The second day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance Programs', Cape Town, South Africa was marked by a sectoral turn. The substantive reflections and lesson-sharing of the day focused on the implementation of governance and anti-corruption programs at country level in sectors like health, education, transport, energy, and extractive industries. Now, these sectors are very different, but what is fascinating is that with regard to good governance the issues and challenges are amazingly similar. Let me explain.
There is growing Bank – CSO policy dialogue occurring via blogs which is generating unexpected thoughtful and frank exchange of views. The most recent case was a few weeks back when Justin Lin, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, was invited to be a guest blogger on the “From Poverty to Power” blog page maintained by Oxfam/GB’s Head of Research, Duncan Green. The exchange was on Justin’s recent paper "Growth Identification and Facilitation" on the role governments play in promoting economic growth. Many CSOs, such as Oxfam, feel that the Bank is undergoing a paradigm shift by now providing developing countries with more ‘policy space’ to design their own economic plans, including industrial policies to support nascent industries.
Their voice comes in minor or major key – as rap, folk or pop. Boy, they do have a voice, and they are raising it, as a citizen voice and as a singing voice. On voices-against-corruption.org music bands from around the world are making the pitch, in different languages and different sounds: Congolese and Philippine pop singers, Macedonian and Senegalese rappers, and beautiful Zimbabwean choruses are amongst the many bands that come together to support a global youth anti-corruption network and to help break the silence that still surrounds this pressing challenge in many of their home countries.
Greeks and Greek-Americans in the U.S. Diaspora, like myself, have been watching the strikes, demonstrations and tragic deaths that have brought our country to a standstill with mixed emotions. The images of Athens burning, tear gas rising and riot police clashing with citizens sharply contrast with images of white sandy beaches, beautiful islands, historic landmarks and mouthwatering cuisine that usually come to mind. Despite feelings of shock, sadness and even anger, to those who know Greek public political culture in its entirety, it is not surprising to most that this day would eventually come. Greek citizens, immigrants and those with strong ties to the country, admit the role that societal norms, mainly tax evasion, nepotism, clientelism and bribery (all very persistent in Greek public political culture) are in part responsible for bringing the country to the brink of collapse. For the past decade, Greek citizens did not heed warning their culture of corruption and the shadow economy could not sustain the system.
I was passing through Accra recently and while walking through the lobby of the hotel was stopped by a poster for a regional conference on Freedom of Information and at the same time ran into several colleagues and old friends. It was an interesting exercise to be very aware of an issue and personalities but be on the outside looking. The conference was well attended, drawn by the start power of former US president Jimmy Carter, his center and high level activist and political figures from Africa. The Carter Center which has been at the forefront of this work is able to draw attention to and raise the profile of the issue in West Africa.
But what did it all mean to local people? When I asked Ghanaians working or staying at the hotel about the conference, there was very high recognition but mostly it was linked to former President Carter. But the issue drew little recognition or excitement. Ghana did announce that after years of languishing on the books an FOI bill would be introduced into Parliament. But to the people outside of the conference this would have little impact on their daily lives. Their worries were much more about food, shelter, safety, schooling and the actions of the government in power on their lives.
Why don’t Finns worry about locking their bikes on a busy Helsinki Street? Why do Finnish skateboarders who advocate anarchy politely abide by traffic laws? Why indeed is Finland so uncorrupt? The answers to these questions are presented in a paper by Darren C. Zook called “The Curious Case of Finland’s Clean Politics,” which a colleague recently shared with me. Zook points out that, puzzlingly, most corruption literature today focuses on countries where corruption is rampant in order to document and examine incidents and causes of corruption. Instead of focusing on the bad news, he posits, why not learn from the “clean” countries? His paper examines Finland as a source of inspiration for a model of clean government.
As you can see from many of our blog posts, we're somewhat struggling with getting a good grip on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and their role for governance and accountability. We're also somewhat split along the lines of enthusiasm and scepticism with regard to the possibilities of using ICTs to straighten out a distorted public sphere and further development. This morning I learned about eProcurement, a very particular application of ICT in the context of government accountability, that seems to me a good argument in favor of us technology enthusiasts.
Today is Anti-Corruption Day, and the day prompts this reflection on aspects of the fight against corruption. I was at the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, Doha, Qatar, November 9-13. It was an opportunity to witness the debates around anti-corruption efforts, attend seminars and meet experts, officials as well as activists. Here are the impressions/conclusions that I came away with:
The recent release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) used to be as eagerly awaited by political leaders as chefs wait for the Michelin Guide’s ratings. Leaders of countries that move up the list or have improved their ratings were quick to announce the findings, taking all the credit for improvements. Leaders of countries whose ratings have fallen in the index did not seem as motivated to go public accepting responsibility or promising to improve.
The majority of the 180 countries included in the 2009 index score below five on a scale from 0 to 10. No country scored 0, perhaps signaling optimism even in the worst circumstances. Given the lack of progress among the most corrupt countries is anyone trying new ways to reduce corruption?
There are seminars you attend and you leave both depressed and inspired. Last week, I attended a seminar on the rules of the game - how things really work not how they are supposed to work - governing two sectors in an African country: forestry and wild life management. As with any kind of gritty political economy analysis, you learn how corruption networks work in a particular context, how they reach to the very top, and how intractable they are.