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Society and communities

Combating corruption

Corruption is one of the biggest issues facing governments around the world today. It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries, damaging the economy, diverting resources, diminishing trust in politicians.

Corruption is nothing new. But the ability of transnational elites to move vast funds and hide illicit wealth at will makes this blight seem more slippery and intractable than ever.

The roots of the globalisation of this challenge lie in the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. In the West there was a triumphant belief that market-led, de-regulated, small-state democracy was the winner. There was a push towards globalisation, with new ability to move money across borders. Mass privatisation and a move away from big government meant states were less equipped to manage these changes.

Where do I come in? My research points out that the vision of ‘good’ governance (i.e. Western-style democracy) being a barrier against corruption is no longer fit for purpose. Interconnectivity and financial de-regulation means states can no longer control economics, or stop transfers of wealth. States no longer control information, which is now owned by mega-corporations. The only thing states really do have any control over now is politics, and I argue there’s a direct link between loss of control over economic levers and information and the rise of populism.

Secondly, I’ve demonstrated that the ability to move money across borders means measuring corruption at national level is not very helpful. Take the (real) example of an African state where mineral rights are stolen and sold to global conglomerates that knowingly collude. So where is the corruption taking place, how do you measure this? You can’t.

A leading player

Francesca Recanatini of the World Bank: “Professor Heywood’s research and advocacy to move away from national level measurements has helped me advocate within the World Bank for the allocation of time and resources to collection of information and data about corruption at the local level and within sectors.”

Phil Mason, who led the Anti-Corruption team at the Department for International Development (DFID), worked with Professor Heywood on delivery of Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) programmes: “The ACE programme will serve to inform DFID’s policy guidance in partner countries and expects to promote new ways to think about the problem.”

Andrew Preston, Head of the Joint Anti-Corruption Unit at the Home Office: “Professor Heywood has played an important role in advising the UK government, and the Joint Anti-Corruption Unit more specifically in shaping its strategy. (He) has been a leading player in connecting policymakers and academics working on corruption.”

And thirdly, we should stop talking generically about corruption. Instead, we need to talk about it in four different ways:

  • the level where it takes place – transnational flows of money; at national level, or a local level of corruption?
  • the type – bribery, nepotism, malfeasance – what kind of corruption is taking place, and in what sector?
  • the drivers – is corruption quasi state policy, driven down from the top where the rulers systematically steal? Or is it driven from below, with individuals ignoring social norms?
  • the setting – corruption where the rule of law holds, for example, is different to where the judiciary is bought

 The final thing I bring to the table is an alternative approach: we should pay much more attention to integrity. It’s easy to say we’re against corruption.

But what’s the opposite, what do we want? I say it’s integrity: doing the right thing in the right way even when no one is watching. Developing integrity systems in governance, and shifting the focus away from saying ‘we’re against corruption’ and towards integrity – this is what it looks like and this is how we get there – is more valuable.

Paul Heywood

Paul Heywood is the Sir Francis Hill Professor of European Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations. He also leads the $7 million Department for International Development-funded Anti-Corruption Evidence programme based at Global Integrity in Washington DC. The programme identifies new initiatives to help developing countries tackle the scourge of corruption and the negative impact it has on millions of people’s lives.

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