Swaziland – a sorry corruption tale

Swaziland is a small country that often gets overlooked. It neighbours Mozambique, is partially engulfed by South Africa, and is a country rife with systemic and largely-tolerated corruption. As a result of this over 70 per cent of the population currently lives under the UN poverty line. Add to that the fact that it has the highest HIV & AIDS incidence rates in the world (although thankfully these rates are now depleting, largely thanks to the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI)) and we have a country that has significant problems to deal with.

Swaziland remains one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, whereby the wealth of the state is concentrated within the hands of its rulers. Be that as it may, The Times of Swaziland, the only news source in the country that attempts analyse contemporary affairs with any degree of transparency, recently revealed that MPs in Swaziland still receive close to twice as much monetary compensation as do the leaders of SADAC countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and Botswana. Some things just don’t add up.

Swaziland’s leaders have recently announced that they aim to be a first world country by 2030, however there is a lack of basic planning and even understanding as to what this means. Large amounts of money are currently being thrown into a project to build a casino-resort in an area already housing two such institutions- is this a weak attempt in attracting tourism, or simply an excuse for the government to spend taxpayers money on unwarranted luxuries? Furthermore, a new airport has been built to deal with the non-existent air traffic that the country apparently experiences daily. In true Swaziland fashion, this new structure is not easily accessible from the three major cities in the country, and the derelict roads make it less so. However, it is in close proximity to the royal residence, which supposedly makes the project worthwhile. The contracts for such large construction budgets are naturally given to government cronies, resulting in systemic nepotism (see here). How this state will ever reach the status of a developed country is a question that all natives seem to be asking. Unfortunately, such issues cannot be discussed openly, for fear of persecution by the government. Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer who was imprisoned for questioning the legitimacy of the judiciary, portrays this case perfectly. Maseko even wrote an urgent letter to President Barack Obama, imploring him to intervene during a Summit of African Leaders at the White House, on the behalf of all individuals who were subjected to human rights abuses within various African nations (see here). Obama has yet to publically comment.

Sadly the situation in Swaziland seems to be one of hopelessness. Without a change in the way that the government is governed, or at least a shift in norms, Swaziland will not be able to cultivate a successful future for itself. Furthermore, the lack of interest regarding corrupt practices in Swaziland by the international community showcases how practitioners of corruption have not been held accountable for their actions. Swaziland’s situation is desperate, but it is one that hardly anyone seems to take any notice of.

Articles that may be of interest to readers:
• Anti-corruption talk in Swaziland http://www.times.co.sz/Features/74005.html
• Speech by the King of Swaziland at the Summit of African Leaders: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/swaziland_nationalstatement.pdf
• The World Organization Against Torture’s meek attempt at defending Thulani Maseko: http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/swaziland/2014/07/d22774/


Doughnuts, paper clips and door mats; MPs expenses claims are back in the news

Knowing what works in terms of tackling corruption is not easy.  In some places, it is straightforward enough to pinpoint what the problem is – a politician using an expenses regime for personal gain in order to, say, clean his moat or to renovate a duck house, for example – but finding a new set of processes to put that right can be surprisingly tricky.  Even now, five years after the MPs’ expenses episode originally hit the headlines in the UK, the story continues to run.  The Daily Mail (see here) ran a story on Saturday 25th January 2014 bemoaning not just the pettiness of claiming  30p for a jam doughnut (Rosie Cooper, Labour – for the record, I’d very much like to know where these 30p doughnuts are available, as that is an excellent price) , 4p for travel (Tristam Hunt, Labour), 7p for a paper clip (David Cameron, Conservative), 49p for a door mat (John Barrett, Lib Dem – are MPs now shopping at Poundland? That’s a super deal) and 19p for Blu-Tac (Pat McFadden, Labour).  The pettiness of some of these claims to one side, the Mail was also enraged as they (the MPs) simply “don’t seem to get it”.  What precisely they don’t “seem to get” remained tantalisingly unclear, as no effort whatsoever was put in to outlining what the perfect expenses regime would look like.  That, it seems, is not the Daily Mail’s job.  It’s much more straightforward to point out some of the quirks within the system, some of the grey areas and some of the more bizarre claims.  Ideas on how to put this right?  No suggestions forthcoming.

It is easy to see both why voters will be annoyed at seeing MPs claim money back on the most trivial of things and why the Mail (amongst others) refuses to outline how we might move this debate forward.  The ‘new’ post-2009 expenses regime, headed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, is undoubtedly tighter and better regulated than the system that came before it, but making value judgements on what is and what is not an acceptable expense is actually very difficult.  MPs have long grumbled that IPSA is a bureaucratic nightmare, although few have dared say that in public.  IPSA’s challenge is to create a system that can be consistent, fair and flexible.  MPs have different needs (i.e. if your constituency is Newcastle upon Tyne Central then you should surely be entitled to claim more in travel costs than if you represent, for example, London-based Twickenham) and they face different challenges in their daily work patterns; the expenses system needs to reflect this and needs to be quick enough on its feet to recognise the difference between legitimate and illegitimate claims.   If anyone reading this blog thinks they have the answer, then IPSA will no doubt be very keen to hear from you.

