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Corruption really does matter…it destroys lives, it impoverishes people, it inhibits wealth-generation and hurts law-abiding communities. It is an evil that is rejected by all the faiths of the world. Yet not only does it persist, but it has been tolerated by too many communities for too long.
Corruption is not ‘just’ a development issue. It is as bad in developed countries, just different. We saw this when Iceland, a supposedly super-clean country, collapsed in the financial crisis of 2008 as the corrupt links between the members of the Icelandic elite led to the whole economy shattering. We see it today in the design of corrupt structures and the laundering of the benefits of corruption in global; hubs like London.
At a personal level, it matters to me – I am emotionally upset by the injustice of corruption, to individuals, to communities and to societies. At the same time, I am gratified to find that this is a subject where my particular mix of knowledge and experience seems to be useful in making sense of a complex phenomenon.
Fundamentals – my perspective
After many years of thinking about this – and, sadly, growing older – I think the best place to start about corruption is with the components of my own ‘mental model’. I make no claim that these form a coherent whole, nor that they could be the ‘only truth’. But, as much change management research has shown, we each carry deeply held assumptions about how we think the world works, which operate almost below the level of logical argument. So, rather than ‘explain’ the rationale of what I think, here are what I think of as the ten core elements. You can see the thinking behind each assertion by clicking on the + buuttton.
1. Corruption is one form of abuse of power, and is therefore fundamentally about injustice
2. Corruption needs to be disaggregated for reforms to be effective. I believe that Sectors should be the first level of disaggregation, and the specific types of abuse within the sector should be the second level
3. There have been enough success stories around the world for us to be confident that corruption can be reduced to the level of an exception rather than the norm
4. Most people who are engaged in corruption are caught up in systems that are not of their making. Many, if not most of them are ready to implement anti-corruption measures
5. Reform actions at whole-of-government level are important, but they carry a high risk of failure. They are also insufficient
6. All reforms, whether successful or not, will be accompanied by an unchanging, continuing level of anger and complaint about ongoing corruption
7. Sector-specific corruption reform - eg in health, or education, or agriculture - has been underemphasised over the last 25 years. Each sector needs sector-specific expertise, advocacy and monitoring, which is largely lacking today
8. We need to give more agency and support to the people who have to own the change - usually senior Ministry officials, Ministers and companies in the sector
9. Stop 'admiring the problem' of corruption. Put the majority of effort into fixing it and into analysing what seems to work
10. Anti-corruption strategies - whether sectoral, national, sub-national or international - are still in a very early stage of evolution.