Models for Successful MENA Anti-corruption Strategies

As new waves of protests are sweeping Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria demanding an end to endemic political and economic corrupt practices, this study presents anti-corruption success stories from Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Singapore, and puts forward elements that could be used to inform the fight against corruption in the Middle East and North Africa.

Models for Successful MENA Anti-corruption Strategies
An Iraqi woman carries a candle and placard reading in Arabic “Corruption is killing us” during a gathering near the Tigris river in Baghdad, to honour the victims of the overloaded ferry that sank a day earlier in Mosul, March 2019.© EPA

This paper describes successful anticorruption strategies with the ambition of providing a strategic ‘roadmap’ for civil society organizations (CSOs) to inspire anticorruption change particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).1This paper speaks to CSOs who’s mission directly relates to anticorruption work but also CSOs whose work is indirectly related. Some CSOs engage in anticorruption efforts as part of a broader mission, while others do not work specifically on decreasing corruption but whose work helps to further the cause. For example, youth groups may devote themselves to encouraging civic participation and over time, remove entrenched politicians and corrupt structures. This paper will chronicle anticorruption success stories, whereby certain elements or whole models could be extrapolated and repurposed to decrease corruption within the MENA. While certain countries within the Global North are best-practice examples of comprehensive anticorruption strategies and programs, particularly the Scandinavian countries, this paper focuses on countries with a current or recent history of systemic corruption issues, who were able to mitigate these issues in-full or in-part based on top-down and bottom-up approaches. These examples seem better suited to provide useful anticorruption models for the MENA, given the magnitude and prevalence of corruption and despotic governance structures. As Quah (2013) postulates, there is a limit to what highly corrupt countries can learn from states with far lower levels of corruption.2Quah. (Ed.). (2013). That said, none of the case studies included in this paper have governance structures where absolute power is held in the hands of such few political decision makers, as is found within certain countries in the MENA.

This paper will conclude with recommendations for CSOs based on the case studies and overall research conducted for this paper. The case studies illustrate a few core points. First, some form of political-will is vital to success. That said, it is not necessary for abundant political-will to be found ubiquitously throughout the political system.3At least, to see some level of success. Political-will is also not stagnant. Deficient political-will can be altered by way of public pressure. Second, environment plays an important role in stimulating action to disrupt deeply entrenched positions of power, attitudes, and practices. These favorable environments are often the result of ‘jolts’ (see Hoffman, A. J. 1999, Oliver, C., 1992, Castro, A. & Ansari, S., 2017, Walsh, 1981), suddenly imposed events that stimulate a critical mass of citizen discontent, while decreasing government power and increasing citizen agency. Third, a successful strategy for utilizing and collaborating with traditional and social media sources is vital to developing environments favorable to change. Fourth, top-down strategies, particularly anticorruption authorities (ACAs), can find success even in environments where corruption is widespread and entrenched, and where private and public interests act against anticorruption efforts. ACAs have been most successful when they possess high levels of autonomy and resources.

CSOs play a vital role in raising public awareness and changing attitudes and behaviors, holding public and private figures accountable, conducting research and analysis, educating and training, and cooperating with public officials to build strategies and legislation that combat corruption. The task is challenging, as corruption is complex and multifactorial, deeply entrenched, and major players often actively work against their efforts.4Dixit. (2016). Successes or failures must be viewed with the understanding that corruption does not evaporate overnight. Change occurs slowly. Broadly, anticorruption CSOs should seek to lay the foundation for change, and to stand ready to act when the environment is favorable.

Finally, the greatest limiter of anticorruption efforts is authoritarianism, specifically political systems that intentionally obstruct CSOs, limit freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and transparency. This is an affliction found in many states within the MENA. Particular concern within this paper is paid to this reality.

Definition of Corruption

Corruption is a complex issue with two predominant challenges. First, it is a broad and ambiguous topic, and definitions are varied. To that point, corruption has been defined simply as “know it when you see it.”5Wei. (2001). The challenge of defining corruption stems from the wide assortment of acts viewed as corrupt, but also the localized nature of corruption. For example, a quid pro quo payment from an Emirate politician to an oil executive, certain lobbying efforts in the US, and motor vehicle-related bribes to Kenyan police, may be viewed different in different societies i.e. everyday business transactions as opposed to acts of corruption. Globally, there are heterogeneous notions of what is public good, what is harm, and what is corruption. This ambiguity underscores a particular challenge to decreasing corruption’s prevalence. How does one decrease something that is not universally defined the same?

Second, corruption is difficult to quantify. Corruption often occurs privately, away from prying eyes, and in opaque manners to escape detection. This reality makes it challenging to analyze the sum total and impact, important when trying to build strategies to combat corruption. There are multiple international NGOs, academics, and research organizations that endeavor to quantify its impact through various metrics and methodologies.6For example, the World Bank and the Business Anticorruption Portal. Transparency International (TI) for example, uses a perception metric as the basis for their indexes.7CPI. (2017 )

MENA COMMONALITIES

While the political systems, levels of corruption, and social democratic space varies within MENA countries, there are common political and social elements. Political positions are often controlled by ruling elites, and religious ideologies have a significant role in legal and judicial dogma, government affairs, and social sentiment. Whether republics, theocracies, or monarchies, political corruption within the MENA is endemic and shares common attributes. Additionally, the MENA is comparatively unique in that it has a robust civil society where the majority of CSOs function as direct service providers. These direct service CSOs fill basic service gaps (clean water and health care) often where state intuitions fail. The MENA is also unique in that a large percentage of its non-governmental organizations have religious affiliations. Certainly, Islamic institutions within the MENA are not homogenous. Some non-governmental organizations campaign for transparency, democracy, and good governance, while others conceptually favor autocracies or promote radical views of conservative Islam. Others are not involved in policy advocacy, choosing to remain purely in the business of direct services.

