A scholarly study of corruption in the larger context of societal growth and development
Corruption is no longer a word and has become a noise. Debates on corruption have reached high decibel levels and the world is no closer to solutions. Given the complexity, there are as many views as there are participants. Some speak from high moral pedestals like those from the rich, donor countries. It is no surprise that the lead was given by the World Bank with its anti-corruption programs in the late 1990s. The Bank and its staff began to ride over recipient countries with heavy brooms and sought to enter territories not within their writ.
There was fear that the Bank ran the risk of getting “politicised” and drifting from its main role. Many including the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group had criticised the Bank’s programmes and achievements. Despite global disenchantment over the Bank’s record, it has persisted with its efforts. As a consequence, global debates on corruption issues have been overly washed by the Bank’s documents stereotyping governance issues in developing countries.
There is an urgent need to lift the level of discussions and study the issues more comprehensively. The book under review Handbook of Global Research and Practice in Corruption is a timely antidote to the kind of banal research undertaken in the Bank. It is the result of years of research undertaken by a team of authors who are academics, lawyers, criminologists, public policy specialists, and so on. The authors have no pre-set agenda and their endeavour is to understand and unravel the phenomenon in various forms and mutations.
As explained in the introductory chapter, “the book provides a multi-disciplinary and international account of corruption and its control from the perspectives of public policy, criminal law and criminology, as well as considering principles of prevention and control of corruption in both the public and private sectors across the globe.” The attempt is also “to examine how legal and policy responses have been created to deal with the problems of corruption that arise not only in new and developing economies, but also in Western democratic regions that … continue to fall prey to corrupt practice in government and business.” (Emphasis added.) Corruption, as a phenomenon, is studied in the larger context of societal growth and development. The authors reveal a very high level of scholarship with dedication and detachment.
The book is divided into three parts: Contextualising corruption; Corruption in Practice; and Prevention and Control of Corruption. The range and scope of issues examined are encyclopaedic. It is not practicable to cover them all in a short review. Hence the attempt is selective and picks a few of the vignettes from its pages.
An early part of the book surveys three generations of methods to measure corruption and concludes that corruption is far too complex and “there are no silver bullets for measuring corruption.” The researchers in the World Bank may not be amused over such an assessment!
The book excels by providing case studies on corruption. This is through close examination of some areas prone to corruption. Public procurement is the topper and for obvious reasons. Though the author suggests the need for establishing clear and adequate legal regulatory framework, he concedes that extra and consistent vigilance has to be exercised by all corners of society.
There is a fascinating study of a scandal which rocked Australia and led to the fall of a government. The charge was that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) circumvented the sanctions against Iraq in the Oil-for-Food Programme. The author (Linda Courtenay Botterill) handles the complicated story deftly and dispassionately. The dilemma was that while export of wheat to Iraq was not illegal, violation of UN sanction was immoral. For AWB, export of wheat to Iraq was in the national interest. The international community’s attachment to Iraq sanction was not total as there were humanitarian implications.
The chapter “Corruption and Crime in Forestry” (W.B. Magrath) narrates corruption in newer areas and extends it to ‘mining.’ The author posits the hypothesis of “natural resource crisis.” Broadly, there are attempts to capture valuable public resources for private ends. It creates a nexus and long periods of corruption weaken regulatory structure and ultimately lead to ‘state capture.’ It may also explain the ‘illegal mining’ syndrome prevailing in some states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Prevention and control
The role of Offshore Financial Centres (OFCs) in helping various forms of money laundering, tax dodging, etc. is covered in one chapter (David Chaikin). It is in striking contrast to the studies in other agencies like the IMF. After examining closely the operations of OFCs and their links with onshore banks, it makes a strong plea for regulating OFCs. More significantly, he adds, “merely targeting OFCs for increased regulation is unlikely to be successful unless it is accompanied by new regulatory and enforcement measures against powerful onshore clients, professionals and players.”
The analysis of corruption issues in diamond trade is profound and goes deep into the history and intricacies of the trade. “Blood Diamond” became a battle cry to regulate the trade. The formulation of Kimberley Guidelines under UN auspices did make diamond respectable for giants like DeBeers. However, as the author says, “indirectly the Kimberley Process created new forms of organized crime activities.”
The third part deals with global measures to prevent and control corruption. There are chapters on UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC); on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Conventions on Bribery; efforts made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF); Anti-Corruption laws in Montenegro and Hong Kong; and protection for Whistleblowers. These are detailed and informative. However, the authors are not dreamy-eyed and maintain objectivity. For instance, while analysing the UNCAC, they refer to the lack of agreement on date among members on reviewing its implementation or to ensuring that the implementation is on track. Commitment to UNCAC is more formal and the political will is still lacking among the members to ensure proper implementation.
On FATF they have no hesitation in saying it, “remains an exclusive club representing a number of influential members.” On the question of the role for whistleblowers, the study is deep and finely nuanced. The challenge is in getting the right balance between legislative framework for whistle-blowing and flexible effective arrangements for its implementation. This is not easily achieved in many social milieus.
On all accounts, this book is an intellectual accomplishment of high order. It blends scholarship with professional expertise. It is analytical, and tentative, not dogmatic, in its recommendations. The authors suggest new areas for further research. They hold the balance evenly between developed and developing countries. The book is a valuable guide to policymakers and professionals who have to handle corruption-related issues.