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Do anti-corruption agencies promote graft?

In July, I had an interesting conversation with Prof. Alan Doig in Vienna relating to the fight against corruption in my own country, Kenya.

He asked me how Kenya was fighting its infamous corruption and impunity. I answered that there is an Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission tasked with fighting graft. He turned to a group of Frenchmen sitting behind me and asked them the same question. They said that France did not have a specific agency tasked with fighting corruption.

He repeated this exercise with several other people and a trend emerged; respondents from countries reporting extremely high levels of corruption stated that their countries had a centralized anti-corruption agency while respondents from the least corrupt countries stated the exact opposite. Their countries had several law enforcement agencies investigating corruption cases at various levels in addition to various other law enforcement duties.

This had me thinking: Is it possible that a centralized anti-corruption agency actually contributes to the proliferation of corruption in a country? Could it be that we have been going about fighting corruption the wrong way?

A first time visitor to any African city, say Nairobi, will be struck by the proliferation of huge signs erected by the anti-corruption commission outside government offices in bold letters declaring that “This is a Corruption Free Zone!!”  This gives the impression that there are indeed islands of virtue and integrity in the city where the conscientious individual can access public services without having to part with a bribe.

However, a short sojourn into the office would leave no doubt in the visitor’s mind that not only is that particular office a den of corruption but the signage is a misleading wastage of public funds. This is a scenario that can be easily replicated in any African country and probably most of the third world. A critical thinking visitor would probably suspect that the anti-corruption commission’s efforts to fight corruption are merely cosmetic.

It appears therefore that centralized anti-corruption agencies are ineffective and have been unable to eradicate the scourge. This means that it is crucial for practitioners in the anti-corruption field to review the structures of these agencies, identify their weaknesses and suggest ways of correcting them. Until this is done, the fight against corruption will not be won. To do this, practitioners need to identify the shared characteristics of these methods and question whether they are attaining they are having the intended effect.

I’ll do that in the next installment. 

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Michael Ndichu Kuria is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog.

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