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Obama and the fight against corruption: What do you think his priorities should be?

Posted by iaccforum on November 6, 2008

The world is still digesting the historic presidential victory of Senator Barack Obama in the United States on 4 November. And although it is already a shop-worn cliché that expectations of Obama are astronomically high, with countries, organisations and individuals everywhere projecting their interests onto that blank slate called ‘change’, the Obama administration will have real opportunities to make a difference  when it takes up its work on 20 January 2009.

Already, a number of civil society organisations have entered the fray, with their recommendations to the US President-elect on the environment, on global poverty and on human rights. But what about corruption and governance?

In a New York Times article published today (“Campaign Pledge on Ethics Could Become Obstacle to Filling White House Jobs“), journalist David D. Kirkpatrick speculates that Obama may be hampered in recruiting top talent by his pledges to:

post online all of his appointees’ employment histories and personal financial disclosures, along with regular updates of any meetings or conversations they hold with registered lobbyists.

The article provides a glimpse of the positions Obama was promoting on the campaign trail with regards to integrity and transparency, policies he presumably wants to implement once in the White House. But will he be able to afford these brave new measures? What about the fight against corruption beyond American borders? Corruption remains a massive issue in both Iraq and Afghanistan, threatening to erase any progress in stability (and in some cases, implicating American military personnel and civilians). And what about the role of corruption in undermining development?

What do you think Barack Obama’s priorities should be in the fight against corruption, domestically and internationally? We welcome your comments – just click the link after this article which reads ‘X comments’!

Jesse Garcia


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Socrates is guest of honour at opening of 13th International Anti-Corruption Conference

Posted by iaccforum on October 31, 2008

Among the many illustrious speakers at the opening session of the 13th International Anti-Corruption Conference(IACC) in Athens, Greece, there was one, unofficial guest who seemed to take a spectral seat of honour at the proceedings: the enigmatic, ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.

Costas Bakouris, Chair of Transparency International Hellas, Transparency International’s (TI) Greek chapter, hailed Socrates’ unflinching commitment to the rule of law, recalling how, in Plato’s account in the Apologia, Socrates chose to accept the death sentence of an Athenian jury despite his innocence. He chose to accept due process, rather than to swindle his way out and live.

Like us, Socrates lived in an age where democratic traditions hung in the balance, and like us, he sought to construct a rational intellectual framework to better understand the world around him, and to find better solutions to its problems.

But despite the hurdles it faces, the anti-corruption movement can hardly claim to be lonely or doomed, as Socrates was in his last days, with an IACC opening with nearly 1500 attendees from over 130 countries.

Transparency International Chair, Huguette Labelle, acknowledged the rational framework of the anti-corruption movement, and the importance of laws and enforcement, but brought the focus back to the human cost of corruption and the true purpose of the conference noting that ultimately, “this is about human lives”. And Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, spoke of corruption as our common enemy and fighting it as our common cause.

As the opening session broke, attendees gathered in corridors and courtyards and began heated debates on approaches and strategies to neutralise the damaging effects of corruption on communities, markets and societies – debates that sought commonalities as well as fallacies in the others reasoning, to elicit the best solution to the problems we face.

Socrates would have been proud.

Jesse Garcia

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Daniel Altman on China’s anti-corruption drive

Posted by iaccforum on October 29, 2008


This week I was in Hong Kong, where the government is pushing its “zero tolerance” anti-corruption campaign through ubiquitous ads and billboards. It’s an interesting development for the city, where money and connections have always gotten things done. But it echoes the anti-corruption drive on China’s mainland, perhaps for good reason.

The government in Beijing has made the fight against corruption one of its hallmarks through a series of high-profile cases involving local and provincial officials. The fight has a populist angle, which is important for a non-democratic government trying to reign over a vast nation.

Between the headlines, the message is that the politicians in power are sticking up for the little guy – in other words, that they are worthy of the little guy’s trust. Yet that’s only part of how the campaign helps the government. Cleaning out corruption means creating more transparency in local and provincial bureaucracies, and thus more accountability.

As these changes take place, it becomes easier for Beijing to monitor every corner of the country. We often think of anti-corruption measures as part of the improvement of democracy, but China has apparently realized that they can also help an authoritarian government to maintain – and even to extend – its control.

Daniel Altman is the global economics columnist of the International Herald Tribune and president of North Yard Economics, a not-for-profit consulting firm serving developing countries.

Copyright 2008 Daniel Altman. All rights reserved.


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Political corruption behind financial crisis, says poll

Posted by iaccforum on October 24, 2008

A new survey carried out by Judicial Watch in conjunction with polling firm Zogby International has found that over 80 per cent of Americans think that political corruption is partly to blame for the current financial crisis. What began over a year ago in the US sub-prime mortgage market and has spread since, freezing credit markets, bankrupting storied financial institutions and now threatening the global economy.

A 24 October article in The New York Times, “West in Talks on Credit to Aid Poorer Nations”, makes clear that the crisis does not just threaten Wall Street and major financial centres, but also threatens to unravel the recent strides made by emerging markets from Iceland and Hungary to South Africa and Argentina, who are now starved of credit for capital improvements and whose devalued currencies have made it difficult for them to repay the foreign debts they have accrued.

Is all this the result of political corruption inside the Washington beltway? This is a provocative theory. What is certain, though, is that the crisis is one of governance and accountability more broadly, from the regulation of mortgage markets and the financial transparency of banks to the prescriptions of intergovernmental institutions embodied by the Washington Consensus of the 1990s.

But despite the human suffering that the current financial crunch brings with it, it bears opportunities as well. Domestic and international financial regulation, and corporate governance will be reinvented in its wake. The 13th IACC in Athens will be an opportunity to strategise about how the frustration and anxiety of the current crisis can be channelled into greater accountability and sensible oversight.

Jesse Garcia

Posted in Commentary, Financial Crisis | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »