Friday, 23 July 2010

Memo to Philosopher Kings and Great Leaders: If You Want to Get Things Done, Cut the Corruption

Le Devoir and Bloomberg Businessweek carry have a curious story about East Africa today. According to a survey by Transparency-International-Kenya, Burundi ranks first among the five countries in the region when it comes to corruption.

Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi recently began operating as a "single market with one set of regulations with an ultimate goal of creating a federation," the Bloomberg story notes. But "corruption in East Africa will hinder the progress of a five-nation bloc to form a single market and increase investment."

Sounds pretty bad. Some 10,505 in the five countries responded to a random household survey, and in Burundi 36 percent said they had been asked for a bribe by a public official, in Uganda, 33 per cent' in Kenya, 31.9 per cent (down from 45 percent when the survey did not include Burundi or Rwanda); in Tanzania, 28.6 per cent; and in Rwanda, the anti-corruption champ, only 6.6 per cent.

Tranparency International is a Berlin-based worldwide agency that apparently has been around for about a decade and a half. Its stated mission is to challenge the idea that corruption is inevitable, and it publishes annual reports measuring corruption in various countries. I must admit I had never heard of it before, but certainly its reports bear looking for. Last year's figures can be found here: worldwide, New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland got the best ratings in 2009, while Canada came in 8th of the 180 nations measured. (Note that the index runs from 1 to 10, with 10 being the least corrupt, and don't use the scale used in the East African survey.)

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with an academic in Singapore ten years ago when I started traveling for my non-fiction books. He said the reason why Harry Lee and his gang were able to make such sweeping changes with such little protest in the island nation was because there was a perception that practically no corruption was involved. People were moved into new housing, transportation was built, big changes were put into effect, but the individuals in charge were not doing it for their own personal benefit, so cynicism about their motives did not get in the way of acceptance.

Honesty would appear to be the best policy when it comes to getting things done.


lagatta à montréal said...

I'd be most interested in the reason for the dramatic difference between Rwanda and Burundi, two tiny nations with very similar cultural backgrounds and a similar traumatic experience in the 1990s (though the genocide went further in Rwanda - there were horrible massacres in Burundi too).

Was it because the State and civil society had to be so thoroughly rebuilt in Rwanda? And while I certainly don't want to get into so-called essentialist feminism (women being fundamentally more honest or some such rot) could the gender parity brought in post-genocide and the important role women survivors played in rebuilding Rwanda have anything to do with such a dramatic difference?

Mary Soderstrom said...

Very interesting questions. I suspect the large investment by guilty-feeling internatioinal agencies helped--not just in the usual aid programs but also in setting up an entirely new legal system. See: among other articles.

The mere presence of women parlimenarians doesn't mean much:

While Rwanda leads the pack with about 56 per cent women parlimentarians, Angola, Mozambique and Burundi all have 30 per cent or more women parlimentarians. In comparison, Canada has 22 per cent and the USA has 16.8 per cent.

Hard to make extrapolations about corruption from that.