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History Of The International Anti Corruption Movement Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1964 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Finding itself at the centre of development discourse for the last two decades, corruption has been a ‘star’ of the international development scene since it was brought to the top of the agenda in the 1990s [1] . Following the end of the Cold War, a changing geopolitical climate encouraged the establishment of an international commitment to condemning and criminalising corruption at the multilateral level, a process which culminated in the appearance of a coordinated global anti-corruption movement [2] .

Consisting of international agreements, domestic laws and initiatives, the reorientation of international organisations and the mobilisation of civil society, this global anti-corruption movement was aimed at tackling corruption via the systematic implementation of tools and strategies to address the issue on the ground.

It is clear that corruption is now a focus of international development. Anti-corruptionism is a narrative that places corruption at the centre of development concerns and is tightly bound up with the modern ‘good governance’ movement and the corresponding global shift towards legal formalisation. [3] 

Practically, the global movement’s origins have been suggested to lie in the interests of the US Government, multinational companies and multilateral donors. Corporate complaints about corruption as a non-tariff barrier to trade were a key motivation for the application of moral pressure to the international community for it to take action against international corruption. The US led the charge to encourage the appearance of a unified global agenda, a major concern being the fact that American companies were losing billions of dollars in international contracts from their inability to pay bribes by virtue of the operation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. [4] 

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The emergence and operation of the anti-corruption movement poses interesting questions for any student of international law and development. Importantly, if corruption has been recognised as harmful to societies since ancient times, what was it about the 1990s that spurred the international community to formally address it on a multilateral level? Further, how has the movement affected development on a global and local level and what have been its effects? The following section will examine anti-corruptionism by beginning with the genesis of the movement. It will then examine some methods and outcomes of the movement’s anti-corruption techniques. Whilst anti-corruptionism has brought international attention to an area which was previously somewhat neglected, critics argue that aspects of the movement itself have been counter-productive. [5] 

Owing to anti-corruptionism, corruption has reached a state of quasi-omnipotence in current development scholarship. [6] Culminating in the institution of a ‘global anticorruption movement’ in the 1990s, this focus on corruption and its role in development emerged in stark contrast with attitudes of the international community in the period that immediately preceded it. [7] 

Having been unsuccessful at the UN, the US in 1981 began lobbying at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for that body to implement an alternative to alternative to the failed UN effort, illicit payments agreement. [8] However many OECD countries declined to cooperate due to concerns about the interaction of such an agreement with their domestic law. [9] With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the post-Cold War era ushered in a period of immense geopolitical change. With that change, the attention of the international community was increasingly focussed on the internationalisation of economics brought about by increasing levels of globalisation [10] .

The problem of foreign bribery and corruption was suddenly given new priority by previously hesitant OECD countries who were then more receptive to the idea of an international agreement on the issue. In May 1994, the OECD Ministerial Council adopted the Recommendation of the Council on Bribery in International Business Transactions, which asked members to take concrete and meaningful steps to amend their laws, tax systems, accounting and record keeping requirements and public procurement procedures. [11] 

In 1997, all twenty-nine member countries of the OECD and five non-member countries agreed to sign the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. The OECD Convention in effect obliged signatory countries to conform to a US model prohibiting bribery and money laundering. This model was then extended further in the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2003. The UNCAC included new commitments to transparency in public works procurement and currently represents the broadest, most recent international commitment to tackling global corruption. [12] 

In this new era of international enthusiasm, institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF came to include anti-corruptionism in their assistance conditionalities.78 Corruption was newly packaged as a socio-economic rather than political concern, by these institutions in order for them to depoliticise and therefore legitimately target the problem.79 Following this, there was widespread publication of the effects of corruption by NGOs and civil society, spearheaded by TI. NGOs and civil society worked to transmit the anti-corruption movement to citizens around the world and were aided by a post-communist trend towards free and active media

facilitating the diffusion of the key tenants of anti-corruptionism [13] .

The radical change of geopolitical climate, growth in international trade spurred by globalisation, participation by civil society, and moral push from the US, converged to popularise a ‘fight’ against corruption. All this culminated in the appearance of the global anti-corruption movement in the 1990s.

There are a number of consequences to the emergence of anti-corruptionism as a key explanatory factor for development failure. The first is principally a consequence of the ideology from which anti-corruptionism itself sprung but is also tied up with the attack on the state that anti-corruptionism encourages and supports. At the core of neo-liberalism is the simplistic mantra of private = good, public = bad. By viewing actions of the state as interference in the functioning of the market – as rent-seeking activities – neo-liberalism ignored the dangers of private monopolies and anti­competitive behaviour, both of which began to flourish internally. Moreover, as Joseph Stiglitz has persuasively argued, neo-liberalism as encapsulated by the Washington Consensus failed to take into account the extreme inter-relatedness of everything with everything else in society.

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The second consequence of anti-corruptionism is arguably more serious and is related again to its role within neo-liberal ideology. It is the way in which corruption has become a mono-casual or predominant explanatory factor for development failures. One of the most potent dangers of anti-corruptionism is therefore not that it is wrong to highlight the damaging nature of corruption – although much more work needs to be done to provide evidence for the supposition that it is actually harmful – but that it is too simple an explanation alone to account for the failures in development policies. If there has been one central lesson of the past sixty years of development disappointments, it is how little we understand of what actually works in enabling people to fight their way out of poverty.

The danger therefore of anti-corruptionism is that it diverts attention away from more nuanced accounts of development failures by providing an illusion of certainty in our understanding of development, and in doing so causes actual and on-going harm. The inability or unwillingness to develop a comprehensive understanding of failure contains within it the risk of failing all over again.

The prescription to governments that they need to fight corruption does not provide a list of priorities, a means of going about it or any unanticipated (negative) consequences that may arise. This is largely because ‘corruption’ tells us nothing about specific actions; instead it is what Polzer, following Euben, describes as an ‘othering’ tool. In place of describing specific actions, such as theft or vote-rigging, corruption is simply a negative evaluative concept that

One of the main effects of the term itself is thus to create a dichotomy between ‘the corrupt’ and ‘the good’ that mirrors neatly onto neo-liberalism’s central characterisation of the state as bad and the market as good; the othering nature of the discourse, moreover, allows the World Bank, as champion of the market, to take on the mantle of good expert in contrast to the corrupt developing state.

Focusing on the corruption of bureaucrats and government officials not only conveniently shields free market ideology from any responsibility for the failure to live up to its claims of wealth creation and the BWI from any responsibility for their role. Anti-corruptionism also exculpates any responsibility that the West – its institutions and its citizens – may have for, for example,

Corruption, because of its place within the good governance agenda, is an ahistorical discourse of the present. Moreover, it is one of course that locates development failures squarely within developing countries, and this predominating focus on developing government failures in the face of our own complicity in them has of course an undeniable smack of cultural imperialism to it. [14] As such, it is not only deeply unhelpful but also damaging to the goals of development as well as to the necessary relationship between the global North and South – an essential part of development if development goals, however defined, are to be achieved.


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