For the purposes of this paper, the TI definition is a useful benchmark. TI broadly defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’, and categorizes it into three non-mutually exclusive categories: grand corruption, petty corruption, and political corruption. Even further, corruption can be broken down into economic corruption (bribes) and social corruption (nepotism and cronyism).8Holmes. (2015).

 MENA Corruption Trends

Anticorruption efforts within the MENA face a multitude of impediments. Some are unintended, the effects of poorly written law and policy, lack of government oversight, and general capacity challenges (lack of training or understanding of the regulatory system), while others are intentional subversive acts by governments and private elites to handicap anticorruption efforts.

While there have been some positive examples within the MENA recently (see Lebanon’s Access to Information Law in 2017 and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)) , generally, anticorruption groups within the MENA face authoritarian regimes that have intensified their crackdown on CSOs, dissent, and rights to assembly and speech.9Fatafta. (2018). Generally, the infringement on freedom of speech and assembly has increased since the Arab Spring in 2011. Anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws in Jordan and the UAE have been introduced which dampen free speech and curtail criticism.10USAID. (2016). Egypt has recently tightened control of its CSO registration procedure and amplified penalties for violations.11Ibid. Tunisia granted amnesty to corrupt officials with the adoption of the Economic Reconciliation Law in 2017. Since 2016, Bahrain has been targeting anti-corruption CSOs and human rights defenders in the form of travel bans and detention. Generally, governments have failed to deliver on promises they capitulated to reformers during the Arab Spring. In Morocco for example, constitutional amendments requiring legislative approval have yet to transpire.

 Cases

Corruption is a systemic global issue and many states are inundated with corruption problems. That said, certain efforts have been effective. With the exception of a few ‘shining light’ states, anticorruption success has been piecemeal not holistic. Within the following cases success has been slow-moving.

The following section briefly describes the history, strategies, and the surrounding conditions that led to successful anticorruption efforts in four countries.

India-Public outcry and CSO collaboration

The history of discontent and concern surrounding the impact of corruption in India dates back to British occupation. Postcolonial India witnessed significant corruption-related public demonstrations in the early 1970s, which led to subsequent small legislative changes over the next few decades.12Riley. (2016). India also witnessed periods of great regulation and deregulation during this time. India’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score is low (41/100), but it has seen improvement recently.

In 2004, the Indian government commissioned a report researching the main drivers of corruption within Indian society. That report produced two main takeaways: tax rates were excessively high, and bureaucracy was excessive and inefficient.13KPMG. (2011). Inefficient bureaucracy for example, created an environment where the cost of a bribe for a business-related license was less than its legal obtainment (fee, time, etc.). There was also little risk of discipline. The following year a federal freedom of information act called ‘Right to Information Act’ was passed, while the UN Convention Against Corruption (ratified in 2011) was also signed. Additionally, regional politician-led public service acts called ‘Right to Public Service’ acts were passed by states in India beginning in 2010.14Initially, Madhya Pradesh. These statutory laws guarantee specific public services within a precise amount of time and allow for the punishment of noncompliant public servants. 15Robinson. (2012) and World Bank. (2018).

Beginning in 2010, among a litany of other major corruption scandals, massive corruption and overall financial mismanagement by members of the Organizing Committee, in addition to the extraordinary amount of public funds used during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, led to substantial public outcry. Subsequently, Delhi saw vibrant demonstrations against endemic political corruption, which became known as the India Against Corruption Movement.16The demand for an ombudsman was inspired by the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The movement started small but quickly drew support beyond its initial base. It became a broader crusade, forming bounds with a wide variety of CSO organizations i.e. student, senior citizen, and farmer groups, sex workers’ and taxi unions, and small vendors’ associations, and had broad support across religious affiliations and socioeconomic classes and castes as well. 17Sengupta. (2012) and Riley. (2016). The largely non-violent and nonpartisan movement was led by civil society groups which used social media to raise awareness and organize rallies, and engaged in acts of civil disobedience and hunger strikes.18Baliga. (2011). Of note, one prominent leader, Anna Hazare, a man who became the figurehead for the movement, launched multiple fasts to persuade the government to pass anticorruption legislation. One of the main goals of the movement was to compel the government to establish an independent ombudsman. While the first CSO-drafted ombudsman bill ultimately faltered, the Jan Lokpal Bill, the expansive and sustained outrage set the foundation for the eventual passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (2013), a bill that CSOs, by way of holding half the seats in the Joint Drafting Committee, contributed to drafting. The public outcry also led to the establishment of a new corruption-focused political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP went on to lead Delhi’s government for a brief period in 2013, where it won the second most votes, and again in 2015.19The AAP won 67 of 70 seats in the assembly and is the current ruling party within the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The public outcry also led to unique CSO-led grass roots initiatives such as Ipaidabribe.com (an online initiative where citizens report incidents of bribery, and honesty in the public and private sector).

Corruption is still endemic to India, and while public pressure leading to the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act was seen as a major accomplishment, an ombudsman is yet to be appointed. That said, public outcries over public mismanagement, development and corruption have occurred previously in India, and the fact that this iteration has not expired, provides optimism, and a potential path forward and road map for future challenges to the system.

