In the global battle against graft, the weapon that’s most essential is also the one in shortest supply — political will.
Without it the fight is over before it starts, and corruption grows.
But when leaders commit to defeating sleaze, anything is possible. Take Hong Kong and Singapore. Considering their geography and history, they should be dens of thieves. Instead they always rank near the top of the corruption perceptions index and serve as global models of clean government.
Or take Bhutan. That’s right, Bhutan.
It’s half the size of Indiana, has a population of about 750,000, and sits among 20,000-foot peaks in the Himalayas. It’s also landlocked and completely surrounded by giants India and China.
Despite that geographical predicament, Bhutan is the least corrupt country in South Asia. It ranks 33 on the corruption perceptions index, while India is 94 and China is 80. Nearby Nepal is 139 and Bangladesh is 144. And over the past five years Bhutan has steadily improved, moving up the CPI 13 spots since 2007.
What happened? Once a mountain kingdom, Bhutan is now a progressive young democracy, with a king, a prime minister, and two houses of parliament.
Even with the tough transition to democracy, and the constant distraction of defining its autonomy from India and borders with China, Bhutan’s leaders made their anti-corruption campaign a top priority.
Just before he abdicated in favor of his son, the former king in 2005 put fighting graft front and center. Into the proposed constitution went this dictum: ‘Every person shall have the duty to uphold justice and to act against corruption.’
Also in 2005, a royal decree established Bhutan’s independent anti-corruption commission. The decree said:
At a time when we are establishing parliamentary democracy in the country, it is very important to curb and root out corruption from the very beginning. Therefore, it is imperative to establish the Office of the Anti-Corruption Commission before the adoption of the Constitution and build a strong foundation for the Commission to effectively carry out its functions and responsibilities.
As we’ve said, corruption is never inevitable and clean government is a choice.
Bhutan again proves the point.
Here’s part of the Vision and Mission Statement from Bhutan’s anti-corruption commission. It’s a model of simplicity, directness, and clarity. And a brave public declaration of accountability and political will.
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Corruption is commonly defined as the abuse of public office for private gains. It is a silent crime that is sustained by weak systems and lack of accountability. Corruption is both a cause and a symptom of poor governance. It contributes to poverty by making the poor people pay for services as resources and public money intended for development are siphoned off, undermining government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging development assistance.
The consequences of pervasive corruption and the process of democratization will increasingly put pressure on the Government to be accountable and transparent in the performance of its duties. . . .
Political will is of paramount importance for the Royal Government’s drive against corruption. Integrity and incorruptibility of leaders at all levels will be critical in making or breaking the state. In Bhutan, the strong political leadership committed to fighting corruption and promoting an anti-corruption culture at the highest level offers a firm foundation to sincerely address the social sickness. With the strong political will, demonstrated by clear personal examples of senior leaders and sustained enforcement action, Bhutan will be recognized as a country that is serous about countering corruption.
On the 30th Day of the 10th Month of the Wood Bird Year corresponding to 31st December 2005, His Majesty decreed that an Anti-Corruption Commission be established. . . .
As a process towards building the strong foundation [for democracy], the Anti-Corruption Commission has developed a preliminary paper that defines its mission, values that it will uphold, standards that will be the yardstick of its performance and strategies to achieve its mission.
Vision: To strive towards building a happy, harmonious and corruption free society.
Mission: To eliminate corruption through leading by example, achieving excellence in partnerships, and mainstreaming anti corruption strategies/measures in public/private organizations.
Values: Leadership, teamwork, credibility, integrity, humility, transparency, fearlessness, impartiality, accountability, professionalism, expediency, creativity, tenacity of purpose and result-driven, empathy.