TACKLING CORRUPTION AT THE SYSTEMIC LEVEL

by Dennis Blease · September 27th, 2011.

Nicholas Seymour's blog on tackling corruption makes for interesting reading.  Transparency International has undoubtedly gained much knowledge and understanding in assisting countries to combat corruption, but I would like to take the debate a little further. In common with all other areas of SSR, a single focus on just one area, such as defence and security, might miss some fundamental corruption within a country.  It is quite possible for a government to be ostensibly tackling corruption at the individual level, whilst using its political power to corrupt institutions to do its bidding. This could be true in places like Africa and the Americas, but also in Europe, which has a codified and exacting standard of compliance in a range of areas of governance. As part of the candidate status process, the EU looks at many technical issues in the security and justice sector, but is perhaps less stringent in its analysis and understanding of the way political power may be exercised in a candidate country.

It may, for example, be necessary for an individual to become a member of the ruling political party in a country in order to obtain employment. This form of political patronage was certainly evident in places like Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Hitler's Germany. In countries where unemployment is high and growth low or non-existent, there is a powerful motivation for the government to reward its supporters with jobs - a few more jobs in the MOD or the MOI are easy to create. Whilst a government of a small country can ostensibly be following EU procurement and competition rules for contracts, it is relatively straight-forward for the request for proposals to be tailored in such a way that only certain companies (such as those that support the ruling party) would stand a chance of being compliant. Even once a company secures a construction or similar contract, such a government can delay payment should it wish to do so for political reasons (for example if the owner of the company criticises government policy). This would certainly make an owner think twice about being critical of the government or even supporting an opposition party.

There are similar tricks of the trade in the judiciary. As part of the reforms of the justice sector in a country, the international community (such as the OSCE or the EU) and a country's own parliamentarians might demand more rigorous and standardised application of the law by judges. To this end it would seem entirely reasonable that if a judge had more than 20% of his or her cases struck down by a higher level or Supreme Court, then his or her fitness for role could be brought into question, and the person could be removed. But this presupposes a level of impartiality at the higher-level court. If the judge at that level owed allegiance to the ruling party, he or she would be in a position to strike down cases by a lower level judge, not because the judgement in a case was particularly flawed, but because the lower-level judge was perhaps being politically troublesome to the ruling party.  If it was a Supreme Court judge that was striking down laws passed by the government, then a corrupt executive could use the country's intelligence services to unearth some past misdeed, or bring indirect pressure to bear on the Supreme Court judge's family.

 Where such corruption is systemic and ingrained in the political and societal culture, ordinary people are afraid to talk openly about the subject, and it is therefore much more difficult to address.  Just because a government passes anti-corruption laws and espouses a commitment to tackling corruption does not mean that it isn't politically corrupt.  Obviously culture and context play a significant role.  As a former NATO senior civilian representative in Kabul said recently about Afghanistan: "My obligation is your patronage is his corruption."  But gaining a sound and valid understanding of the situation in such countries is difficult to achieve, and thus assisting the country to help itself is a Sisyphean task. Perhaps others would like to offer some thoughts and views on how to tackle this difficult subject?

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