Anti-corruption: Analyses from the Wilson Center

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Recently, the Wilson Center highlighted the ongoing challenges of corruption in a collection of essays, Wilson Perspectives: Combatting Corruption. The series provides “snapshots” of how specific countries, in particular, Brazil, China, Russia and Guatemala are tackling (or not tackling) corruption. It includes an essay from a U.S. business leader who points to the anti-corruption provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a reason that Congress should pass the agreement. This post highlights several of the key essays in the collection.

In the introductory essay, “National Will, International Support, and the Fight against Corruption”, Meg Lundsager sets out the overarching theme of the essays:

Without strong national will to fight corruption, including prosecuting suspected officials up to the highest level, presidential directives and new laws will have little effect because corrupt officials who receive enticing gains find it unimaginable to look beyond their own vested interests toward the economic interest of their country as a whole.

John Engler, President of the Business Roundtable, in an essay, “In the Hunt for ‘Level Playing Field,’ Anticorruption Efforts Play a Major Role”, cited the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and its strict enforcement as setting a worldwide model for outlawing the bribing of foreign officials. He emphasizes the importance of multinational cooperation in fighting corruption and argues that the TPP is an “opportunity that must not be missed” with its embrace of such cooperation in strong anti-corruption and transparency provisions.

In “Brazilians Rise Against Corruption”, Paulo Sotero examines the extensive corruption that has been uncovered in Brazil over the past decade. It is centered on Petrobras, the state oil company, and involves a wide-range of politicians, business executives and associates, including from the country’s largest construction firms. He notes that a new generation of federal judges, prosecutors and police officials is leading the anti-corruption efforts, with the growing support of a public that is becoming less tolerant of corruption.

In the essay, “Russian Corruption: The Kremlin Fails to Tackle its Biggest Problem”, William Pomeranz and Matthew Rojansky assert that a “credible and thoroughgoing fight against corruption” that reaches to the highest levels of the government is the first step in structural reform needed to “jumpstart” the Russian economy. They note that Russian businesses are subject to more than 2 million government inspections every year under 100 regulatory regimes and argue that such extensive inspections offer “corrupt officials a perfect vehicle for extortion and abuse”. But, so far, Russia has not demonstrated the political will to mount an effective campaign against corruption.

In “The Mixed Rationales and Mixed Results of China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign”, Robert Daly points to a conceptual challenge underlying Chinese President Xi Jinping’s extensive anti-corruption campaign. While President Xi declares that only the Chinese Communist Party can “save China”, he is also warning that the Party’s “endemic corruption” is China’s greatest threat. The mixed rationales are causing confusion.

In “A Glimmer of Hope in Central America”, Eric L. Olson emphasizes the corruption and weak rule of law that plague El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But, he finds “a glimmer of hope” in the Guatemalan President’s resignation in 2015, as the consequence of five months of protests by ordinary Guatemalan citizens who were outraged over a scandal involving corrupt government officials. Reaching beyond Guatemala, this “historic case” reverberated in Honduras and El Salvador.

In “Can Africa Automate Its Way Out of Corruption?”, Elizabeth M. Ramey explores the potential for technology to provide a means of reducing corruption in Africa, which reportedly reaches $148 billion a year and represents 20% of the continent’s combined GDP. She notes that Kenya has lead in using technology to detect, report and prevent corruption. For example, in 2015, it instituted a digital electronic payments system, an Integrated Financial Management Information System across government agencies and eProcurement systems for the transparent award of government contracts and licenses. The results have been mixed.

Other essays explore corruption in the Middle East and North Africa, Afghanistan and small-island developing states exposed to the damages caused by climate change.

Jean Heilman Grier

June 7, 2016

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