Social Change is the principle goal of anticorruption activities.
Action, not speeches, is the hallmark of corruption fighting institutions operating in the Rule of Law sector.
Despite this seemingly obvious fact, many “corruption fighting institutions” do not track and publicize basic statistics that are essential to measuring successful change in the “corruption level” of an country or region.
The Justice and Rule of Law sectors contribute to social change, principally, through detection, investigation, prosecution and corrections (jail and financial penalties). They mark the boundaries of acceptable behavior in society. Effectiveness in this sector can be tracked by monitoring activities.
Crime fighting actions can be measured and counted.
In an earlier article I discussed a popular corruption index. Notably, that index and its underlying sources, while generally useful for impressions about the level of corruption in a country, are weak on examining some obvious actions that indicate the vitality of the fight against corruption and evidence of change.
For the purposes of this article, we will work with the definitions of corruption related to criminal behavior, and set aside the larger philosophic issues on the definition of corruption as decay for another time.
Newspapers and other media look for the dramatic indicators – they want to see corruptors caught and people going to prison. But the process of administering justice begins much earlier. We can examine the process by moving earlier in the chain of activities and examining the metrics, indicators, associated with action. Most of these indicators are glaringly obvious. Obvious, but often missing in developing country contexts.
My colleagues in Europe and the U.S. may find this list shocking. As you read headlines about corruption in Bangladesh related to building collapses, or other stories/countries in the coming weeks, think about this list.
I encourage you to examine for yourself on a country-by-country basis how difficult such data is to obtain. Worse, notice where there are no structures in place to collect the data and refusal to discuss the data for “privacy” or “security” reasons.
I list the top-level indicators of corruption fighting statistics to look for when looking at the effectiveness of corruption fighters in developing countries.
1. Successful convictions.
Undoubtedly, the top level, the most dramatic indicator of fighting corruption is successful convictions. While it is highly doubtful that this is truly an effective indicator of change, it does indicate a willingness of government to confront the challenge of corruption.
2. Return of the proceeds of corruption.
It has become popular in some parts of the world to “catch” corrupt officials, convict them . . . and then ignore the millions of dollars of public funds they have hidden away. Successful seizure and repatriation of the proceeds of corruption really should be a high level measure of success in the fight against corruption. Where this is not done, it is reasonable to suspect a tepid commitment to fighting corruption.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki recently hinted at this issue while addressing the Liberian Parliament. He commented that the African continent is losing USD $50 Billion in illicit funds each year in contrast to the USD $25 Billion in development funds coming into the continent. His primary point was that Africa needs that money to further development. The elephant in the room is where is that money going and where is the talk about bringing it back.
Asset recovery should be a significant matter of pride for corruption fighters. More importantly, successes in asset recovery inspire the community to have confidence in their government.
3. Attempted Prosecutions
If prosecutors aren’t filing cases with the court to prosecute, something is wrong. Seriously wrong. If they are afraid to file the cases for political reasons, or matters of personal security, this issue needs the light of day, and problem solving can take place.
Obstacles to the administration of justice must be identified, and that analysis includes examining the workflow data of prosecutors.
4. Cases transferred from law enforcement to the prosecutors.
Whether in a Common Law or Civil Law jurisdiction, law enforcement has an important role in identifying and preparing cases for prosecutors.
Accordingly, where law enforcement fails to move cases from their desks to the prosecutors’ office, there are significant obstacles to the fight against corruption. Perhaps they are capacity problems. Perhaps there are “political sensitivity” problems. In any case, it’s a matter of handling the obstacles and getting on the task of moving cases forward.
Where cases are stalled within law enforcement, there may be more than capacity, experience or political sensitivity problems.
5. Number of cases under active investigation.
Law enforcement and prosecutors will have some number of activities and investigations underway at any time. This number can and should be available to the senior government officials, such as the Minister of Justice, legislators and the public because it shows that law enforcement is working on corruption cases and moving them forward.
Where there is only the occasional off the cuff mention of cases under investigation in a media interview, but no official report, managing resources and evaluating the effectiveness of a corruption fighting institution, is near impossible.
This data is important to separate those who are merely talking, from those who are serious about fighting corruption. In the absence of real data, international evaluation of such institutions immediately falls prey to personal likes and dislikes of expats, and English speaking skills.
6. Length of time to investigate cases.
Yes, all cases are different. And some cases are more difficult than others. Regardless, the length of time to investigate a case is critical to understanding the success of a corruption fighting institution, and its resource needs. The data is critical to developing budget requests for more resources, including training.
7. Number of Complaints
Raw data on the number of complaints must be collected, regardless of whether the complaints are actionable. Actionable complaints are wonderful because they provide the supply for investigations that ultimately lead to convictions. Surprisingly, there is sometimes a significant reluctance to collect the data and share the figures because it “sends the signal that things aren’t right with the government.” When you hear such words from a law enforcement institution, it’s a red flag that things are not as they should be.
However, even when complaints are not actionable in law enforcement, they may yet provide data that is helpful to the institutions at the heart of the complaint.
For example, supposing that an anticorruption institution receives 500 complaints about customs officials over the course of 3 months, but none have enough data to be directly actionable. Let’s suppose that witnesses refuse to do more than leave cryptic messages about problems with collection of duties.
Where a corruption fighting institution refuses, for whatever reason, to allocate resources to investigate, they may yet make the data available to the subject organization, Customs in this example, and the public to both encourage more identification of actionable information, as well as encourage a change of behavior.
These basis statistics should be available to justice officials, government executives, legislators and the public that are interested in the fight against corruption. Where institutions refuse to collect the data, and make it transparent, there are obstacles to fighting corruption and the administration of justice generally. As mentioned above, perhaps the obstacles are fundamental, such as skills and tools. And perhaps they are political (i.e., self protection).
Identifying the nature of these obstacles may take some finesse as consultants and government advisors work to strengthen the organizations and processes.
Less dramatic, but far more effective, are the statistics that should be collected related to corruption prevention. In the coming weeks, Corruption Prevention Expert, Mahamed Boakai, and I will share our list of top statistics related to corruption prevention.
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