Leniency Revisited: China Should Also Reward Bribe Takers Who Confess

China’s anticorruption campaign has focused almost exclusively on the so-called “demand side” of bribe transactions—the public officials who request or accept bribe payments. Indeed, it is quite common for a bribe-taking government official to be prosecuted while the bribe giver receives no punishment at all (see here, here, and here). Overall, China has convicted and punished almost four times as many bribe-takers as bribe-givers, and only 1% of bribe-givers have faced criminal prosecution. 

This lopsided emphasis on the demand side of bribery is mostly caused by a odd asymmetry in China’s Criminal Law. According to Article 390, bribe givers who confess their crimes to the authorities before the case is handed over the procuratorate office for criminal prosecution are eligible for leniency, including outright exemption from punishment, but there is no equivalent provision for bribe takers. (There are some general provisions in Chinese criminal law that afford criminal defendants mitigated punishment, but these sections are applicable only when suspects voluntarily turn themselves in before any investigation has commenced, or provide sufficiently valuable service in uncovering other criminal misconduct. These provisions are not as generous as Article 390.) Due to the asymmetric structure of Article 390, coupled with the fact that bribery is often hard to uncover without the cooperation of one of the parties involved in the transaction, China’s principal anticorruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), has cut deals almost exclusively with bribe givers, offering them immunity pursuant to Article 390 in exchange for their assistance in going after the corrupt officials.

This asymmetry has contributed to criticism that China is too lenient on bribe givers. Some critics have argued that China should eliminate the disparate treatment of bribe givers and bribe takers by abolishing Article 390 altogether, thus making it equally difficult for bribe givers and bribe takers to receive leniency (see, for example, here and here). While China has not gone that far, it has taken steps in this direction, for example by amending Article 390 back in 2015 to narrow the set of bribe givers who would be eligible to receive mitigated punishment under that section.

I agree that the asymmetric treatment of bribe givers and bribe takers makes little sense, but rectifying that asymmetry by restricting the availability of leniency to bribe givers who voluntarily confess is the wrong approach. On the contrary, China should expand Article 390 so that bribe takers who report to the government and offer evidence against the bribe payer would be eligible for leniency. But only the party that reports first (and fully and candidly) should be eligible for leniency—the other party to the transaction would be punished harshly. This system, which would resemble the US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Leniency Program, creates a prisoner’s dilemma problem for both parties to the bribe transaction, thus helping to detect and deter bribery more efficiently.

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A Mandatory Reporting Requirement in Israel: Maybe Not a Lost Hope?

In my last post, I discussed and critiqued a proposal, advanced in a policy paper published by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), for a mandatory reporting requirement in Israel’s public sector. Under the IDI paper’s proposal, a public official who, acting in his or her official capacity, formed a “substantial suspicion” that corruption has taken place or will take place could face disciplinary sanctions for failing to report this suspected corruption “as soon as possible.” I criticized this proposal on the grounds that it would both discourage reporting in those cases where a potential whistleblower is reluctant to report right away and so delays for a period of time, and would also deter employees from cooperating with investigators by sharing relevant information that they had not previously disclosed. In both of these cases—the employee who didn’t report right away but might be willing to report later, and the employee who didn’t voluntarily report but might be willing to share information when questioned by investigators—the threat of disciplinary sanctions for failure to report immediately may actually induce employees to keep silent, especially since the chances they will be caught and punished if they never reveal what they suspected are generally quite low. Instead of imposing a mandatory reporting requirement, I argued, Israel (and similarly situated countries) should strengthen positive incentives for whistleblowers, offering them more generous rewards and more effective protections against retaliation.

While many readers broadly agreed with my critique of the IDI paper’s mandatory reporting proposal in its current form, several colleagues suggested that a modified version of the mandatory reporting requirement might be effective and appropriate. In this post, I consider what seem to me the most plausible and promising revisions to the original IDI proposal, and evaluate whether these modifications would overcome my principal critiques: Continue reading

Why Mandatory Corruption Reporting Requirements May Prove Counterproductive

Whistleblowers who report on and expose illegal acts in their workplaces are invaluable to fighting corruption. In Israel, as I stressed in a previous post, the recognition of the importance of whistleblowers has led to the adoption of several (unsatisfactory) legal instruments which are designed to encourage whistleblowers to step forward. These instruments are mainly about rewarding or protecting those employees who have dared to report on illegalities despite the personal and professional risks associated with their coming forward. An important example of such a positive instrument is Israel’s Protection of Workers (Exposure of Offenses and of Harm to Integrity or to Proper Administration) Law,  which establishes a whistleblower-friendly mechanism for seeking damages from employers who engage in unlawful retaliation .

But some argue that positive incentives are insufficient. In 2019, the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), one of the country’s leading research institutes, published a policy paper in which the authors (Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer and Yazid Ershied) argued that negative incentives—that is, the threat of sanctions for those who fail to report corruption in their workplaces—should also be employed. More specifically, the authors propose that Israel’s disciplinary law include a provision that requires any public employee who, in his or her official capacity, has formed a “substantial suspicion” that an act of corruption has taken place to report on it “as soon as possible” to a newly established governmental unit which would address corruption in the public sector. The authors claim that adoption of such a mandatory reporting requirement, if backed by the credible threat of sanctions, would increase the number of reports by public officials who observe corruption. (The sanctions recommended by the authors would be disciplinary rather than criminal, as criminal sanctions in their view would be disproportionate and consequently ineffective.)

