchers, policymakers, and others.

As past posts have discussed, it’s a mistake to focus on the change in each country’s CPI score from the previous year. These changes are often due to changes in the sources used to calculate the score, and most of these changes are not statistically meaningful. As a quick check, I compared the confidence intervals for the 2015 and 2016 CPIs and found that, for each country included in both years, the confidence intervals overlap. (While this doesn’t rule out the possibility of statistically significant changes for some countries, it suggests that a more rigorous statistical test is required to see if the changes are meaningful.) Moreover, even though a few changes each year usually pass the conventional thresholds for statistical significance, with 176 countries in the data, we should expect some of them to exhibit statistical significance, even if in fact all changes are driven by random error. Nevertheless, international newspapers have already begun analyses that compare annual rankings, with headlines such as “Pakistan’s score improves on Corruption Perception Index 2016” from The News International, and “Demonetisation effect? Corruption index ranking improves but a long way to go” from the Hidustan Times. Alas, Transparency International sometimes seems to encourage this style of reporting, both by showing the CPI annual results in a table, and with language such as “more countries declined than improved in this year’s results.” After all, “no change” is no headline.

Although certain uses of the CPI are inappropriate, such as comparing each country’s movement from one year to the next, this does not mean that the CPI is not useful. Indeed, some critics have the unfortunate tendency to dismiss the CPI out of hand, often emphasizing that corruption perceptions are not the same as corruption reality. That is certainly true—TI goes out of its way to emphasize this point with each release of a new CPI— but there are at least two reasons why measuring corruption perceptions is valuable: Continue reading

Guest Post: When and How Will We Learn How To Curb Corruption?

GAB is pleased to welcome Finn Heinrich, Research Director at Transparency International, who contributes the following guest post:

Listening to conversations about corruption among global policy-makers, corruption researchers, and anticorruption activists alike, I can’t help but notice that the focus of anticorruption research and policy is changing. The 1990s focused mainly on demonstrating that corruption exists and finding ways to measure it (largely through perception-based indicators), and the early 2000s were about assessing corruption risks in specific countries, sectors, or communities, and assessing the performance of anticorruption institutions. More recently, researchers (and their funders and clients) are shifting from the “Where is corruption?” question toward the “How can we fight corruption?” question. They ask: Do we know what works, when, where, and under which circumstances in curbing a specific type of corrupt behavior?

Answering such questions is extremely challenging. Corruption’s clandestine nature makes it difficult to measure, data is often of low quality or simply not available for time-series or cross-sectional analysis beyond aggregate country-level indicators. Furthermore, anticorruption interventions often lack an underlying theory of change which would be needed to design robust research evaluations to find out whether they worked and if so, how (and if not, why not). And we lack realistic but parsimonious causal models which can take account of contextual factors, which are so important to understand and tackle corruption, as corruption is an integral part of broader social and political power structures and relationships which differ across contexts. Similarly, there is a lack of exchange between micro-level approaches focusing on specific, usually local anticorruption interventions, on the one hand, and the macro-level literature on anti-corruption strategies and theories, on the other.

While we at Transparency International certainly do not have any ready-made solutions for these extremely tricky methodological and conceptual issues, we are committed to joining others in making headway on them and have therefore put the “what works” question at the heart of our organizational learning agenda by engaging in reviews of the existing evidence as well as ramping up impact reviews of some of our own key interventions. For example, we have just released a first rapid evidence review on how to curb political corruption, written by David Jackson and Daniel Salgado Moreno, which showcases some fascinating evidence from the vibrant field of political anticorruption research. We are also working with colleagues from Global Integrity on a more thorough evidence review on corruption grievance as a motivator for anti-corruption engagement and are planning further evidence reviews and impact evaluations.

As we start to get our feet wet and figure out how to best go about generating and making sense of the existing evidence on what works in anti-corruption, we are keen to engage with the broader anticorruption research community. Maybe there are others out there who have some ideas about how to go about learning about what works in fighting corruption? If so, please use the comment box on this blog or get in touch directly at

Academics in Support of the Transparency International Secretariat’s Research Work

As most readers of this blog are likely aware, Transparency International (TI) is the world’s leading advocacy organization focused specifically on fighting corruption. In addition to the important advocacy work done by the TI Secretariat and TI’s many national chapters, Transparency International has also played an important role in producing and supporting a variety of research activities.

Word on the street is that Transparency International is in the middle of some sort of internal reorganization. It’s apparently a complicated situation, and while I certainly don’t know much about the details (particularly concerning matters like German labor law), some of my academic colleagues have raised concerns about the possible implications of the reorganization for TI’s research capacity. In response to these concerns, a group of academics sent a letter (which I signed) to the TI Board of Directors, emphasizing the important contributions of the TI Secretariat’s research team. Although these “insider” organizational issues might not be of interest to all our readers, I thought that some of you might be interested, and perhaps might also like to make your voices heard, so I am providing (with the permission of those responsible for drafting and sending the letter) the full text of the letter here:

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