Singapore- Sustained political-will and an independent ACA

While Singapore sits atop most good governance and anti-corruption rankings globally, and particularly in Asia, this has not always been the case. Strong post-colonial reforms created an unparalleled success story. 20TI Singapore Country Profile. Singapore was ranked the least corruption Asian country by the CPI from 1995-2015. It was ranked 3rd overall in TI’s CPI Index for 2018. Keefe. (2015).

Corruption was rampant under Japanese occupation during WWII, and while under British rule steps were taken to curb corruption (introduction of the Public Service Commission in 1951 (PSC) and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in 1953, for example), corruption was still endemic. Beginning in 1959 and throughout the next decades, Lee Kuan Yew and the ruling PAP party, made significant political, personal, and institutional investments in anticorruption. Lee Kuan Yew in particular, is well-known for turning away gifts during the beginning stages of his authority to set a precedent, a decision that has had a lasting impact.21Berlinger. (2012). The gift giving cultural practice can play a role. External factors including decolonization and Singapore’s dismissal from Malaysia created an environment where society at-large was prepared for guidance and ripe for change. These galvanizing moments combined with strong political-will provided an opportunity for anticorruption reform.

A foundational element in Singapore’s overall success story has been its ACA unit, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). One of the first decisions by the PAP after taking power was creating a more effective CPIB. They did so by enacting the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA) in 1960. The POCA enhanced the budget, operational autonomy, and overall strength of the CPIB, allowing it to function more autonomously.22Quah. (2015). This revised iteration of the CPIB works directly with the Prime Minister’s office as well, effectively safeguarding it from police and political control. Its level of autonomy, secured in law, has allowed the CPIB to treat cases impartially, and in turn, has driven credibility.

Beyond facilitating an independent ACA and changes to Singapore’s legislation, Singapore has reduced corruption by tackling low salaries, decreasing corruption opportunities, and increasing punishment.23Berlinger. (2012). The PAP and Lee Kuan Yew raised public servant salaries to decrease the temptation of bribe-taking, decreased public sector opportunities by increasing transparency and accountability, and introduced harsh jail terms for corruption convictions.24Keefe. (2015). In particular, the long prison sentences and heavy fines, relatively unique in the punishment of white-collar crime globally, has increased the risk of corruption relative to its reward.25Suspended jail sentences and pardoning are common in South Korea, for example. Berlinger. (2012).

Singapore’s corruption environment is not unblemished. The private sector continues to deal with corruption challenges (quid pro quo relationships among businessmen, for example). With this said, Singapore’s success is unique. Strong and sustained political-will, a credible, resourced, and independent ACA, a favorable environment, tackling major sources of corruption like low salaries, and increasing punishment are the underpinnings of Singapore’s success.26Berlinger. (2012).
 

Indonesia- Independent ACA with public support and a dearth of political-will

Indonesia’s government is characterized by a strong executive branch, and a relatively week legislature. Corruption is still a major challenge, and while Indonesia’s CPI score is low (38/100), it has improved over the last 20 years. This is in large part due to the establishment of an independent and effective ACA, the Corruption Eradication Commission or Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK). In a relatively short time frame, it has become one of, if not the most, highly regarded government institution in Indonesia.27Center for Public Impact. (2016). The success of the KPK is even more remarkable given its lack of resources and political-will.

Similar to India, Indonesia’s corruption challenges and subsequent societal criticism reach back decades. Modern efforts to curb corruption commenced post-colonization during Indonesia’s first regime, the ‘Old Order’. In 1970 under Indonesia’s subsequent regime, the ‘New Order’ and in response to student demonstrations, a ‘Commission of Four’ was established and charged with producing a report on corruption.28The Commission of Four was an ad hoc body of respected politicians. The Commission found corruption to be rampant and widespread, and detailed the areas in which anticorruption strategies were most urgent. Infamously, little to no action was taken upon recommendation by the Commission, nor for the next few decades. 29Mackie. (1970).

Soeharto’s authoritarian ‘New Order’ government collapsed in the late 1990s following public uproar and popular protest movements, which were fueled by anger over the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the extent of government corruption.30Soeharto’s fall led to an increase in independent media and legislation that for the first time allowed the police to prosecute corruption. Indonesia’s ‘corruption, collusion and nepotism’ (called Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotisme or KKN) was widely seen as the fundamental underpinning behind Indonesia’s vulnerability to the Asian financial crisis. As Bolongaita (2010) points out, the 2002 law establishing the legal basis for the KPK “was made possible by the gravity of the crisis faced by Indonesia, the commitment of reformers in the Indonesian government, the insistence of donors for institutional safeguards protecting development assistance, and the societal demand to clamp down on corruption.” 31Bolongaita. (2010). The ‘jolt’ of the Asian financial crisis and the subsequent downfall of the Soeharto era, created an environment where society at-large and international funders demanded change.32The Asian Development Bank in particular.

