Understanding the ‘incorruptible’ Jonas; the curious case of South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Finance

South Africa’s Public Protector has this week released a much-anticipated ‘state capture’ Report. The report offers up details of the vast influence that the Gupta family wields in the appointment of government ministers and the board members of major parastatals (see here).

The Gupta family has strong links with South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma. One of Zuma’s wives was employed as a communications officer at JIC Mining Services while his daughter is a former director of Sahara Computers. Both companies belong to the Guptas. Zuma’s son is a former CEO of Shiva Uranium, a subsidiary of Oakbay Investments, the holding company of the Gupta family businesses. The India-born Gupta brothers (Atul, Ajay and Rajesh) have interests in mining (coal, gold and uranium), technology, energy and media. They own among other things a national newspaper and 24-hour news channel.

In 2013, the family was embroiled in controversy when a chartered plane carrying guests to the wedding of their niece landed at a military base in Pretoria (see here). It was alleged that the landing was personally authorised by the president as a favour to friends.

The Guptas’ alleged power and influence

One of the interesting parts of the Public Protector’s Report is the notion that the Gupta family engineered both the abrupt sacking of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, and his replacement by the previously unknown, David Van Rooyen. Zuma reversed the decision to appoint van Rooyen following a serious backlash from the business sector and billions of dollars being wiped off the nation’s stock market over just four days.

The Report supports Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas’ public allegation that ‘the Guptas offered him the position of minister of finance before Nene was deposed. It turns out that Jonas declined this offer, as well as a bribe amounting to R600 million ($44m) and immediate cash payment of R600,000 (about $44,000). As a finance minister Jonas was supposed to implement a number of orders from the Guptas including sacking the Director General of the Treasury and other key members of executive management who were seen as stumbling blocks in efforts to secure lucrative deals from the state.

The incorruptible Jonas?

The actions of Deputy Minister Jonas are interesting when seen in light of the collective action theory of corruption (see here). Seeing that as corruption is endemic in South Africa, the collective action approach would consider an attempt to fend off the powerful Gupta family as being misguided or irrational. Considering the Guptas overwhelming political clout and the apparent arrogance with which they made their offers, most people would have yielded, reasoning that refusing to cooperate wasn’t going to change the rotten lot in Zuma’s administration. If anything, fighting the Guptas would most likely cost them their careers. Meanwhile, the Guptas would still have used their vast economic and political resources to identify a willing puppet, as indeed it seems they did in the person of David van Rooyen.

Apart from the fact that ‘working with the Guptas’ would be financially rewarding to Jonas, being appointed in place of Nene would probably appease sceptical investors. The appointment of a deputy minister of finance wouldn’t have hurt the market the way Van Rooyen’s— a former mayor of a small town— did. The whole thing would likely have been a win-win situation for all involved. All these considered, why then did Jonas make this potentially personally costly decision?

Well, his media statement (see here), suggests that he took a moral stance against what he saw as the “mockery of our hard earned democracy [and] the trust of our people….”.  But this is simply reiterating an ethics code we expect all public officers to uphold, and to declare when called upon to explain their gallant actions. It is a moral code many of those who get ensnared in the web of corruption also profess. Indeed, there is no shortage of stories of highly moral individuals getting involved in graft, either as receivers of bribes or as payers. This is in fact one of the reasons why anti-corruption research is increasingly sceptical of the alleged positive effect of ‘religiosity’ (as a proxy for moral values) in the fight against corruption (see here).

Where corruption is seen as systemic, whether or not to participate in it does not boil down to personal ethics and values; it is a consequence of institutional forces rather than a broken moral compass. There is something about the decision to resist the Guptas that goes beyond the moral convictions of Mcebisi Jonas.

Mark Granovetter’s threshold model of collective action provides a good starting point for understanding deputy minister’s laudable actions. The model treats binary decisions in which an actor, faced with two competing alternatives, makes a behavioural choice that is inconsistent with the maximum pay off he would get if he acted differently. Granovetter defines a person’s threshold for acting in the group (public) interest as the proportion of the group he would have to see acting in this manner before doing so himself.

A student with a low threshold will not wait for “gestures” from other students indicating their wish to leave a boring lecture before he stands up and leaves. Such an individual can initiate actions that benefit the common good even when this is most likely to result in significant costs to him/herself. While moral considerations may be a starting point, they are not necessarily the main reasons why a low-threshold person acts, often or at first alone. This potentially explains why two people with the same moral principles can act differently when faced with the Gupta-type overtures.


Moletsane Monyake

University of Sussex


Is there a lack of accountability for the use of ‘our’ time by MPs?

There has plenty of news of late on MPs and their second jobs (for example, see here).  Martin Brown, recently graduated from Sussex’s MA in Corruption and Governance, takes a look at some of the challenges inherent in regulating how MPs use ‘our time’

MPs are lobbyists. They spend their time lobbying for us. They do that in order to make better laws and to scrutinise the work of government, ministers and civil servants. MPs know that it is only through careful research, consultation and consideration that good political decisions can be taken. In order to do that they meet with a wide range of stakeholders, some of those people are by necessity lobbyists. Lobbying, a term much used and abused, is an exchange of information.  Or, as Figuero and Richter (2014) put it an exchange of information …

‘… in private meetings and venues between interest groups and politicians, their staffs, and agents. Information takes the theoretical representation of a message and, in practice, may have many forms: statistics, facts, arguments, messages, forecasts, threats, commitments, signals, or some combination thereof. (Figuero and Richter, 2014)

Unfortunately for us, meetings between lobbyists and MPs tend to go unrecorded, while much of what an MP says otherwise is recorded – by Hansard, if it’s in parliament, or in the media if it is in public elsewhere. Of course we don’t pay as much attention as we should to what MPs say until lobbying goes wrong or when an MP’s behaviour comes into question. When, in other words, it deviates from:

‘the formal duties of a public role because of private-regarding (personal, close family, private clique) pecuniary or status gains; or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of private- regarding influence. (Nye 1967)

We know MPs make honest mistakes. Indeed, the MPs’ Code of Conduct and Guide to Rules (CoC) and the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses (SBCE) are designed to help MPs make as few of them as possible, offering guidance for better ethical behaviour, for example when his or her formal or informal duties overlap with their private interests. These mostly useful guides don’t always work because the advice on offer can be confusing: ‘the code applies to all aspects of their public lives. It does not seek to regulate what members do in their purely private and personal lives (CoC p3 2015).

