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Transparency

The things we do: Why do conspiracy theories thrive?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Girl receiving oral polio vaccine in IndiaIndividuals who believe in conspiracy theories are often disregarded as 'paranoid' and 'irrational', but social science research indicates that they engage in psychological processes that we all do. The difference lies their unusual distrust of authority.

Conspiracy theories abound!  Rumors are whispered, discrepancies in a story are seized upon, and the official version of events is discredited.  Then, an alternate explanation is proposed and evidence is gathered to support it.

While there is no formal, generally-accepted understanding of a ‘conspiracy theory’, they are usually considered to be an explanation for an event that is not the most plausible account and which postulates unusually sinister and competent conspirators carrying out the conspiracy.  Conspiracy theories are usually based on weak evidence, are self-insulating from fact, and sensationalize the actors or the implications of the event.

Contrary to what we might think, many of the people who follow conspiracies aren’t crazy.  They are actually skeptics, they just happen to be selective with their doubt.   According to research, individuals that believe in conspiracy theories tend to favor a worldview in which people are prone to misbehave (or behave downright evil) and in which elites exercise omnipotence.

Your summer PPP beach reading

Geoffrey Keele's picture

As you prepare to take off for summer travels to parts unknown, leave your paperbacks behind and take that stack of must-read magazines to the recycling bin, because I’ve compiled a selection of recent articles related to PPPs that will engage, educate and inspire. It’s also intended to answer some common questions – because many people are not fully aware of the complexities of PPPs and how risks are shared between the public and private sectors.

For those in search of a broader perspective on how PPPs contribute to global development, their challenges and their potential, these articles will give you something to think about before, during and after your vacation.
 
Transparency is always an important issue, whether we are talking public procurement or PPPs, and there has been a push recently for all government contracts to be made public. The argument is that transparency not only inhibits corruption and builds trust in governments, but can help improve the contracts themselves. For example, in Slovakia, the publication of contracts led to a 50 percent increase in the average number of bids on government tenders. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, it reduced variation and lowered average prices for hospital supplies.

In this editorial, the authors make their case. But what does this mean for PPPs, where openness and commercial confidentiality must find a balance? Can the two be reconciled?

What if we disclosed everything?

Marcos Siqueira's picture
One day in 2012, when I was the head of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Unit in a subnational government in Brazil, I woke up at 7:00 am to my phone ringing. I was surprised to see that it was the State Governor calling me – not his assistant but him, personally. He was not happy and had a very direct question: Why are today’s newspapers saying that one of our most successful PPP projects is failing to meet quality standards?
 
Image: www.e-builder.net

The day before I received the Governor’s phone call, I had ordered disclosure of full performance reports for all PPP projects on our website. This was the first time that any government had done that in Brazil. The particular project that the Governor had mentioned was a toll road that scored 83 percent in the previous trimester[1]. This was a fantastic score from a technical perspective. Besides, the performance indicators that we used were created to maintain incentives for improvement over the life of the contract. It was never meant for the private party to score 100 percent. Unfortunately, the news reporter did not understand this and didn’t invest time to ask – so I received the governor’s call. At that moment I knew I had a very strong case to make.

From my experience of more than eight years managing transactions and capacity building programs in Latin America and Africa, a radical approach to transparency is the key to enable PPPs to deliver more and better infrastructure services. In other words, I am fully convinced that opacity is the shortest route PPP projects can take towards the expensive failures mentioned by Laurence in his inaugural blog post.

The crude truth is that opaque PPP policies serve a lot of interests, but almost none of them benefit service users or taxpayers.  Here are some of the key points on transparency in PPPs, from my perspective:

Structured dialogue, value chain and competitiveness: A journey through implementation, from Copenhagen to Kabul

Steve Utterwulghe's picture



Afghanistan. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe.

This latest blog post should start with a mea culpa. Indeed, my 2015 work plan for public-private dialogue (PPD) did start in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, not Copenhagen. However, who can swear that he never tweaked a title a tiny bit to make it catchier?
 
While Dushanbe hosted the very productive First Regional PPD Forum in the “stans,” the 8th Global PPD Workshop took place in March in the Danish capital. There, “more than 300 representatives from governments, private enterprises, PPD coordination units, investors’ councils, competitiveness partnerships, civil society, business organizations, and various development partners participated in the event. They represented 54 countries and a total of 40 PPD initiatives who joined the event to share their experiences and discuss lessons learned.”
 
High-powered individuals kick-started the Copenhagen event, including HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who reiterated that, to make a difference in the world, “it will take partnerships across countries, governments, and between public and private sectors.”
 