The KPK’s anticorruption mandate, to eradicate corruption professionally, intensively and continuously, is broad.33KPK. (2018). It is endowed with wide-ranging authority to monitor, investigate, and prosecute corruption cases (before a special anti-corruption court called the Pengadilan Tindak Pidana Korupsi or TIPIKOR), and has the power to detain, freeze assets, and subpoena.34The KPK also has an education and outreach division. In cases the KPK has chosen to undertake, including the arrest and conviction of high profile public and private individuals, it has been successful.35Convictions include members of the Central Bank, governors and parliamentary members, members of the National Police, ambassadors, and elite private businessmen for example. In fact, the KPK has a near perfect conviction rate on cases it chooses to prosecute.36As a consequence of their limited resources, there are many cases the KPK chooses not to pursue. Bolongaita. (2010) and Center for Public Impact. (2016). This is especially impressive given its small budget, and overall lack of political-will. The KPK is modeled after Hong Kong’s ACA agency (ICAC) and institutionally independent, a response to the lack of success of Indonesia’s previous anti-corruption institutions i.e. the Attorney General’s Office. The KPK’s reputation allows it to have highly selective hiring practices, and strong internal standards and measures of performance. Counter to other successful ACA models (Singapore), the KPK does not benefit from strong, ubiquitous, nor sustained political-will. Within the last decade, multiple attempts have been made to obstruct the KPK in the Indonesian parliament.

While there are multiple factors that have sustained the KPK through these periods of subversion, sustained social discontent with corruption (something that has existed since the fall of Soeharto), and overall support for the KPK throughout the general citizenry has been vital.37Bolongaita. (2010).   Pressure and advocacy from anti-corruption CSOs, the KPK’s credibility, and Indonesia’s expanding and vigorous free press who have been diligent in their investigating, broadcasting, and promotion of anticorruption activities, have helped galvanize public support.38Center for Public Impact. (2016). Thousands of Indonesians demonstrated their support publicly (rallies, for example) and through online social media platforms, by using tag-lines such as #SaveKPK and the Gecko vs Crocodile Movement (CICAK). The crocodile represented the police, embroiled in a plot to frame the KPK for bribery, and the gecko represented the KPK itself. The demonstrations were particularly noteworthy as Indonesia does not have a strong tradition of public protests.

Without strong public support, the KPK may have ceased to exist. 39Bolongaita. (2010). The KPK encouraged the organizing of public demonstrations. It should also be noted that while public support played a large role in the KPK’s development and preservation, and although overall political-will has been low for the KPK over the years, it does owe a portion of its survival to its independent structure and the continued support from the executive branch.40Bolongaita. (2010).

Brazil- Galvanizing the masses and sustainted public pressure

Brazil ranks 105 out of 180 countries in the 2018 CPI rankings with a score of 35/100. Corruption, particularly certain practices like ‘superfaturamento’ (the overpaying on contracts), is commonplace in Brazilian society. Advantageously, Brazil’s civil servant positions are, for the most part, awarded on merit, well paid, and are highly protected against dismissal. Disadvantageously, Brazil’s federal ministers and head of agencies are appointed by the ruling coalition, creating a challenge for anti-corruption campaigners to gain inroads over the years.41Castro, A. & Ansari, S. (2017). Brazil’s anticorruption responsibilities fall on a fragmented group of both national and state agencies, such as the Court of National Accounts. Coordination between these different agencies has been inefficient over the years.

While there have been multiple scandals over the last 20 years involving corrupt Brazilian politics (see Mensalão scandal of 2005), the largest scandal in some time hit Brazil in 2014. Operação Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, uncovered money laundering, bribes, and overpaid contracts that involved high-level politicians, and Brazil’s semipublic and largest oil and gas company, Petrobras. Operação Lava Jato occurred as Brazilian society was still reeling from massive nationwide protests in 2013, involving hundreds of cities and over a million people.42Le Monde. (2013). These protests began small, organized mainly by locals in Sao Paolo objecting to rising public transport costs, but grew, rather uncoordinatedly, to target pervasive corruption and the cost of the impending World Cup.43Castro, A. & Ansari, S. (2017). While protests were not well organized, they were expansive. Small grassroots groups all the way up to judicial representatives working in anticorruption activities campaigned for change. Of note, social media allowed judicial officials to campaign directly to citizens.44Tamyalew. (2010). For example, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) fervently campaigned for legislative changes, and published information about the ongoing Lavo Jato investigation on their website and Twitter.45Ibid.

Public pressure, starting with the protests in 2013 and jolted by Operação Lava Jato, generated political-will and led to the amending of certain federal laws. These new laws provided harsher punishments for those found guilty of corruption (including fines for corrupt businesses), increased the power of federal prosecutors to issue plea bargains, and introduced criminal liability for corruption by Brazilian companies abroad (see the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention). Sustained public pressure also squashed a bill that would have weakened the power of federal prosecutors, and led to the introduction of an online transparency portal online called Portal da Transparencia by the executive branch. 46Plea bargains were seen as essentially a strategy to dig deeper into certain corruption scandals.  The database provides information on all public bid requests, the financial transactions of all government projects, and the salaries of civil servants.47Castro. (2017). Executive changes further required that all government agencies register their financial operations online. This database of registered transactions is used by anti-corruption agencies to investigate and highlight corruption.

Multiple factors contributed to Brazil’s recent anticorruption changes. While political corruption has been ubiquitous throughout the modern history of Brazil, there are positive macro-structural factors like a relatively free press, mostly free and fair elections, a fairly independent judiciary, and a history of strong opposition parties, that have paved the way for a portion of the recent anticorruption success. That said, social media and traditional media coverage played a critical role galvanizing and organizing the protests, informing the public, and sustaining the pressure placed on the government, particularly during Operação Lavo Jato. Finally, years of corruption and mismanagement created the underpinnings for a critical mass of sustained public outrage that was ignited by these two scandals: the impending World Cup and Operação Lavo Jato. The widespread outrage increased support for anticorruption efforts, weakened the government (the protests had an impact on the ruling party in upcoming elections), gave rise to increased space for anticorruption activists, and decreased fear within CSOs and activists of retaliation by members of the government.48Ibid

Similar to Indonesia and India, Brazil continues its struggle to purge endemic corruption. Sustained pressure by a critical mass of outraged citizens that induced legislative changes, however, provides optimism for future successful corruption efforts within Brazil, and elsewhere.

