By Dr Toon Kerkhoff, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Leiden University, The Netherlands
The current failure of anti-corruption
Anti-corruption research and policy since the 1980s have mainly departed from a rather universalist approach, which holds that there is a set of values and norms about corruption or ‘good governance’ that is valid anywhere. Corruption has accordingly been defined quite narrowly as abuse (i.e. unlawful, illegitimate use) of public office for private or personal (mostly monetary) gain. Its root causes are, furthermore, economic (poverty but also incentives to maximize gain) and/or legal (not enough or badly enforced laws and regulations or weak formal government institutions).
The result of universalism and a narrow definition has been a global one-size-fits-all economic and legal approach to anti-corruption, most notably by international financial institutions such as the IMF or the Worldbank or political transnational organizations such as the EU and UN. In essence: the belief has for long been that what works in one context must also work in another and what works is having certain public institutions in place, such as democratic and free elections, political party competition, an ombudsman, or a free judiciary.