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.
We at CommGAP are interested in learning how to change social norms as key to fighting petty corruption. When looking at the issue of norms as they relate to corrupt practices, as with most issues, there are two sides to the petty corruption equation: citizens who pay bribes and public servants who accept them. A number of posts on this blog have dealt with the importance of getting citizens to view bribery as wrong. So what about public servants? How do you get them to stop demanding and accepting bribes from citizens?
A couple of interesting solutions to this question were found in Nepal and Kazakhstan, as reported by the BBC earlier this year. In Nepal, in order to fight petty corruption at its main international airport, the government planned to put in place an unusual measure: making airport employees wear pants without pockets to prevent them from taking bribes from travelers. In Kazakhstan, one of the government’s anti-corruption initiatives included making civil servants wear badges saying “I am against corruption,” in the hopes that those wearing such badges would think twice before demanding bribes.
On Facebook, I have noticed an interesting trend: some of my friends who are normally introverted and shy in person are a lot more vocal and seem to have fewer qualms about voicing their opinions on the site. They post status updates sharing their thoughts on issues, comment on others’ posts, and provide links to websites, articles, photos and videos about topics that they deem important, even creating interest-specific groups to attract those who are keen to participate in online discussions on key causes. Part of this phenomenon might be psychological. Maybe we feel a certain degree of safety on social networking sites because they give us the option not to have to engage in physical, face-to-face interactions with those who might disagree. On these interfaces, there is no need to worry about potentially negative consequences arising from differences in opinion, such as ridicule, humiliation, confrontation, and isolation. If social networking sites can embolden even the shiest of us to voice our true opinions, could they be the answer to breaking the spiral of silence on contested issues?
Transparency International’s 2009 Global Corruption Barometer, published last month, details the results of an opinion survey on the public’s perceptions and experiences of corruption and bribery around the world. The report contains many interesting findings, but the ones I found particularly notable were the following:
Part of my job is to give advice to teams working on different projects and initiatives in the broad areas of governance and accountability regarding what I like to think of as people-related challenges. And one of the commonest threads running through the initiatives I look at is the challenge of transplanting global norms. Think for a minute about the norms around good governance, around work on anti-corruption. In almost every case, initiatives involve a set of global norms that experts want developing countries to adopt.
The current, mainstream approach to anti-corruption work by the international community involves establishing a normative framework (such as the comprehensive United Nations Convention against Corruption) that details a set of recommended standards for countries to meet, requesting that countries ratify the framework, and assisting them in achieving these standards. The framework lists specific measures designed to help countries prevent and control corruption, such as the establishment of independent anti-corruption commissions, creation of transparent procurement and public financial management systems, and promotion of codes of conduct for public officials rooted in ethics and integrity, to name a few.
In both the developed and developing world, I've come across people in varying positions of power either hinting or stating in no uncertain terms that I would not receive a government service without "greasing the wheel." Despite wide disparities between low- and high- income country contexts, these experiences left the same bad taste in my mouth. But corrupt practices, including bribery, aren't equal and, in a larger sense, understanding the differences among them puts us in better stead in the global fight against corruption. In a previous post, CommGAP requested feedback on an anti-corruption learning event jointly organized with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One of the themes of the event will be the role of communication in shifting social norms toward condemning corrupt everyday practices.