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Tuesday
Nov132012

Why do anti-corruption agencies fail?

The vast majority of the 50 most corrupt countries boast of at least one centralized anti-corruption agency tasked with the duty of preventing, investigating and prosecuting corruption cases.

On the other hand, the 10 least corrupt countries do not have centralized anti-corruption agencies. There is therefore a strong negative correlation between the presence of a single, central anti-corruption agency and the reduction of corruption.

It is my opinion that the establishment of a centralized anti-corruption agency makes it too easy for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to capture its organs and therefore prevent it from achieving its goals.

There are very few examples of centralized anti-corruption agencies that have succeeded in fighting corruption. Notable examples include Singapore and Hong Kong. The Corrupt Practices and Investigations Bureau (CPIB) in Singapore and the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) easily come to mind as the best examples of successful centralized anti-corruption agencies.

However, these two share certain unique characteristics which made centralized agencies that are independent of other law enforcement agencies most sensible:

(a)   They operate within relatively small islands which are highly urbanized.

(b)   They derive their power and independence from legislation passed in response to serious scandals that threatened the stability of the two governments. The ICAC was formed in response to the 1974 Peter Godber affair while the CPIB was only strengthened in response to the 1970s scandals involving police officers in the narcotics trade. These crises forced policy makers to create anti-corruption agencies that were independent from the police since the police were themselves involved in the scandals.

Other countries have borrowed the Hong Kong and Singapore models with little to no success. This is because they have failed to take into consideration the differences between their own circumstances and the circumstances prevalent in the two countries when they established their agencies. 

In my opinion, the centralized anti-corruption agency model has largely failed in Africa, and by extension, most of the third world because several reasons:

  • The efforts to establish a centralized anti-corruption agency are usually driven by donors rather than the citizens. This motivates the governments to establish a weak agency to satisfy the minimum donor requirements.
  • The size of most third world countries, state of infrastructure as well as their ethnic diversity can easily stretch the resources of a centralized anti-corruption agency to unmanageable extents.
  • There is lack of political will to provide sufficient resources as well as independence to the agencies. Most of these centralized agencies report to the same officials they are supposed to investigate.
  • A centralized anti-corruption agency provides politicians with a single definite target to manipulate and stymie in order to prevent it from exposing their corrupt schemes. Where all corruption efforts are coordinated by a single body, all anti-corruption efforts can be easily thwarted by interfering with its operations.
  • A new centralized agency requires a new set of laws, new infrastructure, new staff and the establishment of new bureaucracies which in itself takes a long time. Where these are not provided in the right quantities or quality, the agency cannot attain its goals.

If the fight against corruption is to be won, the place of a centralized anti-corruption agency that is the singularly responsible for anti-corruption efforts must be rethought. The idea that once an anti-corruption agency is formed, integrity and accountability will trickle from it down to the society and permeate throughout a country appears to be too optimistic.

It would be better to first concentrate on reforming the societies where corruption is endemic such that the people no longer tolerate corruption and fighting corruption is necessary for political survival of their leaders. It would also be effective to have existing agencies designed in such a way that they check each other. If a new, centralized agency is needed, this should be for the purposes of coordination.

____________

Michael Ndichu Kuria is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog.

Reader Comments (1)

In Sydney, NSW, Australia, we presently witness a display of an independent commission against corruption at work examining a series of witnesses re allegations that a former Minister of this State's government may well have engaged in corrupt activity. This is in the media daily. Armed with surveillance and phone tapping powers and a cadre of forensic specialists it is able to do what no court would do. Sure we are an island State too. I suggest it is acting effectively.
The Federal Government has a similar body only as oversight to law enforcement agencies at that level.
November 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermichael ahrens

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