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:
My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.
--Barack Obama, January 2009
From the perspective of good governance, the Obama administration’s efforts at transparency and participation—to make government open to public scrutiny through (easy) access to government information and to engage the public in designing and improving government initiatives—are simply impressive. The President’s first executive action after taking office was the signing of the Memorandum of Transparency and Open Government. This memorandum signaled his commitment to open government based on three core values, clearly spelled out in the Memorandum and on the administration’s website:
"Consensus is the sign that [a] partial or complete understanding has been reached on a number of issues confronting the members of a group sufficient to entitle it to be called a society. It implies that a measure of agreement has been reached. The agreement, however, is neither imposed by coercion nor fixed by custom so as no longer to be subject to discussion. It is always partial and developing and has constantly to be won."
CommGAP's second-born has arrived! Yesterday we launched the second book in our series on governance and reform, this one baptized Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform (lovingly called "Sentinel" by all those who worked hard on getting this book published for the last year or so). Sentinel is edited by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Pippa Norris and is a collection of studies on whether and how the news media can support or even initiate significant reforms.
The leaders of Switzerland have a ticklish problem, one of the most difficult problems in political thought and practice. A clear majority of the Swiss have just voted to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland. 57.5 per cent of voters in 22 out of 26 cantons voted in the recent referendum to approve the ban. According to press reports, under Swiss law the ban will be added to the Constitution. Now, that is a major development, and, as you must know, the referendum result has proved controversial...to put it mildly. The impact will be felt for years to come. But I am not going to get into the issue. The Swiss have to sort this one out. What I am interested in is the fact that the leaders of government and business in Switzerland do not regard the referendum decision a wise one. According to the justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, while the referendum result 'reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies' and the concerns 'have to be taken seriously' still 'The Federal Council takes the view that a ban on construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies'.
"... intentions are our best single predictors of whether one will or will not perform a given behavior... according to a reasoned action approach, there are three primary determinants of intention: the attitude toward performing the behavior in question, normative influence or the amount of social pressure one feels vis-a-vis performing the behavior, and one's self-efficacy with respect to performing the behavior. The relative importance of these three psychological variables as determinants of intention will vary as a function of both the behavior and the population being considered. Thus, before developing interventions to change intentions, it is important to first determine the degree to which that intention is under attitudinal, normative, or self-efficacy control in the population in question. It should be clear that very different interventions are needed for attitudinally controlled behaviors than for behaviors that are under normative influence or are strongly related to feelings of self-efficacy. Clearly, one size does not fit all, and interventions that are successful in one culture or population may be a complete failure in another."*
-- In Memoriam: Martin Fishbein, 1936-2009
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.
I recently attended a brown bag on the Bangladesh Investment Climate Fund (BICF), an advisory facility that seeks to help improve the country’s investment climate. The International Finance Corporation’s Advisory Services team runs the initiative, generously supported by the UK’s Department for International Development and the European Commission.
Core program areas include regulatory reforms, economic zones, and capacity building and institutional strengthening. According to Syer Akhtar Mahmood, BICF’s Senior Program Manager, results include the following: a 50% reduction in property registration fees; an online system for business registration; effective consultation mechanisms to identify regulatory issues and recommend reforms; platforms for broad-based public-private dialogue on policy formulation and implementation; and a core group of mid-level government officials who have, among other things, generated notes on reform options and authored 10 articles/op-eds which, according to Mr. Mahmood, rarely happens in Bangladesh.
"Nonpublic opinions are at work in great numbers, and 'the' public opinion is indeed a fiction. Nevertheless, in a comparative sense the concept of public opinion is to be retained because the constitutional reality of the social-welfare state must be conceived as a process in the course of which a public sphere that functions effectively in the political realm is realized, that is to say, as a process in which the exercise of social power and political domination is effectively subjected to the mandate of democratic publicity."
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?