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?
Often the best way to communicate information about some distant event, issue or trend is to embed the news in a story that focuses on the experience of an individual. Human incidents get the public’s attention—audiences identify with and react emotionally to stories about people.
Yet in the development sector, often the real news that needs to be told is not the human anecdotes but the statistics that have been collected. But how can a non-technical audience understand a bunch of numbers? How can the public see not only a trend, but a pattern, discover not just scale, but relationships?
The field of data visualization is exploding in importance as new technologies and software help government agencies speak to their constituencies, multilateral organizations to their member states, NGOs to their donors, media outlets to their viewers and readers. It now takes seconds to sift through reams of information and identify elusive patterns, locate important outliers, or confirm gut instincts. The connections that can be made are only limited by the creativity and insights of those who have access to the information.
I do not have to be Indian to feel the sense of sorrow and unfathomable injustice as this month the world remembers the Mumbai attacks of a year ago. Many times we seem to have shaken our pitiful heads and said “never again” after a grand scale terror attack, but still man continues to kill man for an increasingly bizarre list of reasons. Political pressure, ignorance, social emasculation, brainwashing and drug addiction are amongst the culprits.
In the year since Mumbai, across the region we have seen murderers in Pakistan turn on their own people – with a recent gruesome blast in a Peshawar market killing over 100, mainly women and children, with no real explanation that I could fathom. Again, I do not have to be Pakistani to feel a sense of sorrow.
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?