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Fighting Corruption

​CONFLICT COUNTRIES and countries emerging from conflicts have difficult tasks ahead of them, and their troubles are often exacerbated by corruption inside and outside of the government. Mark Pyman, head of Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme (TI-DSP) and Stewart Eldon, senior advisor with TI-DSP and a NATO representative, have been working to decrease corruption in conflict and post-conflict nations. They’ve learned a lot about how to approach the nations and have even seen some successes. But there is plenty of work left to do.

Pyman says the number one challenge in trying to help countries counter corruption is getting their governments to talk about the problem. If you ask top leadership “how often they have a serious talk about what they’re doing on the anticorruption front, 99 out of a hundred times the answer will be never,” Pyman says.

Even when the country leadership does address corruption, their understanding of prevention is rudimentary, he says. Many think that countering corruption is about punishing perpetrators, but that is only a small part of it. It’s important to prevent the opportunities for such criminal activity to begin with. “Most of that kind of preventative state of mind does not exist, I would say, at the top of many militaries and defense and security ministries. So that’s the place to start,” Pyman says.

It’s also important to understand the different types of corruption that can be present in a country. For example, there can be bribery and corruption with procurement, business operations, bidding, security theft, arms trafficking, and in many other areas.

Additionally, some types of businesses or some types of people might be more vulnerable to corruption. With regard to government, “people lower down the hierarchy are much more vulnerable than the ones at the top because it’s a hierarchical system, and they lose their jobs if they don’t play the game,” Pyman says.  There is also a view that in some countries, it’s just a necessary evil, that corruption is the way to get things done. But Pyman and Eldon do not buy into the view that corruption is inevitable in certain environments. Pyman says in certain places, for powerless individuals, it is unavoidable to interact with a corrupt system, but he does not believe it’s hopeless. “It’s just the confluence of circumstances that says that’s how they’ve evolved their system,” he says. “So can you change it? Absolutely, yes. And there are lots of examples of countries getting dramatically better over time in dealing with corruption.” Pyman also says that some people may like to believe it’s a necessary evil so that they can “just carry on and collude in it.”

To get the efforts started, it’s imperative that a senior leader or chief civil servant comes out and says that the subject is important. They don’t have to necessarily go after individuals. The key is that they are attempting to change the system. This high-level attention puts the issue on the table for discussion.

“So to get over that first [ability to discuss corruption] issue, I think is the common denominator almost everywhere,” says Pyman. He adds that it’s actually not difficult to get people to open up about corruption once they realize the topic is not taboo.

“Because, particularly with defense and security, the only levers to initiate change within these kinds of establishments are the establishments themselves,” says Eldon.

Eldon says that once the government or military authorities have bought in to fighting corruption inside and outside of their ranks, it is also important to have participation from a range of civic society groups outside of the government as well as from nongovernmental organizations, like TI.

Having outsiders involved in the process allows for greater transparency and makes it less likely that corruption will continue, say Eldon and Pyman. As an example of this concept in action, Eldon points to Bulgaria. Though it is considered by Transparency International to be the most corrupt European Union country, Bulgaria is making some attempts to improve.

“The Bulgarian defense ministry now advertises all major procurement projects on its Web site. And it’s open to everyone to comment. And when you get a corruption-related issue, then some of the NGOs like TI Bulgaria…are now welcome to put comments in. So, the kind of least formal way of doing it is just greater transparency,” says Eldon.

Another country said to be making noticeable progress in thwarting corruption is Georgia, which has improved on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, in part due to transparent procurement processes. And Pyman sees some potential for improvement in the Arab Spring countries where there is public anger about corruption.

Pyman and Eldon also stress the importance of companies and organizations having their own anticorruption policies in place before going into highly corrupt nations to do business. Another critical component, according to Pyman and Eldon, is compliance monitoring.

Security officials and diplomats tend to be pessimistic about countering corruption, notes Pyman. But winning over influential members of those groups is key to getting anticorruption measures codified into official agreements.

“From our point of view, [some] of the groups that you most want to convince are the policymakers and the major diplomats who are involved in settling conflicts,” he says. As an example, Pyman cites research by Bertram Spector, an expert in negotiation analysis, which has shown that when anticorruption measures are included in conflict settlements, they can be more effective.