Conventions Against Corruption
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KeywordsCorruption Anti-corruption strategy
This article provides an introduction to issues of corruption and anti-corruption strategy. It examines the strands, manifestations, and consequences of corruption in any state. It further interrogates national and international anti-corruption strategies employed to combat corruption in all its ramifications. It finally concludes with a discussion on how to prevent and tackle corruption.
Volumes of articles within and outside academia have been written to address the issue. Also, conferences and symposia have been organized to address the nature, manifestations, strands, and the effects of corruption. It remains a daily occurrence in countries across the globe. No wonder Amundsen (1999: 1) submits that corruption is not concomitant with any clime: it is ubiquitous. It is deep-rooted in poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa. It is widespread in Latin America. It is deep-seated in many of the newly industrialized countries coupled with alarming proportions in several post-communist states. Despite its ubiquitous nature across geographies, it also finds comfort within the private and public realms. As reported by Transparency International, “corruption is one of the greatest challenges of the contemporary world. It undermines good government, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms the private sector and development and particularly hurts the poor” (TI 1998).
As a topical discourse with global visibility, its magnitude and proportions differ from country to country. In some climes, it is rare; in other places, it is systemic. Where it is rare, it is easily spotted as its culprits are punished. In places where it is systemic, it resembles a hydra-headed monster as incentives are created for its perpetuity. Consequently, the deployment of power and resources in a manner that advances personal, sectional, religious, and other parochial interests at the peril of a broad-based social, national, or global need is fastened to corruption. This is because power and resources are channeled toward private enrichment and personal aggrandizement (World Bank 1998). Theft, bribery, kickbacks, over-invoicing, patronage, extortion, nepotism, and other practices that stand in dissonance with the institutionalized norms of a society are tied to corruption (Chow 2005). Given its widespread nature, in many countries there exist euphemisms to describe these practices: egunje in Nigeria, mordida in Mexico, arreglo in the Philippines, baksheesh in Egypt, dash in Kenya, pot-de-vin in France, steekpenning in the Netherlands, tangente in Italy, or kenőpénz in Hungary. All these euphemisms are argots employed to refer to bribes in money or favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to sway his/her disposition.
Consequently, its universal presence makes it an ambiguous concept in the social discourse with no established denotation. This implies that there is no generally agreed definition or an encompassing meaning for the term. In fact, it has been viewed from variegated standpoints and perspectives by scholars, agencies, think tanks, commentators, and analysts across space. This has obstructed the attainment of a definitional homogeneity of the concept within academia and the active domain of administration. Regardless of these variations, Sorkaa (2002) fluently describes corruption as the erosion of ethics and accountability in public life. Expressing corresponding opinion, Nye (1967) and Adesina (2016) sees it as a moral impurity as it involves failure to kowtow to some social standards. Edame (2001) and Aluko (2009) see corruption as an antisocial behavior that bestows improper advantages contrary to legal and moral precepts to advance the living conditions of its beneficiaries. Therefore, it remains the abuse of entrusted power for private gains (World Bank 1998). Citing concrete examples, corruption may involve (but is not limited to) asking, giving, or taking a free gift or a favor in exchange for the performance of a legitimate task and the perversion or obstruction of the performance of such a task and the performance of an illegitimate task such as hoarding; collusive price-fixing; smuggling; transfer-pricing; inflation of prices; election-rigging; illegal arrest for harassment or intimidation purposes; abuse/misuse/nonuse of office, position, or power; dumping of obsolete machinery or outdated drugs; illegal foreign exchange transactions; legal but obviously unfair and unjust acquisition of wealth; “gilded crimes”; certificate forgery; false accounts and claims; and diversion of public, corporate, or private money or property to direct or indirect personal use (Odekunle 1986).
Furthermore, corruption can be categorized into varying strands and forms. Its categorization is anchored in the institutional position of the participants, the nature of the transaction, or the underlying agenda. To an extent, the most worthwhile categorization of the varying shades of corruption is provided by the United Nations’ Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODOCCP). The entire spectrum includes bribery, embezzlement, theft, fraud, extortion, exploiting a conflict of interest, influence peddling, insider trading, the offering or receiving of an unlawful gratuity, favor or illegal commission, favoritism, nepotism/clientelism, illegal political contributions, and money laundering (UN 2001). Transparency International divides it into three layers: petty (management), grand (leadership), and political (systemic) (TI n.d.). Petty corruption captures daily abuse of entrusted power by lower-ranked and mid-ranked state officials in their engagements with citizens who often access basic goods in the public domain such as health, education, police departments, and other agencies of the state. Grand corruption entails deeds committed at the highest echelons of government that twist policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to profit at the expense of the public good. Political corruption reflects the intentional tweaking of policies, institutions, rules of procedure for the allocation of resources, and financing by political decision-makers who abuse their position to sustain their power, status, and wealth (TI 2002; 2013).
As the act cuts across countries, so do its effects. In the developing world, it renders state institutions prostrate, dysfunctional, and a few moribund; weakens and suffocates developmental efforts in all its ramifications; induces mediocrity in the public sector; perverts justice and fairness coupled with deterioration of law and order; and causes deprivation and chronic poverty. Relatedly, public resources are either allocated wastefully or siphoned, able and frank citizens feel exasperated, and the populace develops distrust against the government. The summative effects of these are disappearance of foreign aid, incomplete and abandoned projects, low productivity, inept administration and management, and weakened legitimacy. Above all, corruption ruins economic development. Eventually, this results in political instability, dilapidated infrastructure, battered health care, a battered education system, and further problems. Individuals and groups who wish to conduct their businesses honorably are discouraged and lose confidence in the rule of law. Consequently, corruption triggers mistrust in public establishments, weakens scrupulous doctrines by recompensing those eager and able to “grease palms” or “wet ground,” and maintains unfairness.
