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Andy Spalding: Five lessons I’ve learned at IACA

Image courtesy of IACAIf you gather anti-corruption professionals from six continents in a classroom for intensive discussion, extraordinary things are bound to happen. 

Here are five lessons I’ve learned in my years of teaching in the Master in Anti-Corruption Studies program at the International Anti-Corruption Academy.

1. Corruption is not cultural, not anywhere. The tired trope that “corruption is cultural” is just plain false. There are indeed countries in the world where corruption is pervasive or routine, and where citizens seem tolerant or even resigned to it. 

But there is simply no culture in the world which teaches that a suitcase full of cash exchanged under the table for an illegal benefit is good. We can argue about marginal forms of bribery, like gift-giving, or nepotism. And bribery’s beneficiaries may do their best to rationalize it. But no culture endorses straight-up bribery. None.

2. Fighting corruption is a universal value. The second principle follows from the first. It could be that we all thought corruption was bad, but nobody (or few) thought we could do anything about it. That was probably the case twenty years ago. But year after year, professionals from Liberia and Azerbaijan and Afghanistan and many other countries demonstrate to me that it is no longer true. The world has changed.

3. The main task is to generate global political will. Still, large swaths of the global population still need to believe that corruption is a problem they can effectively address. They need to study the examples of Brazil and South Korea and Uruguay and Georgia and see the reforms now being adopted. We need as much education as we can get.

4. Experience breeds innovation. Place thoughtful, bright people in challenging circumstances and they will innovate. I’m struck by the array of novel ideas these classes produce for educating the public, generating political will, and building the foundation for effective anti-corruption reforms. So you need some new ideas on how to address corruption? Come hang with these students for a bit.

5. We are witnessing, and participating in, history. The very existence of IACA is itself evidence of the remarkable moment in which we now live. Think about it: when in history would professionals from such diverse countries regularly gather in a single location to discuss the pursuit of a shared anti-corruption goal?

So many extraordinary events were necessary to make this possible: the end of the Cold War’s ideological rivalry; the mid-90s “Corruption Eruption” and globalization; the technological development that makes the gathering possible; the economic development that makes it affordable. 

Our parents and grandparents were not having these meetings. There were no global meeting spots, no solicitations of applications, no curriculum, no faculty, and no blogs. Witnessing, and indeed shaping, this moment is the unique privilege of our day. 


Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and a Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

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1 Comment

  1. Bribery is not always evil; it depends on the purposes. For example, a recent PBS documentary tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, 2 American Unitarian Ministers, who went to Europe during WW II and used money laundering and bribery of government officials to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. They have been honoured in the US and Israel for their bravery in committing these acts of bribery.

    More recently, Judy Feld Carr became a Canadian heroine for bribing Syrian government officials to allow Jews to leave Syria – it was Illegal under Syrian law for Jews to leave, so bribery was the only option.

    These are 2 glaring examples of how bribery can be a laudable and heroic action, and this is relevant to our world of bribery in the context of business also.

    If a state threatens to kill employees of the investor if a bribe is not paid, then delivering the suitcase of cash to save the employees is laudable, not evil.

    Similarly, and this is where it gets more realistic for us, if the government threatens that if a bribe is not paid, they will close the project, bribing may be laudable as well. If we take a typical mining company example, the mining company may employ 3000 locals in the mine, paying them decent wages for their work. The usual “multiplier effect in mining” is that for each person working in that mine, 8 people are employed in the host state to supply services and materials to the mining operation. Thus, 27,000 in the host state are employed as a result of the mine. As importantly, the mine will often be the sole supplier of water, electricity, schools, medical clinics to the people in the area of the mine. If the mine leaves, not services will be available

    In most of these host states, there is no safety net for unemployed, so it may be as dramatic as work or starve, or in many countries, for the women, work in the mine or the sex trade. No other options. On a human rights basis, can we really suggest that the company paying the bribe is engaging in an illegal or immoral act? Not paying is unethical.

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