The flaws in the Anti-Corruption Agenda and how to change it
In May 2016, the UK hosted the Anti-Corruption Summit in London, bring leaders from developed and developing nations as well as practitioners and interest groups. World leaders and academic penned various articles on their views and experiences in addressing corruption. The summit ended with a strong communique noting the evil nature of corruption on growth and society, and lots of proposed initiatives to combat corruption. It thus appears that corruption is an evil phenomenon that needs to be constantly fought and removed. This article however asserts that not all forms of corruption are detrimental to a country’s development and anti-corruption methods result in adverse effects on countries.
First, there is no strong definition of corruption. It may be said that corruption is “the abuse of public trust for private again”. However, the term “public trust” is too wide definitions as different parts of the public in a community have different degrees of trust to public officials or the government. Likewise, “private gain” has a diverse range of meanings as such gain could even be redistributed to the wider community. Following suit, the action of say an individual may in fact assist not hinder development. A bribe from a government official may or may not always end up with an inefficient producer. Likewise, a free market capitalist may not always use funding efficiently. Hence, it is not advisable to classify all forms as corruption as detrimental to growth. There may also be instances where local corruption where may in fact be conducive to growth. Ha-Joon Chang cites a case where an investor in Vietnam would be better off accepting a bribe since the common method would require extensive paperwork. This of course may not be the case in all countries. However, it indicates that each country has different social and political institutions or norms which shape the development of that area.
Second, previous and present efforts to address corruption have either not stopped it or in fact inhibited development in the country. A long standing view by donors is that the state should have little inference with economic activity. This longstanding approach especially during the 1980s to the 1990s in fact allowed private and government-owned firms to practice corrupt activities. In the post-Washington Consensus era, donors suggested the state intervene to ensure stronger property rights and rational economic transactions, or just “getting the institutions right”. This meant that the state would ensure a market-centric system would still continue on. Second, it meant that the same rigid framework was presented to developing countries. This constituted the “Good Governance Agenda”, which still did not help rectify corruption. In fact, it fostered new forms of corrupt activities such as “crony capitalism” which was prevalent in post-communist Eastern European countries and before and during the Asian Financial Crisis. The Good Governance Agenda has furthered been a signpost for aid recipients to adhere to in order receive aid, further setting conditions similar to those they faced in the 1980s. As with the Washington Consensus, this agenda actually inhibited economic growth. Yet this is the agenda used by political leaders from that time until this anti-corruption agenda.
The above indicates that corruption isn’t always anti-developmental in nature and efforts have not stopped corruption and stalled development. This article does not aim to let corruption still run rampant; rather new approaches are definitely needed. First, practitioners should not view all forms of corruption as evil or anti-developmental barriers. They must careful examine each different institutional context before implementing any counteracting measures. Second, a whole new approach is needed when address actual forms of corruption. Donors and governments should focus on the poor and equality when conducting anti-corruption measures. They should not just focus on market-centric or growth-enhancing anti-corruption measures. Third, there should be a change of operational culture within donor nations and organisations for a new anti-corruption approach. Practitioners in development organisations may still focus on the same methodology and ideas, despite a stated change in approach. Such an internal change may of course take a while to alter but it is necessary in order for a different approach towards corruption.
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