Lessons Learned

The aforementioned cases illustrate successes that occurred as top-down ambitious strategies that take political clout and substantial initial investment i.e. Singapore, as well as interventions that started as the result of grassroots bottom-up initiatives.49Ralchev. (2004). While prescriptions are needed on a state-by-state basis, with emphasis given to localized socio-political nuances, below is a non-exhaustive list of strategies and lessons that could potentially be extrapolated and re-appropriated in a new setting. Three key points stand out.

Key Takeaways

Jolts

In all the cases detailed above, notable suddenly imposed events occurred as precursors to sustained public outcry. Multiple academics have expounded on the role that influential events i.e. jolts, play in delivering an environment suitable to changing entrenched political structures and engrained attitudes and behaviors.50Castro. (2017). Hoffman. (1999). Oliver. (1992). These ‘jolts’ provide anticorruption campaigners (politicians, public servants, and civil society) an opportunity to generate institutional change, otherwise thought impossible. Anticorruption groups often need a critical mass of public outrage, and these ‘jolts’ offer them an opportunity to galvanize a citizenry and place sustained public pressure on political decision makers.

Beyond India (Commonwealth Games), Brazil (Confederations and World Cup), Singapore (de-colonialization and expulsion from Malaysia), and Indonesia (Asian financial crisis), there are numerous examples of ‘jolts’ that have created a critical mass of sustained public discontent and pressure, that changed entrenched political structures and engrained attitudes and behaviors. The 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, for example, generated a jolt that allowed CSOs to press more than 180 companies into signing a legally binding accord that increased factory safety. This significant development, after years of manufacturing accidents, was the product of years of work by CSOs and unions to create an environment favorable to change.51Reinecke. (2015).

Jolts create an opportunity for anticorruption change for a few reasons. First, these events upset the populace. They remind citizens of deeply-held grievances and endemic governance shortcomings.52Walsh, E. (1981). Political decision makers lose agency, while the agency of the populace increases. For governing officials, there is an underlying fear of the effect of high levels of public dissatisfaction. A ruling party which does not heed the cry of its citizens, runs the risk of voter dissatisfaction in pluralist societies and potential rebellion in more authoritarian.53Keefe. (2015). For corrupt private elites, their agency decreases as reciprocal relationships lose strength, and governing officials attempt to distance themselves from wrongdoing and search for an appeasable scapegoat. Corrupt politicians and elite businessman are no longer immune, and legislation previously thought unattainable becomes possible. There is also a decreased fear that governing officials will punish anticorruption groups for their efforts, given the levels of public outrage.

This isn’t to say that under authoritarian rule, public outrage will lead to a revolutionary change. This is none more evident than the results following the Arab Spring. The quality of government institutions makes certain environments more favorable to change immediately following jolts, while certain authoritarian structures make change more challenging. Change occurs slowly. Even modern success stories like Singapore advanced over decades. The key for anticorruption groups is to build the underpinnings for an environment ready for change.54Beyond the following suggestions, much research has been accomplished on successful strategies for prompting social mobilization (see New Social Mobilization Theory (NMS).   Generating and nurturing public dissatisfaction may allow anticorruption groups to make small in-roads. When these jolts occur, they must be prepared to leverage these “opportune moments”.55Castro. (2017).

MEDIA FREEDOM TRENDS

Globally, freedom of speech, media freedom, and internet freedom, particularly under authoritarian regimes, are trending in the wrong direction. As one very recent example among many, Vietnam’s 2019 Cybersecurity Law will make it easier to censor and prosecute online dissident.

That said, In Brazil collaboration and technical assistance at the political level led to the passing of the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet which aims to fairly govern internet space and citizen’s internet rights.

Media- Increasing public dissatisfaction

Traditional and social media (see India, Indonesia and Brazil) can play an important role in generating and sustaining public outrage. They provide a vital outlet for public debate (essential when building public and private accountability) and informing the public, and a pathway to change public sentiment and opinion.56Plamen. (2004). Public outcry requires an informed understanding of corruption-related matters.

The evolving nature of information dissemination necessitates that anticorruption groups have a well-researched internet and social media-focused strategy to legitimize their causes and galvanize the citizenry. It behooves anticorruption CSOs to advocate for policy changes that improve total and uncensored access to the internet. Internet policies that allow free expression through social media are important, especially in environments where traditional media is tightly controlled and monitored by the state.

Anticorruption groups can foster independent media through grants, training and technical assistance at three different levels: inter-CSO, political level, and the civilian population.57Anticorruption CSOs can provide funding, support, security, and advocacy for whistleblowers and journalists functioning to uncover issues of corruption. For example, anticorruption groups may consider providing training to other CSOs, public officials, and civilians on the importance of free press, uncensored internet access, instruction how to use internet and social media tools, outreach and communication strategies, the current state of policy and laws (i.e. cyber-crime and net neutrality), and how to monitor and navigate bad press.58This work was done successfully with other CSOs and civilians in Turkey.  Firmin. (2017). CSOs may also choose to collaborate on projects and train media outlets on the importance of government accountability, the importance of anticorruption work generally, impartiality. 59Important that these CSO/media relationships are non-quid pro quo to maintain impartiality and neutrality. In Lebanon, as a result of cultivated relationships, the media has been more supportive of anticorruption campaigns and taken interest in political malpractice.

