CAN THE STUDY OF CORRUPTION BE INNOVATED? Transparency International Zimbabwe preparations for 2015 Annual State of Corruption Report
The 2015 Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) Annual State of Corruption Report (ASCR) will focus on what has fuelled corruption, what impact has it had, and what practical recommendations can be made. Thus a good understanding of the corruption and its drivers, impacts, and remedies will make the report accessible to a wider audience.
A possible approach to studying corruption in a way that mobilizes the general public can be strengthened if its authors can show readers that they have a good understanding of the society they are studying.
Invited to critique the proposed study methodology and nominated as a reviewer of the report once produced, I took the approach of exploring issues that the study could tackle in terms of what should be (a) avoided, (b) promoted, (c) watched out for, and (d) strengthened.
(A) TO BE AVOIDED
1. LCD. Tendency across Africa to approach a Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) approach when comparing how a country is faring compared to its neighbours; and expressions of satisfaction as long as the neighbours are doing worse (be it corruption, violence, hunger, or whatever measure of development is under consideration).
2. Accommodation of corruption. In societies where resources acquired through corrupt practices are then invested locally have a tendency to be more accommodative of corruption by comparing themselves with societies where the proceeds of corruption are externalized and invested in safe havens and out of legal reach by local administrations. Jobs and economic benefits accruing from the investment of such resources can lead to local excuses and acceptance.
3. Weak enforcement frameworks. While many countries have in place anti-corruption laws, sanctions are often weak, and the regulatory environment inadequate in terms of enforcement.
(B) TO BE PROMOTED
1. HCF. Instead of LCD, adoption of a Highest Common Factor (HCF) approach by comparing performance with the best in the neighbourhood and aiming to do better. Thus, the study should benchmark itself against the country with least corruption in the sub-region. The LCD approach tends to promote a “Culture of Acceptance” when dealing with corruption as citizens give up on being able to doing anything and instead “throw their hands in the air”.
2. Putting good rules in place. In environments where rules are weak and inadequate safeguards for resource use in place, an environment that promotes corrupt practices can prevail and even encourage honest people to engage in activities that lead to corruption.
3. Social entrepreneurship. The growth of social entrepreneurship around the world has had positive impacts on the fight against corruption as young innovators develop tools that monitor, report, and maintain debates on accountability over resource use, service provision, and shortcomings of leadership at all levels.
4. Rules and laws that promote justice. Where citizens consider rules and laws unfair, breaking them becomes acceptable and is even promoted by citizens. For instance, Africans who broke colonial rules often got community support: especially where the colonial administrator put in place an unfair law and then proceeded to appoint judges and policemen to enforce the law – which although lawful was unjust.
5. Shine a light on corruption. Officials and citizens carry out corruption behind closed doors and dislike visibility; hence finding ways to expose these practices as well as showing how and where such practices take place is important.
6. Understand social base of corruption. Corruption does not take place in a vacuum and understanding its social base is important. A clear exposition of these dynamics can assist citizens put corruption and ways to tackle it in place.
7. Good leadership. The inclination of citizens is to believe leaders who promise to fight corruption; but trust is quickly lost when citizens discover that their leaders are for “anti-corruption during the day” and “bribe takers at night”. A case in point was when Kenyans welcomed Government anti-corruption policies after 2002, only to discover that corruption continued to grow and was accepted by higher leadership levels. Citizens then went from harassing petty policemen who took small bribes to focusing on the culture of “it is our turn to eat” so eloquently articulated in the anti-corruption publication of John Githong’o – and belief with hope had given way to disillusionment!
(C) TO BE WATCHED OUT FOR
1. Theft versus Corruption. One view from discussions in Africa is that the collection of bribes to deliver a service is corruption; but becomes theft when full payment for services and goods is received and no delivery takes place. It is not clear if Zimbabwean corruption has escalated from petty to major corruption; or has transitioned into theft.
2. Cost of corruption. This is often measured in money terms, but measurement should also move into lives and other measures. For instance, if sub-standard water treatment chemicals or drugs are supplied, should resulting deaths not be attributed to the corruption? Similarly, when power utilities fail to deliver power to hospitals, where should accountability for any deaths or losses to the economy be?
3. State versus Societal Corruption. Societal corruption is sometimes passed over in the name of culture – a traditional Chief who demands and gets livestock for settling a dispute might be seen as part of cultural conflict resolution costs; but becomes State Corruption if the same Chief becomes an employee of the State and asks for the same livestock. Equally, when traditional exchange of gifts goes into State-government procedures, citizens might start off accepting the demand “for something small”, but becomes unacceptable when “small” becomes “large and then everything”. This transition of corruption from cultural to State practices is an area for further exploration; and understanding such power dynamics is important.
4. Corruption versus State failures. State can lose revenue on account of deliberate efforts by some citizens to gain unfair benefits; but it can also be due to inadequate State regulations and capacities to collect due taxes. State failure creates conditions for corruption – an important lesson from “narco States” in Latin America.
(D) TO BE STRENGTHENED
1. Diagnostics. Clearly-defined variables for analysis will strengthen study results and help the reader differentiate between subjective and objective study findings.
2. Evidence-based foundation. A sound situation analysis that lays out facts about corruption will assist and strengthen evidence-based discussions and follow on actions.
3. Scope for citizen interpretations. It will not be sufficient for the report to address issues that are of concern to the elite (local and international), or the better organized urban residents. The inclusion of issues that are important to rural populations (e.g. distribution of agricultural inputs, allocation of land parcels, behaviour of government officials far away from their supervisors in urban centres, etc.) will make for a strong and effective report that draws in citizens to interpret the findings.
4. Resonance with reality. Report findings should give citizens a chance to confirm a resonance between study findings and the reality these citizens experience in their lives.
5. New learnings. New dimensions of corruption that document issues that affect the majority of the population will make for a more effective report, especially if it captures insights from ordinary citizens and not just the views of activists.