Once the keynote speeches had been delivered, the real work began among the delegates and with the PPD experts. I jumped from impromptu coffee break to coffee break and strategized with the Côte d’Ivoire delegation on how to prepare for the National Day of Partnership/Dialogue in Abidjan; discussed ways to better involve the private sector in Morocco; debriefed with the Guinea Minister of Industry, SMEs and Private Sector Promotion on how the PPD structure that we helped put in place is strengthening the local value chain for extractive industries (see below); and moderated an engaging session on public-private dialogue in fragile states and conflict-affected countries (FCS), which provided great insights as I prepared to fly out on PPD missions to Somalia and Afghanistan.
 
Aside from the buzz of international gatherings, what really matters for the delegates, from both governments and the private sector, is to get inspired and bring back home ideas that can be adapted locally and successfully implemented. Public-private dialogue is an art defined by some fundamental core principles that can be adjusted according to specific needs and environments.
 
As a reminder, PPD refers to the structured interaction between the public and private sectors to promote the right conditions for private sector development. Its ultimate function is to contribute to a prosperous economy by expanding market opportunities and enabling private initiative. This is also very much the mission of the new World Bank Group Global Practice on Trade & Competitiveness (T&C). Its Senior Director, Anabel Gonzales, wrote in one of her blog posts on Trade and Development in Africa that fostering competitiveness and strengthening supply chains is a key to development and an integral part of T&C’s offering.
 
As I reflected on the links between structured multi-stakeholder dialogue, competitiveness and supply chains, I remembered a Harvard Business Review article written by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, entitled Strategy and Society: The Link between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility.
 
What particularly caught my attention at the time was the theory on interdependence between companies and society that the Harvard professors put forward. They argued that this interdependence takes two forms: the social impact that a company’s activities has on society, or “inside-out linkages,” and the social influences on the company’s competitiveness, or “outside-in linkages.”
 

Accountability inside out & outside in

Rosemary McGee's picture

 Zackary Canepari / Panos​In our eagerness to be constructive, we who work for accountable governance from our comfort zones in the global north sometimes forget what it’s like to live with a deeply unaccountable state.  I don’t just mean finding that the party we voted for has since done a U-turn on a pre-election policy promise (a sensitive issue in the UK this week as the hotly contested general elections loom). I mean being a citizen within a state that has a history of torturing and massacring its citizens.  For instance, how does it sound to a Guatemalan indigenous community when an international agency urges it to hold its state to account through ‘constructive engagement’?

At IDS on 30 April, Making All Voices Count’s Research, Evidence and Learning component hosted the third workshop in a series focused on accountability, organised jointly with the Transparency & Accountability Initiative and the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability. We chose as a theme The Quest for citizen-led accountability: Looking inside the state.  Libraries overflowing with literature on the state and its institutions haven’t proven very useable for social actors who see the state within an ‘accountability politics’ frame[1], and come at it in campaigning mode.  This event brought together some of the scholars who’ve written that literature with some of those social actors who lead and support those rights-claiming processes, to unpack the state in ways that might help citizen-led accountability struggles gain purchase.

Sharing the most politically nuanced analysis of accountability that has ever been developed under World Bank auspices, Anu Joshi (IDS) and Helene Grandvoinnet (Lead Social Development Specialist, World Bank) offered a series of reflections, insights and devices for digging down inside of “context” so as to understand what makes state actors tick.  Their work points to what can be learnt by applying to state actors – individual and collective – what we already know about citizen actors – individual and collective.  Among these are the notion that power relations are at work not only between citizens and the state, but between one state actor and another; and that for governance to become more responsive and accountable, state officials may need to be empowered or mobilized at least as much as they need to be informed.  Here was ‘the state’ viewed on the inside, and from the inside looking out.
 

Rebuilding trust in governments through Open Contracting

Luis Vélez Pretelt's picture


Building trust between citizens and governments is crucial to successfully address, in a collaborative and engaged manner, many of the issues that affect the everyday lives of citizens, like corruption, government inefficiency and lack of service delivery.

Recent data, however, has shown that trust between citizens and governments ranks low.

In fact the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer stated that the number of “truster countries” are at an all-time low, reflecting a general decline of people’s trust in institutions of governments, NGOs, business and media.

Blog post of the month: Five myths about governance and development

David Booth's picture

Cyclists in VietnamEach month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In March 2015, the clear winner was "Five myths about governance and development" by David Booth of the Overseas Development Institute.

In some areas of development policy, deep-rooted assumptions are extremely hard to dislodge. Like science-fiction androids or the many-headed Hydra, these are monsters that can sustain any number of mortal blows and still regenerate. Capable researchers armed with overwhelming evidence are no threat to them.
 