The IDI paper is the most thorough and impressive piece written on proposals to adopt a mandatory reporting requirement on corruption in Israel. But while the authors list some good reasons for adopting such a requirement, they fail to consider how their proposal would interact with the phenomenon of “delayed reporting.” Employees are often reluctant to report suspected corruption right away, but eventually become willing to report it. In other words, for entirely understandable reasons, it often takes whistleblowers some time and contemplation before they are finally ready to report on illegalities. When one takes this fact into account, it becomes apparent that the IDI paper’s proposed mandatory reporting requirement might prove counterproductive, for two reasons: Continue reading

New Podcast Episode, Featuring James Wasserstrom

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, I interview James Wasserstrom. Mr. Wasserstrom, currently a private consultant on corruption and transparency issues, began his career with the United Nations, and was posted to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 2007. His UN career took an unexpected turn when he uncovered corruption by high-level UNMIK officials. He reported his findings to the UN, but this was leaked to the perpetrators, and he was subjected to an extensive campaign of retaliation. After extensive legal proceedings, it was eventually determined that he had been mistreated, but the UN denied him compensation on dubious procedural grounds. During and after his dispute with the UN, Mr. Wasserstrom has been a leading advocate for institutional reform at the UN and integrity reforms more generally, and from 2009-2014 served as a special advisor on anticorruption at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. In our interview, Mr. Wasserstrom and I discuss his experience as a UN whistleblower, the flaws in the UN’s whistleblower protection system, and what if anything can be done. We also discuss Mr. Wasserstrom’s ideas for providing more international support for whistleblowers in hostile environment, including his new proposal for an “integrity sanctuary” program.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

 

Two Legal Changes Which Would Bolster Israel’s Protection of Whistleblowers

Like many other jurisdictions around the world, Israel has long recognized the value of whistleblowers who report and expose illegal acts in their workplaces. Without such whistleblowers, it is almost certain that Israeli citizens and law enforcement would never have learned, for example, about alleged corruption in the Israel Tax Authority, municipalities, Israel Aerospace Industries, the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety, and others. In order to encourage more whistleblowers to come forward, Israel has developed several legal instruments, the strongest and most central being the Protection of Workers (Exposure of Offenses and of Harm to Integrity or to Proper Administration) Law (PoWL) (see here and here). The PoWL, originally enacted in 1997 and amended three times since then, civilly and criminally forbids employers from retaliating against employees for whistleblowing, and establishes an employee-friendly mechanism for the victims of such retaliation to seek damages. These cases are heard by Israel’s specialized Labor Courts. In addition to awarding compensatory damages, the courts are also authorized to order employers to pay exemplary (that is, punitive) damages, and may also invalidate the whistleblower-plaintiff’s dismissal, or order that the whistleblower be moved to “another appropriate position” in the workplace.

While at first glance the PoWL seems to offer strong protections for whistleblowers, the PoWL suffers from two major weaknesses that significantly compromise its effectiveness. These problems must be addressed if the PoWL is to provide whistleblowers with adequate protections against retaliation: Continue reading

Rewarding Whistleblowing to Fight Kleptocracy

Last February, Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch introduced the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Rewards Act (KARRA), which seeks to improve detection of stolen assets housed in American financial institutions by paying whistleblowers for reports that lead to the identification and seizure of these assets. The logic of paying rewards to whistleblowers is straightforward, and nicely summarized in the draft KARRA itself:

The individuals who come forward to expose foreign governmental corruption and klep­toc­ra­cy often do so at great risk to their own safety and that of their immediate family members and face retaliation from persons who exercise foreign political or governmental power. Monetary rewards and the potential award of asylum can provide a necessary incentive to expose such corruption and provide a financial means to provide for their well-being and avoid retribution.

Paying whistleblowers for information is a sound economic idea.  But in light of the cogent explanation for these rewards, the original draft of the KARRA legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough. Indeed, this original proposal provides much weaker incentives and protections for whistleblowers than several other existing US whistleblower rewards programs. It is unlikely that this bill has a real chance of being enacted in the current Congress, but if its introduction this year is a harbinger of a more sustained effort to enact legislation of this kind—and I hope it is—then I also hope that the next time around KARRA supporters will introduce a more ambitious bill, one that provides much higher potential rewards, fewer limitations on which whistleblowers are eligible for rewards, and more robust anti-retaliation protections.

