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Open Government

Amid the rescue and recovery in Greece: Corruption-hunting – putting promises into practice

Christopher Colford's picture



After the drama,
 the dénouement. Crisis-watchers who were riveted to last week’s continuous flow of breaking-news bulletins from Brussels – as the European Union and Greece furiously negotiated (often through diplomatic feints and calculated disclosures to the press) a fragile accord on the latest stages of Greece’s debt crisis – are now awaiting the next high-intensity, high-anxiety step in the prolonged process: the scrutiny of the list of proposed reforms that Greece has agreed to submit to still-wary EU officials by Monday.

Whether this week’s list of proposed reforms, being drawn up by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, proves to be enough to satisfy the skeptics in the Eurogroup is the next question for Eurozone-focused analysts. Continued haggling over the details seems likely over the next week – and, ominously, the remainder of calendar for 2015 looks unforgiving. Even if an accord can be solidified this week, many observers dread that anxieties will be inflamed again within four months, when the EU’s brief extension of its financial rescue package for Greece will have run its course – just at the moment when Greece will be facing a midsummer deadline for paying large installements of its vast international debts. Another bout of brinkmanship this summer may revive fears of a possible disorderly exit from the Eurozone. With the fragile Greek banking system vulnerable to potential runs by depositors, the situation will surely command the attention of financial-sector crisis managers for months to come.

Throughout the white-knuckle phase of this Greek tragedy, the Bretton Woods institutions have had a constructive role to play in trying to resolve various aspects of the crisis. The International Monetary Fund has been a central pillar of the rescue operation, joining the European Central Bank and the European Union as part of the so-called “troika” (or, as it is now phrased more mildly in EU parlance, “the institutions”) serving as the rescue overseers. The World Bank Group has been involved in the situation, as well – although in a less-visible role that involves Greece’s long-term recovery rather than its short-term rescue. By providing, not financing, but technical expertise to Greece, the Bank Group has been helping strengthen the country’s investment climate – an area where, according to recent editions of the “Doing Business” report, Greece has made some notable progress in recent years.

As the Eurogroup and Greece this week consider Varoufakis' list of proposed policy reforms, one important concern is certain to be on everyone’s agenda: enforcing stronger steps to fight corruption and ensure good governance. In an anticorruption cri de coeur last week, an Op-Ed commentary in the New York Times by Gregory A. Maniatis explained, and deplored, how that beleaguered country’s chronic “corruption by elites siphoned off countless billions” that should instead have been used for pro-growth investment.

“Practically every time Greece made a purchase — be it of medicines, highways or guns — a substantial cut went into the wrong hands,” wrote Maniatis, who is a senior fellow at the Open Society Foundation and the Migration Policy Institute and an adviser to the United Nations. “As a result, monopolies and oligopolies led by politically connected families choked competition and controlled much of the country’s banking, media, energy, construction and other industries.”

An estimated 20 billion euros (about $22.8 billion) are lost every year due to pervasive corruption in the Greek economy, he wrote – and such a coddled “kleptocracy set a tone of impunity that enabled lower-level graft” in a “cycle [that] became self-perpetuating, as oligarchs tightened their stranglehold over the political system.”

Noting that Transparency International ranked Greece “at the bottom among European Union members” in its Corruption Perceptions Index – “tied for last with Bulgaria, Italy and Romania” – Maniatis questioned why “graft prosecutions are rare” in Greece. Every act of corruption, after all, requires two-way complicity: “In order for someone to receive a bribe, someone else has to pay it,” he noted. Perhaps legal watchdogs, in both Athens and Brussels, have not been diligent in monitoring the behavior of major European companies that might be engaging in bribery.

Maniatis’ suspicion suggests that the troika's crisis-management program may have overlooked a corrosive threat to Eurozone stability: “Why wasn’t Brussels focused at least as much on corruption as it was on debt? If the European Union’s absence on this front was lamentable before the crisis, it was inexcusable afterward. Officials from the so-called troika essentially took up residence at the Greek Finance Ministry in 2010, but rarely visited the Ministry of Justice.”

Warning of the threat that corruption poses to sound development and shared prosperity in every economy, Maniatis’ essay brought to mind the recent World Bank Group-hosted forum by the International Corruption Hunters Alliance, with the theme of “Ending Impunity: Global Knowledge: Local Impact.” As many speakers at the ICHA forum in December 2014 pointed out – and as many countries that are struggling with eradicating corruption continue to find – a profound mindset-shift is needed to change an economy that tolerates a culture of corruption into an economy that demands a culture of compliance. By insisting on good governance standards, private-sector firms, no less than public-sector agencies, have the duty to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy for graft in every country where they conduct business.

Eradicating pervasive corruption from a long-graft-ridden economy may be a years-long challenge – if it can be achieved at all. So, while strict anticorruption measures are almost certain to appear on Varoufakis’ list of proposed policy reforms for Greece, enacting and enforcing them – and promoting a culture that recognizes corruption as Public Enemy Number One for development – seems likely to require near-permanent vigilance.

Those who wish Greece well in its long struggle to renew its economy – along with those who wish the European Union success in its half-century-long trajectory toward integration and stability – will surely applaud their forthcoming steps
toward promoting good governance and adopting stronger anticorruption safeguards. Along with all nations that seek to eradicate corruption, Greece and the EU can draw on the substantial body of knowledge developed by the International Corruption Hunters Alliance – an indispensable resource in the global quest for good governance that helps promote shared prosperity.



