My last blog post addressed progress made in the extractive industries, in terms of fighting corruption, and in particular the new U.S. law (the Dodd-Frank Act) that will impact some of the largest gas, oil and mining companies in the world when it goes into effect in 2011. I also mentioned a few initiatives that have played an important role in advocating for this law and for a global norm on transparency. Another important player in this field is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), as rightly pointed out by a reader and colleague. Launched in 2002, EITI advocates for transparency in the extractive industries through the publishing of financial information and promoting a culture of transparency that involves dialogue, empowering civil society, and building trust among stakeholders. A fundamental principle of the EITI is the development of multi-stakeholder initiatives to oversee the implementation and monitoring process, which is supported through a multi-donor trust fund, managed by the World Bank.
Transparency International’s (TI) 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index provides a rather bleak picture of the current state of corruption around the world. With more than half of the 178 indexed countries scoring below five on a 10 point scale (with 10 being “very clean”), corruption remains a major impediment to development. Thus, TI is now advocating for stricter implementation and monitoring of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), a global legal framework that came into force in 2005 to help curb corruption. The Convention’s 140 signatories’ will be under review for the next three years for their efforts in fighting corruption. TI further recommends that focus should be given to areas such as, “strengthening institutions; strengthening the rule of law; making decision-making transparent; educating youths and setting up better whistle-blower protection schemes.” As a matter of fact, anti-corruption measures will be discussed at the G-20 summit taking place in Seoul next week. However, Christiaan Poortman, TI’s Director of Global Programmes, is skeptical as to whether it will produce any major changes at the governance level.
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that we in CommGAP are interested in learning how to change social norms for better governance and accountability. In a forthcoming paper, I will take a closer look at the journey of norms in development; how they emerge, become global norms and diffuse to local contexts. In reviewing global advocacy campaigns that led to transformational and normative change, it’s hard to ignore one of the most successful and important reform movements of the 19th century, namely the UK’s Anti-Slavery Campaign. How did the campaign manage to change such deeply entrenched norms as slave trade and slavery throughout the British Empire in some 50 years? Clearly, it’s a unique case that involved many institutional and environmental factors, and it would be impossible to cover all of them in a single blog post. However, the campaign would not have succeeded if it wasn’t for a number of critical components that are of great interest to what we are learning about social norms and successful reforms.
If you look around you today, lots of activists and experts want to change the world. They have all manner of pet schemes for the improvement of the world in one regard or the other. Usually, they mean well and they are often right. They have done the analysis, crunched the numbers, written the books, papers and blog posts. They know they are right. All that remains is for the morons to get it.
These activists and experts - - take the climate change/green movement/planetary emergence activists as an example -- are often in the clamorous grip of a holy impatience. This epic impatience manifests in a number of ways:
In partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), CommGAP is launching a new publication entitled “Building Public Support for Anti-Corruption Efforts: Why Anti-Corruption Agencies Need to Communicate and How.” The need for this guide became apparent at a learning event organized by CommGAP and UNODC in November 2008. The workshop participants – anti-corruption agencies, government officials, senior practitioners and academics – agreed that the media plays a crucial part in their work by influencing public perception of corruption and building public support for their efforts. However, the question of how to establish good working relationships with the media was of deep concern.
Economists dominate international development, and, in the case of the World Bank, well, that is an instance of full spectrum dominance. In an article in Public Choice (2010) 142:1-8, titled 'Persuasion, slack, and traps: how can economists change the world?', Bryan Caplan has some bad news as well as some good news.
The bad news is a restatement of the argument of his The Myth of the Rational Voter (Caplan 2007): "I argue that economically inefficient policies survive by popular demand. The public systematically misunderstands economics - and probably many other policy relevant subjects - leading voters to support policies contrary to their best interests. I also maintain that the public's misconceptions are, in a sense, wilful. Most people embrace political and economic beliefs on the basis of their emotional appeal, not dispassionate analysis."
On Monday this week, I went to a presentation by Michael Buehler at the Center for Strategic &International Studies in Washington, DC. The title of his talk, “Of Geckos and Crocodiles: Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Efforts,” piqued my curiosity as I had blogged about Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission earlier this year. Buehler began by giving a comprehensive overview of Indonesia’s corruption eradication measures since 1998 to date, outlining the passage of corruption-related laws and regulations, establishment of independent anti-corruption bodies, and development of anti-corruption programs. He then gave an analysis of the anti-corruption bodies, programs and their weaknesses, chronicled the work of the country’s anti-corruption commission (called the Corruption Eradication Commission, or “KPK” for short in Indonesian), and described the achievements and challenges facing anti-corruption efforts in Indonesia.
If we had to name one reason why petty corruption is so difficult to tackle, it has to be that it makes sense for people to engage in it than not. Unlike measures such as smoking bans, seatbelt laws, and drinking and driving laws where there is a clear individual benefit to those who do the “right thing,” corruption bans are hard to enforce because there aren’t easily discernible individual benefits to those who obey them. Rather, in countries where corruption is systemic, people who do what is right and follow whatever anti-corruption law might be in place will find themselves losing out to those who don’t.
In fact, with corruption, individual opinion doesn’t seem to matter much in one’s decision whether to engage in it. In theory, most people believe that corruption is wrong. But in practice, the incentive that motivates an individual’s behavior in a corruption-prone situation is their perception of what everyone else would do in a similar situation. Would your pregnant colleague pay a bribe so that she could jump the queue and get an H1N1 vaccination when the vaccines are in limited supply? Would your neighbor, an entrepreneur, slip a few notes to a civil servant under the table to expedite the process of obtaining a business license? If the answer to each of these questions is a “yes,” then why should you bother going against the system alone? Why should you do the right thing and find yourself at a disadvantage to everyone else who will do what it takes to obtain what they need given the environment and culture in which they live?
Yesterday, CommGAP and UNODC co-hosted a side event during the Third Conference of the State Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, taking place this week in Doha, Qatar. Entitled, “Media Relations and Good Practices in Awareness-Raising Campaigns,” the event consisted of two sessions, focusing on the importance of media relations for an anti-corruption agency to get its message across to the public and generate public support, and of awareness raising campaigns to engage the public in the fight against corruption.
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." -Thomas Jefferson
Thoughtful comments to my recent post on approaches to fighting petty corruption sparked for me an interesting discussion with Sina Odugbemi about norms, public opinion and law. Mainly, our talk centered on the following “chicken or the egg” issue: Do you adopt laws first and ask citizens to obey them? Or, do you gauge public opinion around an issue first, then adopt a law that reflects that society’s prevailing view on that issue? No matter how you dice it, the enforcement of that law would be easier when it conforms to majority opinion as opposed to when it does not.