By Luke Balleny
A critical look at some of the good governance stories from the past week:
One of the difficulties that lawmakers face when creating anti-corruption laws is how to define corruption. Numerous definitions exist, the most well-known of which possibly belongs to Transparency International; the anti-corruption watchdog defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Given the difficulty of defining corruption, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some leaders have taken to describing as corrupt all things that they view as bad. Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Philippines took that position to its logical conclusion when he told a rally that “contraception is corruption”.
“Corruption has often gone hand in hand with economic growth ... it is a form of spontaneous redistribution of resources that works in organic symbiosis with the market,” Boris Kagarlitsky, a director of the Moscow-based Institute of Globalization Studies wrote recently in the Moscow Times. While it is true that corruption and economic growth can exist together, corruption is generally not considered to be an effective redistribution of resources and it certainly does not work in symbiosis with the market. Firstly, corruption distorts the market as it promotes uncompetitive behaviour. Secondly, the resources that are redistributed through corruption are from to the poor to the rich, the powerful and the elite, leaving the bribe payer with fewer resources to spend on economically beneficial goods.
When the UK Bribery Act came in to force on July 2011, some commentators said that it would be hugely detrimental to the corporate hospitality industry. Their reasoning was that risk-averse corporate legal teams would forbid their colleagues from providing high-end corporate hospitality to customers and suppliers in case it was perceived to be a bribe. While Kenneth Clarke, UK Secretary of State for Justice, assured the media that reasonable hospitality would not be a problem, the scare stories continued. The news that hospitality sales have hit their target for the Olympic Games has surely put that particular scare story to bed.
As the global recession forces governments to slash budgets, anti-graft agencies have had to cut their cloth. Indeed, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office has had its budget cut from 51 million pounds ($80 million) in 2008-9 to 39.5 million pounds ($62 million) in 2010-11. What is more, the agency has been put on notice that their budget will fall again to 30.5 million pounds ($48 million) during the 2014-15 tax year. Indonesia’s anti-graft agency, beset by budget cuts, has literally gone cap in hand into the street to ask for donations in order to fund a new office building. While their initiative is to be admired, it could lead to conflict of interest problems. What would the anti-graft agency do if a rich but shady businessman offered to fund the building entirely?
How far would you go to get your child a job? Greek politician Byron Polydoras was made speaker of the Greek parliament for one day and during that time gave his daughter a permanent job in his office. Like other civil servants, that meant she could not be fired under the Greek constitution. While the news has caused fury in Greece, Polydoras remains unrepentant saying that his daughter was a good fit for the job. With nearly 55 percent of young people in Greece jobless, how many other Greek parents wouldn’t be tempted to do the same given?