A ‘new normative edifice’ against corruption?


Pope Francis has called corruption “the gangrene of a people.” US Secretary of State John Kerry has labeled it a “radicalizer,” because it “destroys faith in legitimate authority.” And British Prime Minister David Cameron has described it as “one of the greatest enemies of progress in our time,” note William J. Burns, former US Deputy Secretary of State, and Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Corruption, put simply, is the abuse of public office for personal gain, they write for Project Syndicate:

As leaders increasingly recognize, it is a menace to development, human dignity, and global security. At the anti-corruption summit in London on May 12, world leaders – together with representatives from business and civil society – will have a critical opportunity to act on this recognition. ….It is clear that corruption must be combated. What is less clear is how to do it. In a world of competing demands, corrupt governments may seem to serve vital purposes. One deploys soldiers to the fight against terrorism; another provides critical energy supplies or access to raw materials. Leaders must inevitably contend with difficult tradeoffs.

Russia, meanwhile, is sending a top former spy to the London summit, The Guardian reports:

Oleg Syromolotov was the deputy director of the FSB, the agency which sent two assassins in 2006 to poison the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. In January a public inquiry found that Vladimir Putin had “probably approved” the operation together with Nikolai Patrushev, the FSB’s then director.

There are several factors behind the mounting intolerance of corruption, The Economist adds:

There is a bigger middle class, which is demanding accountability and wants tax revenues spent on better public services. Social media have made it easier for individual citizens to mobilize. And there has been a slow maturing of civil society.

Perhaps the least remarked development has been what Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice-president of Costa Rica now at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think-tank in Washington, calls “the patient building of a new normative edifice” against corruption. Many countries have adopted international conventions against bribery and in favour of open government. These have been complemented by national laws, on freedom of information, increasing the penalties for corruption and, in Brazil under Ms Rousseff, empowering investigators by allowing plea-bargaining. During 30 years of democracy, many of Brazil’s judges and prosecutors have become more independent and more professional.

To determine the best approach in each specific case, governments must analyze the problem more effectively, which means improving the collection of intelligence and data, note Mullen and Burns (right), a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

As security expert Sarah Chayes argues in Against Corruption, the volume of essays that the British government will publish to accompany the summit, corruption today is structured practice. It is the work of sophisticated networks, not unlike organized crime (with which corrupt agents are often integrated). Governments must study these activities and their consequences the same way they study transnational criminal or terrorist organizations.

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