The importance of good governance for development is one such assumption. Take last month’s enquiry report on Parliamentary Strengthening by the International Development Committee of the UK parliament. It references the UN High Level Panel’s opinion that ‘good governance and effective institutions’ should be among the goals for ending global poverty by 2030. It would have done better to reference the evidence in 2012’s rigorously researched UN publication Is Good Governance Good for Development?
 
Here are five governance myths about which the strong scientific consensus might – eventually – slay some monsters.

Piggybanks for plunder: Corrupt cash flows to Global Cities, requiring transparency and complete disclosure of assets

Christopher Colford's picture



Corrupt cash from secretive international sources – deliberately funneled through ‘shell companies’ to conceal the money’s illicit origins – is often used to buy ‘Towers of Secrecy’ in leading global cities like New York, as documented by a recent New York Times investigation.

Cities exert a magnetism that’s irresistible – attracting not just the most ambitious who seek economic opportunity and the most creative who revel in cultural richness, but also lawbreakers and looters: notably nowadays, the corrupt kleptocrats and tax-avoiding oligarchs whose hot money increasingly flows into the safe haven of prime real estate in the world’s leading cities.

At least part of the trend toward soaring center-city property prices, according to many anticorruption monitors, is due to the impact of illicit financial flows. It’s not just the plutocratic One Percenters who are steadily bidding up real-estate valuesPlunderers and profiteers – often concealing their identities, with the aim of shielding their wealth from tax authorities and international asset-trackers – use prestigious parcels of center-city property as a piggybank to shelter their tainted lucre.

The most vibrant and most competitive of Global Cities – notably London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore – have long been magnets for money, luring the world’s most enterprising entrepreneurs as well as its most desperate refugees. As their global vocation and vitality have lured the ambitious and the avaricious, however, the “priced out of Paris” syndrome has often taken over: Gentrification has morphed into “plutocratization,” notes Simon Kuper of The Financial Times, with “global cities turning into vast gated communities where the One Percent reproduces itself.”

Meanwhile, “the middle classes and small companies [are] falling victim to class-cleansing," Kuper asserts. "Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos” – with the middle class and the poor being driven ever-further out from the center-city in search of affordable housing, doomed to interminable commutes to sterile suburbs or brooding banlieues.

Most of the property price spiral in world-leading cities is surely attributable to the allure of cosmopolitan life in an age when urbanization is accelerating worldwide. But as two members of the World Bank Group’s unit on Financial Market Integrity (FMI) and the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative recently wrote in a StAR blog post, the melt-up of prime property prices often involves corrupt money and evasive property-registration practices.

Citing a recent New York Times investigative series that meticulously documented suspicious practices within Manhattan real-estate trends, FMI specialists Ivana Rossi and Laura Pop noted that the property-buyers “took several steps to hide their identity as the real owners of the properties. Some of these steps involved buying condos through trusts, limited liability companies or other entities that shielded their names. Such tactics made it very hard to identify the 'beneficial owner': to figure out who owned what, or who was the ultimate controller of a company (or other legal entities) since the names were not shown in the company records.”

Vast sums are flowing unchecked around the world as never before – whether motivated by corruption, tax avoidance or investment strategy, and enabled by an ever-more-borderless economy and a proliferation of ways to move and hide assets,” said the painstaking New York Times investigation, "Towers of Secrecy," by Louise Story and Stephanie Saul.

Probing “the workings of an opaque economy for global wealth,” the reporters excavated the substrata of this enduring scandal. “Lacking incentive or legal obligation to identify the sources of money, an entire chain of people involved in high-end real-estate sales – lawyers, accountants, title brokers, escrow agents, real-estate agents, condo boards and building workers – often operate with blinders on.”

In a moment of inadvertent self-revelation, a Manhattan real-estate broker confessed her look-the-other-way negligence “when vetting buyers: ‘They have to have the money. Other than that, that’s it. That’s all we need.’ ” A former executive of a property-development firm was equally blunt: “You pretty much go by financial capacity. Can they afford it? They sign the contract, they put their money down with no contingency, and they close. They have to show the money, and that is it. I don’t think you will find a single new developer where it’s different.”

No wonder that the upper reaches of the U.S. real-estate market are “more alluring for those abroad with assets they wish to keep anonymous,” the Times analysis found. “For all the concerns of law-enforcement officials that ‘shell companies’ can hide illicit gains, regulatory efforts to require more openness from these companies have failed.”      

The Times’ discoveries, asserted Rossi and Pop, thus underscore the important issues involved in asset disclosure and "beneficial ownership” rules. Many nations require that public officials fully disclose their financial holdings. Such transparency is one important safeguard against the plundering of public wealth by kleptocrats, corrupt clans or well-connected cronies in countries that are vulnerable to chronic larceny.

