Why are anti-corruption success stories still the exception?
After decades of fighting corruption, measured by hundreds of new (or renewed) commitments, institutions and laws, as well as by millions of euros spent, success stories are still the exception, not the norm. This raises the question, what does and does not work in fighting corruption?
In their book Transition to Good Governance (2017), authors Muniu-Pippidi and Johnston analyse ten countries that successfully reduced corruption. Their conclusions could give anti-corruption campaigners sleepless nights, because anti-corruption measures are not necessarily what explain their success.
For example, the authors found no evidence to support the widely held belief that placing restrictions on political party finance contributes to reducing corruption. More shockingly, the authors argue that some anti-corruption instruments “might even prompt more illegal practices or measures that can be applied everywhere”. The book concludes that structural aspects, such as political agency and modernisation of the state, play a significant role in determining whether anti-corruption efforts are successful or not.
It seems the desire to abuse entrusted power for private gain is stronger than any governance system.
A second piece of research undermines the argument that correlates decentralisation and reduced corruption. ‘Decentralisation, Multilevel Governance and Corruption’, developed by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Bangladesh and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in Nigeria, shows that local elections and forms of government do not necessarily imply less corruption. Not only is corruption a consequence of poor decentralisation implementation, it also shapes local forms of decentralisation.
Two important conclusions can be drawn from these studies: corruption not only adapts to particular circumstances, but the circumstances may also adapt to established corruption dynamics; and measures that exclusively target corruption do not always make a difference.