Measures Against Corruption
Measures have been adopted to combat corruption at the international and national fronts. The measures include the approval of national and international agreements like the United Nations and African Union Conventions designed to tackle the entire spectrum of corruption coupled with the formation of autonomous bodies known as anti-corruption agencies or ACAs (Agbiboa 2013); Ampratwum 2008). A small number of these ACAs have succeeded in curtailing systemic corruption in their countries, whereas the majority are toothless bulldogs that “bark” without “biting” corrupt elements in the society. This has further accentuated grand corruption in these societies. For instance, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and Singapore’s Corruption Investigation and Prevention Bureau (CIPB) exemplify successful ACAs in the world (Gregory 2015). A greater number of these bodies are nonetheless notorious for their failure, particularly in developing countries of Africa where corruption has adorned the toga of social acceptance in both private and public realms (Fjeldstad and Isaksen 2008; Heeks and Mathisen 2012). For example, Nigeria’s Advance Free Fraud and Fraud Related Offences Act of 1995, Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act of 2000, and Money Laundering Act of 2003 were enacted by various successive administrations stately interested in wrestling with corruption, with little in the way of results to show for this.
Denied the populace timely access to government services
Increased the cost of services
Imposed a “regressive tax” on the poorest segments of the population
Restricted economic and democratic development
Constituted a high-risk/low-profit activity in the new context (e.g., corrupt persons are punishable by jail sentences and fines)
The challenge is how to best communicate this anti-corruption message to the population at large. This is where synergy comes in. The press, as a strong pillar in the fight against corruption, is needed to communicate these messages to the public. Hence, when everyone becomes informed and journalists are well-equipped with the necessary training to report instances of corruption or publish the central theme of an anti-corrupt strategy, coupled with a vibrant judiciary, there will be no hiding havens for corrupt elements in society.
International Conventions Against Corruption
This section dwells on various global conventions in force to stem the menace of corruption. These conventions set out universal statutory benchmarks and precepts aimed at wrestling corruption and ensuring domestic action as well as global synergy as both are needed to successfully take on the various strands and manifestations of corruption. Although these conventions may seem largely identical in appearance, they can differ substantially depending on the signatories and the precise tasks set out in them. Concerning their geographic range, some extend their catchment areas across continents, while others are regional and subregional in coverage.
On the global front, the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), adopted in 2003, became operational in 2005 with 154 signatories as of December 2011. It was put in place to prohibit corruption and mandates signatories to take a spectrum of measures to combat it. Signatories undertake to cooperate with one another related to instances of cross-country corruption doings and to return pilfered possessions to their countries of origin. It is the most widespread anti-graft treaty with respect to geographical spread and issues addressed. Beyond this, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is the maiden and sole global anti-corruption framework aimed specifically at the “supply side” of the bribery deal. The instrument creates lawfully binding criteria to criminalize inducement of foreign public personnel in international financial transactions and sets out concomitant measures to be taken, such as painstaking surveillance and far-reaching follow-up mechanisms, to guarantee effective and robust implementation. Correspondingly, the UN Convention against transnational organized crime acknowledges the fight against corruption coupled with allied acts as an integral part of the fight against cross-border organized crime. The instrument expects signatories to take required measures to forestall and forbid corruption and to put money laundering in check.
On the continental front, the African Union Convention is a holistic framework adopted to criminalize the hydra-nature of corruption as it requires member states to work together to thwart, spot, punish, and eliminate it, and related doings, in both the public and private domains. The treaty outlines a blueprint for global collaboration and mutual legal aid to fight graft and recover stolen assets, as well as follow-up mechanisms to evaluate the progress made by each signatory. The Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Convention against Corruption remains the pioneer international anti-graft treaty on the regional level in the meantime. Adopted in 1996 (it became effective in 1997), with 33 signatories as of 2012, it offers a range of deterrent strategies, provides for the proscription of certain actions of corruption, and sets out a sequence of provisions to support the collaboration between its signatories in aspects of legal aid and technical help, repatriation and identification, asset recovery, and follow-up mechanisms. In Europe, there is a plethora of instruments targeted at wrestling corruption. It includes the Council of Europe Civil Law Convention (the maiden attempt to define common international rules in the field of civil law and corruption in an international treaty), the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention, the European Union Convention against Corruption Involving Officials, and the Convention on the Protection of the European Communities’ Financial Interests. These are all legal frameworks drafted to combat corruption. In consonance, the instruments help to criminalize acts that stand in discord with institutionalized rules, punish active and passive acts of corruption, encourage international collaboration in the prosecution of corrupt persons, and provide incentives for individuals who have suffered as a result of graft among others.
On the subregional front, the South African Development Community Protocol exemplifies the maiden subcontinental treaty to fight corruption in Africa. Mimicking the AU convention, the protocol assists the signatories to prevent, detect, punish, and eradicate corruption in the private and public spheres. However, only marginal progress has been recorded in its implementation since the protocol became operational in 2005.
In the West African subregion, there is the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Protocol on the Fight Against Corruption, adopted in 2001, to strengthen the fight against corruption in the region. Despite its laudable provisions aimed at arresting the systemic corruption that permeates the region, it remains a fetus in the uterus due to lack of ratifications since its adoption in 2001.
In summation, all these protocols and treaties are designed to achieve better governance by safeguarding resources aimed at poverty alleviation, valued assets in the search of development, and global teamwork in fighting the menace of corruption.
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