Sunday, April 10, 2016

Corruption - A Structural Issue?

Find below a couple of responses to Which Individuals Institutionalise Anti-Corruption?


Nice blog post! 

I had a couple thoughts reading it. I agree with you that individuals and their personal attitude definitely matter, particularly if we want to admit any room for individual agency in fighting corruption. And yet in general I think I see corruption as more of a structural issue. I've probably been over-influenced by recent writing by people like Khan, Whitfield, Gray, etc., but there is a large political economy literature emerging at the moment, which focuses on corruption in developing economies as discouraged/encouraged depending on the distribution of power among elites. 

As in, where you have a strong, centralized leadership, corruption may persist (in fact it's generally assumed that in most developing economies a degree of clientelism is almost inevitable), but if the leadership is interested in containing corruption, this will be possible as a result of the tight control exerted from the top level and also the institutions put in place to reinforce/further centralize that top level power. Countries like Rwanda (Behuria, ROAPE article) or Vietnam (Gray, African Affairs article) fit this model. By contrast, where the leadership is factionalized, you may have competing clientelist networks both engaging in corruption and effectively unable to hold each other accountable due to shared guilt (Tanzania pre-Magufuli according to Gray). 

So from this analysis, it appears what may prove most effective is a strong leadership that can centralize control and discourage corruption, and crucially (this is where individual attitudes come in), sees a value in doing so. There are plenty of cases of a strong, centralized leadership where all you end up with is a kleptocracy (Angola under Dos Santos might be an example of this, or maybe Gabon under Omar Bongo). 

Of course, there's something somewhat depressing about thinking a strong, centralized leadership is key to fighting corruption. It is not a very democratic vision. And I certainly think there are other, messier and more round about ways of progressively decreasing the scale of corrupt activities (in the US, for instance, clientelist politics seem to have slowly declined as a result of a multiplicity of factors, e.g. economic growth, a growing associational life, a more educated population, progressively stronger institutions, etc). 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts. Otherwise, really enjoyed the piece!


A very thought-provoking article. Interesting. But just a couple of comments:

1. In Mwl. Nyerere Tanzania probably had the person in your Group 1. Yet, after decades as President, Nyerere failed to build a serious group of followers. In fact, the very people that he annointed went on to become the main conductors of the corruption scheme. How do you reconcile this with the views expressed in the article?

2. I once attended a Christian businessmen seminar and during discussion time the question of bribes came up. While I initially thought that I would hear a very conservative position, akin to what you would expect from members of Group 1 but, alas, people had found ways to rationalise bribery. In my opinion, that would have been unthinkable 20 years earlier. One of the question which was asked was 'What if a family member was very sick and needed emergency care and the only way to get it was through bribes. Would you give it?' Even the Pastor responded affirmatively. The point is: these are not people I would consider to be predators. These are people who are very well grounded in their moral compasses but for some reason they have adopted what Prof. Joseph Fletcher had called a 'situational ethics'. In the most extreme cases, situation ethicists may rationalise murders. I think these people ought to be considered as survivors, possible the biggest victims of the situation they help sustain through their pragmatism. (I know of one contractor who had not won any contract for over a year and he went to a Pastor crying of the situation. You would think that the Pastor, who also owned a similar business, would tell him to persevere. He didn't. Over the years I have seen myself treading the same thin line between my conscience and situations, from being a hardline G1 to a pragmatic G1 - or G2?)

3. About those in Group 3, these are the people of whom I wrote that the behavioral conditioning principles of Edward Thorndike and B. F. Skinner apply. The stakes should be high. You comply, the rewards should be great and immediate. You don't, the punishments should be quite severe. What JPM was supposed to do was to go for several symbolic 'sacred cows'. In Nigeria Bukhari is going after military generals and the officers of the National Security Adviser. These are the sacred cows. But here in Tanzania I think evidence suggests that JPM is being partial - a respecter of persons in his anti-corruption crusade. As long as some people know that different rules apply to them, corruption will never be routed out. 

I tend to agree with those who believe that corruption is more of a structural issue. In Tanzania, its roots are entrenched in people's views of success and being clever. Apart from building institutions to combat it, it is important to do things which symbolise a surgical departure from the past. Public shaming of, and recovery of ill gotten assets from, the top leaders may be necessary. JPM has not mustered the guts to do so yet. We probably can link this with the de-Stalinasation process in USSR and a similar process against Mao's legacy in China as a break-away from the previous practices. So, the question 'which individuals institutionalise corruption' is apt. Those are the 'high places', 'exalted altars' which must be destroyed.


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