ACAs- Non-fragmented monitoring bodies

While there are multiple top-down strategies that have been successful i.e. right to public service, public financial management, national integrity systems and general transparency reform legislation, the argument will be made that a well-resourced, truly independent ACA is the most effective approach to creating accountability, transparency, and punish wrongdoing in a society with entrenched corruption and a dearth of political-will. Additionally, effective ACAs harmonize often fragmented anticorruption systems.

As seen in Indonesia, autonomous ACAs can be created and sustained without universal backing and against subversive members of the government. Effective ACAs need some level of genuine interest at a high-political level though.60Political-will that may need to be created through sustained public pressure. That level of interest has to continue long enough to create an agency that is financially independent, with broad investigation and prosecution powers, codified in law. Not all judiciaries are impervious to political pressure, so beyond the initial construction of the ACA, some sustained political-will and public support to maintain its independence and fend off adversaries is probably necessary. As in the case of the KPK, success and credibility can help sustain public support.

Anticorruption authorities (ACAs) are have varied structures, but generally consist of a permanent bureau operating in the prevention, public outreach and awareness raising, policy coordination, and investigation and prosecution of anticorruption matters.61ACA Authorities Website While not flawless, the Hong Kong ICAC, Indonesian KPK, and Singapore CPIB are generally seen as best practice examples. On a global level, ACA success has been varied. There are unfortunate and cautionary examples of de-resourced, disenabled, and subordinate ACAs (see the Philippine Ombudsman).

The structuring of an ACA goes beyond the scope of this paper, but there is a wealth of information and resources on best practices for interested parties. For instance, collaboration is a key component, both as ACAs are being designed (the Indonesia’s KPK was modeled after the Hong Kong ICAC with the assistance of the ICAC’s former Commissioner), and with other private and public agencies while executing its mandate.62Berlinger. (2012). Bolongaita. (2010). Additionally,  ACAs need investigative and prosecutorial capacity, a merit-based, highly competitive, competitively paid, hiring program, full fiscal autonomy, transparent and accountable metrics, and a dedicated corruption court when judicial timeliness and independence is not assured.63Bolongaita. (2010).

All said, if an ACA won’t receive the necessary combination of institutional independence, fiscal autonomy, and strong law enforcement powers, they are not worth pursuing.64Ibid. Such an anti-corruption agency is likely to be a waste of time and resources. Worse, it may exacerbate the problem. Ineffective laws and government bodies can create more opportunities for corruption and sedate future change.65Economist. (2011).

Further Recommendations

Credibility

It is essential that anticorruption groups, both public and private, position themselves as a reliable, politically impartial social asset. Credibility is vital, as seen in the case of the KPK, particularly against antagonistic regimes. Anticorruption groups must hold themselves to a high standard, using evidence-based performance indicators and adhering to a strict code of conduct. Furthermore, anticorruption groups should acutely consider the impact of their actions on popular sentiment. Popular sentiment being one of anticorruption groups greatest allies.

Additionally, collaboration with international agencies must be seen as a joint effort.66Spector. (January 2015 )  At times, governments will portray international agencies as a threat to their sovereignty. When the relationship is seen as subordinate, questions of general competence and autonomy also arise. Finally, as the USAID Practitioners Guide for Anticorruption Programming suggests, anticorruption groups should not engage in programs that increase public skepticism or apathy. As an example, anticorruption groups should avoid promoting complaint handling systems that, due to lack of capacity or intentional subversion, do not address corruption complaints adequately.67Ibid. They should shift towards public awareness and changing attitudes and behaviors, as opposed to more accountability directed functions.

TWO NOTABLE FACTORS THAT LIMIT ANTICORRUPTION EFFORTS

Insecurity

Lack of stability and insecurity is a foundational element in systemic corruption and the limiting of anticorruption work. Of the fifteen lowest ranked countries in the CPI, twelve have significant insecurity issues. Insecurity issues disrupt innumerable facets of government institutions (the judiciary, for example) and in states with antagonistic governments, provides the opportunity to limit freedoms on the basis of national security i.e. states of emergency. This was the case in Egypt under the Mubarak regime and continues under the El-Sisi regime. Often weak institutions are a byproduct of government upheaval or transitions related to prolonged periods of insecurity (post-colonization or transition out of war). During this upheaval, a lack of transparency and oversight to prevent conflicts of interest has led to deep levels of nepotism, cronyism, and the general weakening of state infrastructure.   

Cumulative Effect

Anticorruption CSOs are also limited by the cumulative effects of corruption. Highly corrupt states are often the least developed nations. This lack of development and opportunity forces communities into arduous labor circumstances where meeting basic needs becomes the sole focus, allowing little time for civic participation. Systemic corruption may also contribute to ‘corruption fatigue’, making it harder to galvanize and change public sentiment. Corruption becomes an aspect of everyday life, which is rationalized given its prevalence and institutional inefficiencies.