Yet some dishonest public officials exploit legal loopholes – or flout the law entirely: “As the StAR publication ‘Puppet Masters’ demonstrated, those that do engage in corrupt activities are likely to use entities such as companies, foundations and trusts to hide their ill-gotten wealth,” wrote Rossi and Pop. “These conclusions are also confirmed by a recent Transparency International UK report. It showed that 75 percent of UK properties in the UK, under criminal investigation since 2004 – as the suspected proceeds of corruption – made use of offshore corporate secrecy to hide the owner’s identities.”

Drawing on a new World Bank Group report (which they co-authored with Francesco Clementucci and Lina Sawaqed), “Using Asset Disclosure for Identifying Politically Exposed Persons,” Rossi and Pop argued that accurate and complete financial disclosure by officials in positions of public trust (known in the financial-integrity world as “Politically Exposed Persons”) are an essential safeguard against the diversion of assets. Such disclosures, by themselves, don’t provide a “magic bullet” solution to prevent corruption, yet they are a vital mechanism in building transparency and trust.

“Once there is an ongoing investigation, the information declared can be very helpful as evidence, both in what has been included as well as omitted,” wrote Rossi and Pop. “In many countries, intentionally leaving out information on a house or a bank account carries serious penalties. Furthermore, financial disclosures can help catch a dishonest public official whose lavish lifestyle – including real estate in a prized location – could not be supported by the resources, such as a public-sector salary, indicated in the declaration.” The key factor in ensuring integrity and combating corruption is thus the full disclosure of “beneficial ownership.”

Property prices in Global Cities are already being propelled upward by the gusher of money that is flooding, through fully legal channels, into the world’s most desirable and stable locations – thus threatening to put affordable housing, in many major cities, beyond the reach of all but the fortunate few. The last thing that already-unaffordable cities need is an unchecked flood of illicit billions and furtive real-estate transactions, which will only intensify the pressure that now threatens to create a renewed boom-and-bust cycle of unstable housing prices.

Urban advocates who are working to promote inclusive, sustainable, resilient and competitive cities will applaud the continued vigilance of asset-trackers and corruption-hunters – like the FMI and StAR units, through their work sans frontières
on the disclosure of beneficial ownership – whose efforts to halt illicit financial flows will provide an additional instrument to help ensure that cities will be as inclusive as possible in a relentlessly urbanizing age.

 

#TakeOn Corruption


Five myths about governance and development

David Booth's picture

In some areas of development policy, deep-rooted assumptions are extremely hard to dislodge. Like science-fiction androids or the many-headed Hydra, these are monsters that can sustain any number of mortal blows and still regenerate. Capable researchers armed with overwhelming evidence are no threat to them.
 
The importance of good governance for development is one such assumption. Take last month’s enquiry report on Parliamentary Strengthening by the International Development Committee of the UK parliament. It references the UN High Level Panel’s opinion that ‘good governance and effective institutions’ should be among the goals for ending global poverty by 2030. It would have done better to reference the evidence in 2012’s rigorously researched UN publication Is Good Governance Good for Development?
 
Here are five governance myths about which the strong scientific consensus might – eventually – slay some monsters.

Your salary is on the web: quantifying transparency and other intangibles

Abir Qasem's picture

open data on the internetWe came across this article that took a very unorthodox position against the axiom “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The “argument” (with a dose of ad hominem) states: “That’s BS on the face of it, because the vast majority of important things we manage at work aren’t measurable, from the quality of our new hires to the confidence we instill in a fledgling manager”. This was followed up by “The good news is that we manage these unmeasurables perfectly well without any need for yardsticks”. Had this been an article on a “clickbait” site, where an unorthodox position is often taken without support or forethought just to get the clicks, we could have just moved on. But this was Forbes.

We have put quotes around the term argument above because cogent arguments do not start with “That’s BS.” It also provides only two examples of unmeasurables: 1) “quality of our new hires” and 2) “confidence we instill in a fledgling manager” to convince readers that a majority has been demonstrated by the author. It is also incorrect to assume that most people “manage these unmeasurables perfectly well.” In fact, we posit most of us (with conscience) will have an extremely hard time making serious decisions (for example, promoting someone or cancelling a project) based on “unmeasurable” indicators.

Measurement of intangibles is hard to do. Even when it is done, such measurement would necessarily be a rough proxy of reality. There is no disagreement from us on this. None at all. However, to account for them would be vastly better than ignoring them completely because in the absence of measurements (even if they are fuzzy), fallacious rhetoric sneaks in and objectivity disappears. We go back to the Forbes article again to support this hypothesis: it uses the term “vast majority”,which can be easily replaced with a quantifiable term (e.g 80% of our managerial decisions).


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