Tackling political corruption here requires at the minimum a reconceptualizing of the Integrity Commission

Dear Editor,

In 1968 Samuel Huntington argued that by greasing the wheels of the economy and so removing bureaucratic and other practices that impede investments and development, political corruption is efficiency-enhancing and inevitable (“Political Order in Changing Societies”). However, notwithstanding Huntington and others, national societies caught in the spiral of massive political plunder (see following table) rejected this view.

Estimates of Funds Embezzled by Heads of Government

Heads of Government                                                                                          Funds Embezzled

Mohamed Suharto, President of Indonesia, 1967-98                            US $15 to 35 billion

Ferdinand Marcos, President of Philippines, 1972-86                           US $5 to 10 billion

Mobutu Sese Seko, President of Zaire, 1965-97                                        US $5 billion

Sani Abacha, President of Nigeria, 1993-98                                                 US $2 to 5 billion

Slobodan Milosevic, President of Serbia/Yugoslavia, 1989-2000     US $1 billion

Jean-Claude Duvalier, President of Haiti, 1971-86                            US $300 to 800 million

Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru, 1990-2000                                US $600 million

Transparency International (TI) Global Corruption Report 2004
In Guyana, political corruption was a major element of the opposition critique of the PNC regime. Thus, when in the late 1980’s the possibility of a PPP/C government became evident, one of the major issues on the discourse agenda was political corruption. Yet, twenty years on, not a single day passes without concerns about political corruption being expressed in our media. I thought then and I still believe that nothing will be achieved in this area until we truly understand the pervasiveness, diversity and complexity of political corruption, and the, above-tabled, level of plunder indicates that it cannot be explained, as Mr. Ralph Ramkarran has attempted to do, in terms of “increased public spending” (“Ramkarran: Not condemning PPP unless prepared to resign from it” SN 21/07/10).  In my view, Mr. Ramkarran is the most worthy of the possible PPP/C’s presidential candidates, but he oversimplified the problem and unless he changes his stance is likely to fall into a similar abyss as his predecessors have done should he become president.

Both nationally and internationally, by the mid 1990’s the issue of corruption had taken centre stage and many reasons are given for the change in conventional wisdom regarding it.  For example, some have argued that the early failures of a purely rationalist neoliberal development economic model gave rise to the need for an expanded framework that included a necessary moral content. (Mlada Bukovansky, 2006, “The hollowness of anti-corruption discourse,” Review of International Political Economy). Be that as it may, in January 2010, the Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (www.U4.no), using World Bank data, stated that the global flow of proceeds from corruption, tax evasion and crime may well be in the vicinity of US$1.6 trillion, half of it coming from developing countries. The Centre also pointed to a recent study by Global Financial Integrity that suggests that the illicit flows from developing countries are nearly double that amount. “These figures are particularly troublesome when compared to the annual global aid flow, which is currently estimated at around US$120 billion.”  It is not surprising then, that the international community and donors in particular have reached a consensus that corruption is a major problem and that the recovery of stolen state assets is critical for development.

The World Bank and others define political corruption as “the abuse of public power for private benefit” and Vito Tanzi identified a gamut of direct and indirect factors contributing to corruption which is indicative of the pervasiveness, diversity and complexity of the issue (“Corruption Around the World”, IMF Staff Papers, 1998).

As directly contributing factors Tanzi pointed to: increased regulatory and authorisation measures, e.g., various laws, licenses, and permits, which give a kind of monopoly power to public officials; taxes, which, for various reasons, require contact between taxpayers and tax inspectors; spending decisions; investment projects, procurement expenditure, and extra-budgetary accounts, the administration of which are unclear and without checks and balances; the provision of goods and services below market-price and other discretionary decisions having to do with the use and disposal of public land; privatisations, etc, and the financing of political parties when public control and resources are not available. “Democracy gives citizens a role in choosing their political leaders. The corrupt official can be voted out of office. But democracy is not necessarily a cure for corruption.”

Indirect factors include: the quality of the bureaucracy: political hiring, patronage, nepotism, etc. should be avoided; low levels of public sector wages – empirical tests have shown “a statistically significant relationship between corruption and wage levels”; penalty systems for corruption that are nonexistent, slow or cumbersome; institutional controls and transparency rules, laws and processes – several countries have anticorruption commissions but to “be effective, these offices must have independence from political establishment, ample resources and personnel of the highest integrity. They must have powers to enforce penalties or at least, have others, including the judiciary, enforce the penalties. Unfortunately, in some countries these offices are required to report confidentially to the President or the Prime Minister …rather than, say openly, to the legislative body” – and leadership example: “When the top political leaders do not provide the right example, either because they engage in acts of corruption or, as is more often the case, because they condone such acts on the part of relatives, friends, or political associates, it cannot be expected that the employees in the public administration will behave differently.”

What all of this suggests is that the issue of political corruption is most complex, and to be successful, an anticorruption effort must be holistic. In the case of Guyana I will venture to say that at the minimum, it requires a reconceptualisation of the role and nature of the Integrity Commission with a view to making it more effective and independent of the executive. There should be increased public participation in the process, with possibly the formation of a local chapter of Transparency International. Efforts should be made to depersonalize and objectivise the provision of public services, routinely enforce bureaucratic rules and obligations and establish preventative measures such as independent annual or other periodic forensic audits of selected individual members of the senior political and public service establishments.

In our poor condition, we cannot hope to eliminate political corruption but if we truly grasp its complexity we may be able to institute measures to mitigate its deleterious moral and practical effects upon the development process.

Yours faithfully,
Henry B Jeffrey

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