Political collaboration

Ideally, political collaboration should be multileveled and multifaceted i.e. joint initiatives, large national conferences, taking part in monitoring bodies (ACAs for example), and shaping anticorruption policy decisions (see India).68Firmin. (2017). (ex Mozambique ) When  possible, anticorruption groups should position themselves as a value-add, seeking to provide worth to government institutions, and move away from antagonistic relationships. This is obviously more challenging under antagonistic regimes where anticorruption groups are often portrayed as bias and sedative.

 

When not outright subversive, anticorruption groups often face ‘ad hoc or sporadic’ political collaboration opportunities, and issues of tokenism, where political figures use collaboration to create a façade of change.  With that said, anticorruption groups should seek broad and penetrating collaboration that is structured, meaningful, transparent, and regular.69Firmin. (2016). Political collaboration should be (and often must be) initiated by anticorruption CSOs. As the initiators, CSOs are also better able to control the narrative and depoliticize issues.70For example, anticorruption CSOs are “not here to criticize just to make regulations more efficient”.  Finally, against antagonistic regimes that seek to disenable or discredit, anticorruption groups should seek united fronts.

Grassroots Outreach and Engagement

Engagement and outreach at a local level is vital. These efforts are necessary to build credibility, inform, shift public sentiment, and galvanize.71In Panama, connection to grassroots voices often increases credibility in the perception of the government. Outreach and awareness campaigns inform citizens of the level and cost of corruption, and accountability methods. Maybe most importantly, grassroots engagement and outreach efforts provide an opportunity to promote citizen activism.72Spector. (January 2015 ) Grassroots outreach and engagement strategies manifest in many forms: public forums, door-to-door outreach, media roundtables, social media campaigns, and individual consultations.

Beyond the functions described above, grassroots outreach and engagement can serve an important education role. Relevant rights and policies, and international best practices must be understood at local levels where proficiency is often limited. To this end, anticorruption groups should work with communities and small CSOs, as they are often unaware or do not have the technical expertise and resources to navigate complex laws and regulations.73Specifically, the gaps between law and practice. Gaps between law and practice that encourage corruption occur frequently at the local level as well.

Function

CSO function often plays a role in government response. In general, anticorruption groups experience increased pushback when they attempt to hold those in political decision makers accountable or threaten their power i.e. democracy, transparency, good governance, and human rights efforts, as opposed to when they deliver social welfare services.74Firmin. (2017). CSOs with direct services mandates often fill gaps that state institutions do not provide, services that might be necessary to meet the essential needs of the population.75Which may also ward off general discontent with the state.  While in theory and over time this work might erode public trust in state systems, the work does not explicitly function to hold the government accountable, and often experiences less restriction. Direct service strategies and organizations can be cautiously leveraged, as collaborators or to push subtle anticorruption strategies.76Smaller ground-up strategies, such as instituting anticorruption practices within the organization as a modest way to change public sentiment for example. Important to exercise caution though so as not to induce government shutdown of essential services. Less controversial CSOs may decrease government oversight and angst.

Research

Local context is important, and ‘one-size fits all’ approaches for such a nuanced topic as anticorruption, is injudicious. Researching and mapping agency, institutions, norms, and the factors that produce favorable environments for change is necessary. At a political level, it is important to understand who is empowered to make decisions, and the willingness to enact change by those with agency. At a local level, segmentation is critical. It is important to understand which portions of the population are most affected by corruption i.e. who pays bribes most frequently, which groups are most indoctrinated and inoculated, and within which sector(s) is corruption most deeply engrained. For example, in Kenya, woman and youth make up a segment where corruption is not deeply engrained, while in other states, specifically in the MENA, youth pay more bribes.77Pring. (2016 ) In Brazil, the poorest segment is most likely to pay brides, while the opposite is true in Yemen.78Ibid.

Research is also important to illustrate the volume of corruption, the impact it is having on society, and to legitimizing the work and worth of CSOs.79As stated above, quantifying the impact of corruption or the breadth of corruption generally is challenging. Firmin. (2016 ) Where anticorruption work is undervalued or antagonistic governments seek to delegitimize critics, persuasive data can be leveraged to change narratives and build support.80Collaboration with universities and international recognized research organizations may help legitimize research where regimes seek to delegitimize it. In Cambodia, anticorruption research is often rejected because CSOs are seen as threats to the current political power structure. Collaboration with universities in Cambodia has helped legitimize anticorruption research. 

Conclusion

While it would be encouraging for those attempting change under authoritarian regimes, some political-will is needed to counter corruption at an endemic level. Singapore is probably the strongest example of vigorous political-will as a driving force for change. In fact, Singapore’s notable case provides an example of top-down political-will altering the corruption norms of a society, not the other way around, an uncommon modern route to success.81Important example illustrating that top-down changes can alter societal attitudes. Keefe. (2015 ) Encouragingly, in 3 out of the 4 cases described herein, some portion of political buy-in occurred as a response to public pressure. Additionally, most success stories over the last half century have occurred slowly, as bottom-up efforts, not the result of top-down benevolent governance.

Absent of benevolent buy-in by governing officials, the task for anticorruption groups becomes applying public pressure through a critical mass of public grievance to generate political-will. Environment is key. Anticorruption groups should seek to build an environment that is favorable to change through training, informing, and accountability efforts. Strong media outreach campaigns that utilize and collaborate with traditional and social media sources, along with building credibility, collaboration, strategic positioning, and research are vital. Most importantly, CSOs must be ready to leverage and sustain public outrage when opportune movements i.e. jolts, occur. When given the opportunity to collaborate with governments on anticorruption strategies, CSOs should consider sponsoring highly independent ACAs. ACA’s, while not a perfect solution, can find success in environments where corruption is widespread and entrenched when they are presented with a high degree of autonomy, power, and resources.