How Young People Can Usher In the New Era of Governance

Joseph Mansilla's picture

  Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

Four years ago, I became part of the newly formed Global Youth Anti-Corruption Network (GYAC). It was then a group of about 50 civil society leaders, journalists, and musicians (or “artivists”) who, using various methods, are fighting corruption in their home countries. I was part of the pack of six journalists. After a week of training and networking in Brussels, I came home to the Philippines more inspired and energized than I could remember. I was baptized and inducted into the anti-corruption world, but could a freelance writer be really tipping the scale in ending corruption?

Corruption, Politics and Public Service Reform in the Digital Age

Tina George Karippacheril's picture

//jenniferbussell.com/research/Last week, we invited Jennifer Bussell from UC Berkeley to present her fascinating study on corruption, politics and public service reforms in the digital age. The study is based in India and draws on a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data collected in 2009 from 20 subnational states, investigating how pre-existing institutional conditions influence e-Governance reforms.
 
Public service reforms in the digital age constitute a new era of relations between the citizen and the state. However, scholars have argued that much of the discourse on e-Government has been normative, with fairly optimistic predictions, and wanting deeper moorings in public management theory (Coursey & Norris, 2008; Heeks & Bailur, 2007; Yildiz, 2007).

What are the Limits of Transparency and Technology? From Three Gurus of the Openness Movement (Eigen, Rajani, McGee)

Duncan Green's picture

After a slightly disappointing ‘wonkwar’ on migration, let’s try a less adversarial format for another big development issue: Transparency and Accountability. I have an instinctive suspicion of anything that sounds like a magic bullet, a cost-free solution, or motherhood and apple pie in general. So the current surge in interest on open data and transparency has me grumbling and sniffing the air. Are politicians just grabbing it as a cheap announcement in austere times? Does it contain some kind of implicit right wing assumptions (an individualist homo economicus maximising market efficiency through open data)? And is there any evidence that transparency actually has much impact on the lives of poor people (after all, the proponents of transparency and results-based agendas are often the same organizations, so I hope they are practicing what they preach….)

I put these fears to three transparency gurus, and here are their fascinating responses, striking in their quality and level of, well, openness. It’s a long read, but I hope you’ll agree, a worthwhile one. Think we’ll just stick with comments on this one – doesn’t feel like a vote would be useful (but let me know if you think otherwise)

How Open Data can Make Good Governance Last in the Philippines

Gabriel Baleos's picture

(The author works for the Department of Budget and Management and is the Co-Lead Coordinator for the Open Data Philippines Task Force in the Philippines that organized the open data program of the government.)

The Philippines has risen from being a laggard in Asia to an emerging economy fueling growth in the region. The government’s program of transparency and anti-corruption, the bedrock of President Benigno Aquino’s leadership, has served as the nation’s springboard for reforms.

Going the Last Mile: How to Solve the Trickiest Problems with Government and Civil Society

Roby Senderowitsch's picture

© Courtesy CARE Bangladesh.I’ve always been intrigued by the challenge of coming up with new solutions for everyday problems – kind of like 3D-puzzles for adults. Problems that seem simple from the outside but that are really difficult to crack once one focuses on them, like the development challenges countries face. Whether it’s access to basic services such as education or health, or building the infrastructure needed to connect producers to markets, or providing drinkable water to all, a broad range of sound and proven technical solutions already exists. But millions of kids continue to suffer from poor quality education, mothers continue to die while giving birth, and poor families spend a good chunk of their day walking just to get drinkable water.
 
Why is it so difficult to get solutions to reach those who need them the most? Many times, the almost automatic answer is that while the knowledge is there, countries lack the necessary resources to address these problems. But too quickly, more money is thrown at these problems without changing the fundamental issues, resulting in limited success at best. In other cases, we spend millions of dollars to build capacity and share knowledge, but it is hard to see results because the institutional support for a solution is lacking.

A pigeon's eye view of open government

Michael Jarvis's picture

Ope Government Partnership signI took my first bird flight over London on Friday courtesy of Pigeon Sim, an app developed at University College of London that simulates flying over the city, drawing on real time environmental data, such as air pollution levels. This was one of many attention grabbing displays within the Festival of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Annual Summit. The conference provided a similarly dizzying overview of the terrain of open government.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

'Many vested interests benefit from a lack of open government'
Public Leaders Network 

“In the first of a series of interviews with speakers and attendees at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit 2013, we talk to Professor Jonathan Fox, of the school of international service, American University, Washington.

He will moderate a session in which the founding eight OGP countries will present their two-year national action plans as well as reflect on their first progress report from the OGP's independent reporting mechanism. The OGP was launched in 2011, and is aimed at making governments more transparent and accountable.”  READ MORE
 

For Open Governments, Does Virtue Merely Attract Punishment?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

A while back, a friend and colleague here at the World Bank told me of an experience that bothered him. He had been talking to a minister in an African country where the government had been making strenuous efforts to become more open and transparent. It had passed a Freedom of Information law, made quantities of government information available, liberalized the media sector, thus creating a vibrant, even raucous public sphere…all the things people like me urge developing country governments to do. In a couple of neighboring countries, said the minister, the governments had gone in the opposite direction. They had restricted access to official information, clamped down on the press, and were generally thuggish towards the media, civil society activists and so on.

 What the minister asked my colleague is roughly this:
 

‘Can you guess which government is being painted as corrupt and incompetent by local and international NGOs and the local and international media? Ours!’


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