From moral-philosophical fiction to real political scenario’s: why a particularistic focus on integrity should replace universal views on (anti) corruption. 

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.

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Building Integrity through Nonviolence Practice

By Dr Roberto Baldoli, Fellow of the Center for European Governance, University of Exeter  and Claudio M. Radaelli, Professor of Public Policy, University College London

Fighting corruption through monetary incentives and sanctions has shown many limitations. Given certain conditions, this approach can even undermine social trust. The shift from anti-corruption to integrity is a key step to overcome these limitations and side-effects. Yet, the focus in the field of integrity is still on institutions or personal conduct. Can we imagine a different way to look at integrity, which creates resilient communities and builds strong institutions from the bottom-up? We make the case for nonviolence as practice.

The Oxford dictionary defines nonviolence as ‘the use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change’. This force for change is already playing an important but too often unrecognized role in fighting corruption. From the Philippines to India, from Afghanistan to Romania, nonviolent resistance unleashes people power against corrupted governments. Civil society manages to force corrupted governments to resign through stunning work of erosion of the social and political pillars that support corrupt power.

These achievements are important, but nonviolent practice offers more than this. The integrity debate is a perfect illustration of the causal effects of nonviolence. To see this, we begin by observing that nonviolence properly understood, and contrary to conventional wisdom, is not a protest, it is a constructive programme. When it responds to corruption, at the micro level it is embodied in practices that give power to individuals. The power to add to history, even if only with a single act of disobedience that says NO to what has happened until now, the power to offer a hunger strike as vehicle of a dialogue, the power to show how a given corrupt condition can change with a constructive programme. This builds up confidence, resiliency and vision of what is and ought to be. At the collective level, nonviolent practices build integrity bottom-up rather than through top-down implementation of principles, ethics and regulatory benchmarks.

 

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