On an altogether different note, the first week of the new term is always an exciting time for students on Sussex’s MA in Corruption and Governance.  Why?  The internship and project part of the course commences.  And, 2014 sees no less than 14 students involved in such things.  Hazel Stephens and Kim Castle began working this week with police officers in the UK’s International Proceeds of Corruption Unit at New Scotland Yard (see here for an example of how the IPCU works), whilst Sam Weatherill has joined up with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Anti-Corruption in Westminster.  Michael Badham-Jones, Francisco Ortiz and Felicitas Nuehaus will be working alongside the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit (OACU) in the Square Mile, and no less than two different groups of students will be doing projects in conjunction with Transparency International in Berlin.  Exciting times ahead!

Dan Hough

Director, Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption (SCSC)

For students of voting behaviour, corruption is what they’d call a ‘valence issue’

No one, in other words, sets out to make a case for more corruption.  Indeed, everyone (claims to) want to see less corruption.  The question is subsequently of how to go about achieving that, and not whether the aim itself is one worth achieving.

The ‘valence’ nature of corruption as an issue has not stopped the Aam Aadmi Party (literally, the ‘Party of the Common Man’) from causing quite a stir over the past few weeks in India.  Led by the articulate and approachable Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP caused a storm in a regional election in Delhi in December, gaining 28 seats and a plurality of the vote.  The party’s platform?  To tackle corruption.  Nothing more, nothing less.  After initially refusing to enter government (on account of needing another party to ensure a parliamentary majority), the AAP quickly had a change of heart and took on the challenge.  Delhi, and India, subsequently entered an interesting new chapter in its party political development.

It didn’t take long, however, before the AAP’s opponents were hurling abuse at the new upstart – Salman Khursid from the AAP’s main rival, the Congress Party, called Kejriwal an “anarchist with Jurassic ideas” whilst AAP party members were some of the “worst, stinking third grade people” in all of India.  Even AAP members have begun to join in with the criticisms, senior party figure Vinod Binny claiming that parts of the party manifesto “conned the people of Delhi”.  With friends like these …

The AAP’s recent success in the Indian capital certainly makes for interesting viewing.  Many of the AAP’s policies have a decidedly populist feel to them; giving each and every citizen of Delhi 700 litres of free water, for example, and promising to cut electricity bills by up to 50 per cent.  Much will depend on whether Kejriwal and his colleagues can quickly learn how to govern, and where and with whom they can and can’t make compromises.  History would tell us that the AAP will ultimately succumb to the long-standing dynasties in Congress and the BJP, but Kejriwal has already done much better than many single issue anti-corruption activists before him.  With a general election planned for the middle of 2014, Indian politics will certainly be worth keeping a close eye on.

Professor Dan Hough. Director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption.

There are rarely weeks when issues of corruption and anti-corruption are not in the news..

but, even by normal standards, there was plenty going on in the first week of December. Things kicked off with a depressing story from China, where the head of admissions at one of China’s most well-regarded universities was caught fleeing the country after having accepted millions of pounds worth of bribes to admit students who might not otherwise have been academically up to it (see here).  That was followed by more evidence (as if any were really needed) that politicians have to be 100 per cent on message all the time as the UK’s attorney general, Dominic Grieve, came a cropper when commenting on perceived relationships between levels of corruption and certain ethic communities (see here). Cue plenty of political backtracking (see here).

The main event last week was nonetheless the publication by Transparency International (TI), the leading anti-corruption NGO in the corruption field, of its annual ‘Corruption Perceptions Index‘ (CPI).  TI celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013 and it has produced the CPI annually since the late 1990s.  TI in general and the CPI in particular therefore have real staying power, and that in spite of the (not inconsiderable) number of methodological problems that are inherent in the index (see here and here for less and more details on these).  For the record, the Danes and the Kiwis came out on top, whilst the Afghans, North Koreans and Somalis came in joint 175th (and therefore bottom).  The UK rose marginally to 14th, whilst the Spaniards and Syrians performed – for their own specific reasons – much worse than they had done in previous years.  Whilst many critics write the CPI off as fit only for parlour games and pub quizzes, the CPI does at least get people talking about corruption (just google it if you don’t believe me, newspapers all around the world have been all over it) – and, all caveats to one side, that is almost certainly a good thing.

Only marginally less high profile than the launch of the CPI was the annual Christmas dinner of the MA in Corruption and Governance students at the University of Sussex.  Of the 20 students on the course, 15 assembled at a salubrious Hove Indian restaurant to salute the on rushing Christmas period. It’s been a busy old term for the current cohort, and with, amongst other things, internships beckoning for 14 of the group in the spring their hectic schedule won’t be changing any time soon. Better to be busy than bored, as they say!

Dan Hough

University of Sussex