|Even if many of the costs of corruption is acknowledged, skeptics question whether fighting it is worth the bother. The "fatalist" camp often points out the dearth of successes in anticorruption drives and remarks that it took more than a century for England to bring corruption under control. But Hong Kong SAR and Singapore, for example, have shifted reasonably quickly from being very corrupt to being relatively clean. Botswana has been a model of propriety for decades. Chile has performed well for many years, and Poland and Uganda have recently made some progress toward controlling corruption.
Surveys of public officials and members of civil society in emerging economies may provide a useful perspective here as well: most respondents did not think highly of anticorruption watchdog bodies, rating their effectuality the lowest on a list of possible anticorruption measures (Chart 2). To be credible, they felt, such watchdog bodies needed to be created in a political environment characterized by honest leadership, insulation of civil servants from political interference, and revamped incentives that discouraged corruption. Otherwise, such bodies could easily be rendered useless or, worse, misused for political gain. The respondents emphasized the importance of economic liberalization and budgetary, tax, and regulatory reforms, soundly rejecting the notion that such reforms fuel corruption.
What are the most common features of these successes? Anticorruption watchdog bodies, such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong and smaller corruption-fighting institutions in Botswana, Chile, Malaysia, and Singapore, are often credited with much of the progress. In contrast, the broader economic and institutional reforms that have taken place simultaneously have not received sufficient credit. The government that came to power in Uganda in 1986 implemented a strategy encompassing economic reforms and deregulation, civil service reform, a strengthened auditor general's office, the appointment of a reputable inspector general empowered to investigate and prosecute corruption, and implementation of a public information campaign against corruption. Botswana is an example of a country with sound economic and public sector management policies that, once instituted, led to honest governance early on; its success has not been principally derived from the more recent advent of its anticorruption department.
In fact, survey respondents support the notion that corruption and lack of economic and public sector reform go hand in hand, with causality running in both directions. They thought their countries should have made more progress in implementing broad reforms and indicated that corruption and vested financial interests were key reasons for their slow progress. Respondents also brought up the challenges posed by international responsibility for part of the corruption experienced by many countries. While emphasizing first and foremost the domestic causes of corruption, many also indicated that bribery by foreign firms played a significant role. They thought that OECD member states should enforce antibribery legislation abroad and that international institutions should make curbing corruption a priority when providing assistance to their member countries. In sum, corruption is a symptom of fundamental economic, political, and institutional causes. Addressing corruption effectively means tackling these underlying causes. The major emphasis must be put on prevention--that is, on reforming economic policies, institutions, and incentives. Efforts to improve enforcement of anticorruption legislation using the police, ethics offices, or special watchdog agencies within government will not bear fruit otherwise.
The following are only some of the major economic policy changes that will unambiguously reduce opportunities for corruption: lowering tariffs and other barriers to international trade; unifying market- determined exchange rates and interest rates; eliminating enterprise subsidies; minimizing regulations, licensing requirements, and other barriers to entry for new firms and investors; demonopolizing and privatizing government assets; and transparently enforcing prudential banking regulations and auditing and accounting standards. The reform of government institutions may include civil service reform; improved budgeting, financial management, and tax administration; and strengthened legal and judicial systems. Such reforms should involve changing government structures and procedures, placing greater focus on internal competition and incentives in the public sector, and strengthening internal and external checks and balances. As a complement to these broader reforms, the careful and transparent implementation of enforcement measures, such as prosecuting some prominent corrupt figures, can also have an impact.
A comprehensive list of all possible anticorruption measures might include many not mentioned above. Emphasis should be placed on selecting the key measures to be implemented, in line with a country's implementation capabilities, during the first and subsequent stages of an anticorruption campaign. The entrenched nature of systemic corruption requires boldness in implementation--incrementalism is unlikely to work. Since windows of opportunity to take action against corruption have recently opened up in many countries, reformers will want to move quickly beyond the general first principles usually listed in the literature on corruption and instead demand practical, country-specific advice. After careful country assessments are prepared, specific policy and institutional advice will need to be provided. For instance, technocratic lessons are beginning to emerge as to how different privatization methodologies may contain greater or lesser opportunities for corruption, how the strengthening of banking regulations needs to reflect the particular lessons the country has learned about dealing with perverse political influences, and how specific innovations in procurement and bidding methods can reduce opportunities for corruption.
Finally--and perhaps of fundamen- tal importance for the next stage of both research on, and action against, corruption--practitioners need to search for the information gathering and dissemination methods that can have the quickest and most direct impacts. The Bangalore (India) NGO scorecard method, whereby users rated local service-providing agencies, has already resulted in firings of officials, improved service delivery, and a decreased incidence of bribery. Gathering data and publicizing the vastly different costs of publicly provided school lunches in various localities within a country have brought about government reforms not only there but also in other localities. The existence of a free press is of paramount importance. Both the introduction and the continuance of restrictive libel laws protecting politicians and public officials must be opposed to safeguard citizens' freedoms of expression and information. Indeed, however difficult and imperfect gathering data and disseminating information about corruption are, and will continue to be, the importance of these activities cannot be overstated. Secretiveness has helped elites and politicians keep corrupt practices under wraps in many countries. Careful analysis, presentation, and dissemination of data can be very effective in raising general awareness, creating momentum for reforms, and furthering our limited understanding of what does and does not work in efforts to control corruption.
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