There are many ways to design a whistleblowing program, as demonstrated by the spectrum of existing programs that use whistleblowing to tackle fraud in other domains. We can examine the effectiveness of the proposed legislation through comparison to existing whistleblowing programs:

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Planning and Zoning Board Corruption: Finding the Missing Whistleblowers

My last post looked at the constant, pernicious corruption and conflict of interest in local land use planning decisions in the United States. Despite shocking stories and a handful of high-profile investigations and prosecutions (see, for example, here and here), little comprehensive work has been done to address the potential for corruption in planning and zoning decisions, even when warning signs abound. Instead, most instances of corruption in land use planning decisions remain undetected, perhaps because the seemingly small stakes make it unlikely that external investigators will scrutinize these decisions too closely.

Yet potential whistleblowers surely see or suspect bribery, conflicted dealings, or other malfeasance in land use planning. Reforms should make it easier for those individuals to come forward, as well as make it more likely that their reports will lead to action. Ideally, these measures would recognize the particular characteristics of land use decisions, such as the challenges posed by the large numbers of local officials involved in planning and zoning. Here are a few suggestions for how to encourage simpler, more consistent reporting:

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Nigeria’s Whistleblowing Policy: A Good Start, But Not Enough

On December 21, 2016, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance approved a whistleblowing program as part of the Nigerian government’s continued efforts to fight corruption. Key features of the program include the launch of an online portal for submission of tips and the establishment of a reward for “information that directly leads to the voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds or assets” (the reward is 2.5 to 5% of the amount recovered, with the percentage decreasing as the amounts recovered increases). As over $176 million in stolen funds was recovered within the first two months of the program, the whistleblowing policy appears to be an overnight success story. Nevertheless, although stolen funds are indeed being recovered, the existing policy does not do enough to offset the risks that whistleblowers face when they come forward with information, and this deficiency may limit the long-term effectiveness of the program. In particular, there are three aspects of the program that the government ought to reform in order to encourage individuals to assume the risks associated with becoming a whistleblower, and consequently to ensure the policy’s continued success. Continue reading

The Opportunity to Address Kenya’s Corruption Problem

With the Kenyan Presidential elections on the horizon in 2017, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, who hopes to continue his regime, has spoken out against corruption, emphasizing that combating this widespread problem requires effort on the part of every Kenyan. In his first term, President Kenyatta had shown promising signs of staying true to his philosophy of holding everyone accountable by actually getting rid of members of the Cabinet. Yet Kenya’s recent history makes many skeptical. For over a decade, Kenyan presidents have been pledging to get corruption under control. In 2003, newly-elected President Kibaki promised to stamp out corruption in Kenya. He proceeded to enact two important pieces of legislation in his first year: the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, which established the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) to investigate corruption and educate the public, and the Public Officer Act, which required all public officers to declare their wealth. Yet at the end of President Kibaki’s decade-long regime, the situation remained bleak, with corruption running rampant. Kenya’s education sector offers a particularly troublesome glimpse into the continued prevalence of the problem. A 2010 forensic audit of Kenya’s Education Sector Support Programme found that misappropriation of funds and leakages in transfer of cash and materials from the Ministry of Education to schools, as well as other types of private embezzling and mis-accounting of funds, had led to the loss of 4.2 Billion Kenya Shillings (US$55 million) that was originally intended for education. Furthermore, most of the suspected actors went unpunished; even when caught, the culprits were either transferred to new departments or at most suspended from their role.

As for President Kenyatta’s more recent efforts, the President claims that he has done his part in the anticorruption fight and is frustrated by the lack of complementary efforts by others. Yet many critics claim that President Kenyatta has not demonstrated the political will necessary to fight corruption. And some have gone further, accusing the president of suspect and excessive awarding of government contracts to companies like Safaricom without an open bidding process. Safaricom have been involved in multiple corruption scandals already, leading to suspicions of bribery. Critics have also been highlighting the fact that those close to Kenyatta seem immune from serious scrutiny for corrupt acts.

Even if we put those concerns to one side, and assume that both President Kenyatta and President Kibaki before him were acting in good faith, the numerous anticorruption initiatives undertaken by both administrations do not seem to have had much of an impact. There are a few things that Kenya’s next president—whether it is Kenyatta or someone else—could do that would go further in making progress against the corruption problem than the measures that have been adopted so far: Continue reading

Reporting Corruption Easily and Safely: Papua New Guinea’s Phones Against Corruption Initiative

Nick Brown, head of Global Distribution for Mobimedia International, contributes the following Guest Post.

 Persuading corruption victims to complain remains one of the great challenges to combating corruption.  Policymakers can’t prioritize prevention efforts or know where to deploy enforcement resources if they don’t know who is demanding bribes where and from whom. But getting citizens to blow the whistle is no mean feat.  Citizens must be convinced it is worth the effort, that something will happen if they do speak up.  Citizens must also be assured they will be safe if they do, that the corrupters will not harm them or their loved ones, financially or physically.

With its “Phones Against Corruption” initiative, the Government of Papua New Guinea has hit upon a way that citizens can easily and safely report corruption complaints, and since its launch in 2014, with technical support from Mobimedia International and financial backing from UNDP and Australia, it has taken off.  Critical to its success is that it makes no technological or financial demands on PNG’s limited capacity.  It requires no more technological sophistication from citizens than the ability to send a text message, a form of communication widely used throughout the country. How does it work? Continue reading