 

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This paper speaks to CSOs who’s mission directly relates to anticorruption work but also CSOs whose work is indirectly related. Some CSOs engage in anticorruption efforts as part of a broader mission, while others do not work specifically on decreasing corruption but whose work helps to further the cause. For example, youth groups may devote themselves to encouraging civic participation and over time, remove entrenched politicians and corrupt structures.
2. Quah. (Ed.). (2013).
3. At least, to see some level of success.
4. Dixit. (2016).
5. Wei. (2001).
6. For example, the World Bank and the Business Anticorruption Portal.
7. CPI. (2017
8. Holmes. (2015).
9. Fatafta. (2018). Generally, the infringement on freedom of speech and assembly has increased since the Arab Spring in 2011.
10. USAID. (2016).
11. Ibid.
12. Riley. (2016). India also witnessed periods of great regulation and deregulation during this time.
13. KPMG. (2011).
14. Initially, Madhya Pradesh.
15. Robinson. (2012) and World Bank. (2018).
16. The demand for an ombudsman was inspired by the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
17. Sengupta. (2012) and Riley. (2016).
18. Baliga. (2011).
19. The AAP won 67 of 70 seats in the assembly and is the current ruling party within the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
20. TI Singapore Country Profile. Singapore was ranked the least corruption Asian country by the CPI from 1995-2015. It was ranked 3rd overall in TI’s CPI Index for 2018. Keefe. (2015).
21. Berlinger. (2012). The gift giving cultural practice can play a role.
22. Quah. (2015).
23. Berlinger. (2012).
24. Keefe. (2015).
25. Suspended jail sentences and pardoning are common in South Korea, for example. Berlinger. (2012).
26. Berlinger. (2012).
27. Center for Public Impact. (2016).
28. The Commission of Four was an ad hoc body of respected politicians.
29. Mackie. (1970).
30. Soeharto’s fall led to an increase in independent media and legislation that for the first time allowed the police to prosecute corruption.
31. Bolongaita. (2010).
32. The Asian Development Bank in particular.
33. KPK. (2018).
34. The KPK also has an education and outreach division.
35. Convictions include members of the Central Bank, governors and parliamentary members, members of the National Police, ambassadors, and elite private businessmen for example.
36. As a consequence of their limited resources, there are many cases the KPK chooses not to pursue. Bolongaita. (2010) and Center for Public Impact. (2016).
37. Bolongaita. (2010).
38. Center for Public Impact. (2016).
39. Bolongaita. (2010). The KPK encouraged the organizing of public demonstrations.
40. Bolongaita. (2010).
41. Castro, A. & Ansari, S. (2017).
42. Le Monde. (2013).
43. Castro, A. & Ansari, S. (2017).
44. Tamyalew. (2010).
45. Ibid.
46. Plea bargains were seen as essentially a strategy to dig deeper into certain corruption scandals.
47. Castro. (2017).
48. Ibid
49. Ralchev. (2004).
50. Castro. (2017). Hoffman. (1999). Oliver. (1992).
51. Reinecke. (2015).
52. Walsh, E. (1981).
53. Keefe. (2015).
54. Beyond the following suggestions, much research has been accomplished on successful strategies for prompting social mobilization (see New Social Mobilization Theory (NMS).  
55. Castro. (2017).
56. Plamen. (2004).
57. Anticorruption CSOs can provide funding, support, security, and advocacy for whistleblowers and journalists functioning to uncover issues of corruption.
58. This work was done successfully with other CSOs and civilians in Turkey.  Firmin. (2017).
59. Important that these CSO/media relationships are non-quid pro quo to maintain impartiality and neutrality. In Lebanon, as a result of cultivated relationships, the media has been more supportive of anticorruption campaigns and taken interest in political malpractice.
60. Political-will that may need to be created through sustained public pressure.
61. ACA Authorities Website
62. Berlinger. (2012). Bolongaita. (2010).
63. Bolongaita. (2010).
64. Ibid.
65. Economist. (2011).
66. Spector. (January 2015
67. Ibid.
68. Firmin. (2017). (ex Mozambique
69. Firmin. (2016).
70. For example, anticorruption CSOs are “not here to criticize just to make regulations more efficient”.
71. In Panama, connection to grassroots voices often increases credibility in the perception of the government.
72. Spector. (January 2015
73. Specifically, the gaps between law and practice.
74. Firmin. (2017).
75. Which may also ward off general discontent with the state.  While in theory and over time this work might erode public trust in state systems, the work does not explicitly function to hold the government accountable, and often experiences less restriction.
76. Smaller ground-up strategies, such as instituting anticorruption practices within the organization as a modest way to change public sentiment for example. Important to exercise caution though so as not to induce government shutdown of essential services.
77. Pring. (2016
78. Ibid.
79. As stated above, quantifying the impact of corruption or the breadth of corruption generally is challenging. Firmin. (2016
80. Collaboration with universities and international recognized research organizations may help legitimize research where regimes seek to delegitimize it. In Cambodia, anticorruption research is often rejected because CSOs are seen as threats to the current political power structure. Collaboration with universities in Cambodia has helped legitimize anticorruption research. 
81. Important example illustrating that top-down changes can alter societal attitudes. Keefe. (2015