Around the world, new leaders such as Mauricio Funes in El Salvador, Petr Necas in the Czech Republic and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia have prioritized the fight against corruption. Under Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia is in the midst of a promising government transformation program. President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines campaigned on the slogan: “If there is no corruption, there will be no poverty.”
These brave leaders are not (just) moralists. They have declared war on corruption because their citizens demand it. As popular movements from Tunisia to India show, systemic corruption has fostered distrust, anger and political instability. The World Bank calls corruption one of the foremost obstacles to economic development. But in their fight for good government, these leaders are not getting the help they need.
Around the world, the usual approaches to fighting corruption are not producing good enough results. These approaches pass new laws, dictate codes of conduct, train public administrators and buy computers. With regard to civil society and the business community, there are meetings, speeches and surveys that measure how many citizens and companies are paying bribes. These steps are not so much wrong as incomplete. Having state-of-the-art laws doesn’t guarantee their implementation. Elaborate codes of conduct are often only ornaments. Knowing that X percent of citizens pay bribes in Ministry A and Y percent in Ministry B doesn’t mean that the social costs of corruption in A are greater than in B. Nor of course does such data say what corrective actions are cost effective in A or B.
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