Public and Private

It is difficult to draw, as they suggest, a solid line between an MP’s public and private interests. The Wittingdale case (BBC, April 2016) is an illustration of this problem, when a politician has too much discretion and is then judged to have ‘got it wrong’, defining a public issue as purely private.

In the John Wittingdale case, the former Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, maintained that his relationship with someone working in the sex industry should remain a private matter. He thought the public should not know about some newsworthy episodes even though he had responsibility for press regulation and his office could influence what journalists write. MPs, understandably, want to protect their privacy and their Parliamentary privileges. It is they after all, who defend democracy on our behalf.

What is much less understandable is their ‘need’ to protect privileges relating to second jobs and consultancies. Winston Churchill was a strong advocate of the idea that an MP’s Parliamentary office should not be a full time commitment. Many MPs (although more on the Tory side than on the Labour side) think it is good for the public if MPs stay in touch with the ‘real world’ by working outside of the House of Commons. However, this now looks more like the type of ‘smart’ behaviour Donald Trump would argue for. Many MPs have second jobs, some are happy to admit to selling their time and political connections to big businesses. John Bercow MP, Leader of the House of Commons, clearly thinks it is still bad behaviour:

“people should be in Parliament to represent their constituents and to stand up for principles and policies dear to them. People should not be in Parliament to add to their personal fortune… I have in the past suggested a lot of members of the public would expect members of parliament to do a full-time job” (Skye News, 2015)

Public trust in MPs is still trying to recover from the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2008. Public understanding of British politics has not improved, even with better access to information about Parliament from Freedom of Information requests (Birkenshaw, 2010). We still do not know what excellent or even just ‘good’ behaviour in an MP’s office looks like. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) reports on MPs’ office expenses, offering fiscal transparency, but even this is thin soup without any useful narrative about how MPs make decisions or what they do with their time. We can see that IPSA and the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (PCS) take complaints and they do question MPs. However, only a tiny number of these investigations result in Parliamentary sanctions being placed on MPs. The Parliamentary system more often defends the decisions of MPs, possibly fearing what appears to them as a slow erosion of MPs’ powers because of a small number of bad apples.

However the problem remains; how do we get better, more useful information from MPs to help us understand what they do with our time? The current system of disclosures and registers, such as the Register of MP’s Financial Interests and the Register of All Party Parliamentary Groups, is not easily searchable across years or for individual MPs and there is no easy method of comparing information across registers. Transparency International has published very useful information about the UK Lobbying Act 2014 and they outline reforms for the Lobbying Register which include some essential disclosures.

Revolving Doors

These disclosures are also essential for fixing the larger problem of ‘Revolving Doors’, when long-term benefits accrue to MPs, Ministers and Civil Servants because of their co-operation with lobbyists. Listen to what Richard Brook’s a former HMRC Tax Inspector has to say about the problems of crony capitalism in our democracy and how lobbying creates the expectation of future employment. Lobbying shifts an MP’s priorities away from their official duties towards the interests of big business.

Brooks tells us Tony Blair is the worst example of this type of deviation. Blair actively conceals the names of those he consults with and for and hides what he earns as a lobbyist through his network of companies. We should also ask does David Cameron plan to use his political contacts in the same way as Blair and should we know who those political contacts are when he uses them? The Lobbying Act 2014 asks very little of serving or retired politicians while 650 MPs are not required to keep any records at all of their meetings with lobbyists. Keep in mind that some MPs are more sought after by lobbyists than others because they are members of Select Committees or active in the Shadow Cabinet. These MPs are in demand as lobbying scandals involving ‘cash for access’ show. In 2013, Patrick Mercer MP broke ‘house’ rules when he failed to declare paid political consultancy and paid advocacy while he was Chair of the Fiji All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).

In 2015, Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP used his position as Chair of Parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee and argued that despite his workload as an MP and Chair of an important Select Committee, he had plenty of time for political consultancy.

Rifkind was seen to be greedy. An MP earns £74,962 pa (April 2016) with an additional £15,000 pa for chairing a Select Committee. Ben Scott analysed MPs’ disclosures of additional income from the MPs’ Register of Members Financial Interests (RMFI) in 2015, showing that: ‘73 MPs were paid £3.4million for advisory roles in 2014-15’. Scott aggregated all payments by type and noted that declared payments for advisory roles accounted for 36% and £3,444,797 of all additional income for MP’s.

It appears unlikely that the current system of self–regulation and co-regulation in the House of Commons will offer us better transparency or more accountability around how MPs take decisions. However, in that space there is an opportunity for (Labour?) MPs to lead by collective voluntary action, by making better digital declarations about meetings to provide a narrative that can fill in the gaps left by IPSA and Parliamentary Registers. Whether they are able to take it is another matter.

Martin Brown


Big money, politics and public opinion; a difficult mixture

UK democracy is in a crisis of confidence. These are the findings released in a report on Friday by Transparency International (TI) entitled ‘Take Back Control: How Big Money Undermines Trust in Politics’.

The headline figures undoubtedly make grim reading for the British political elite: 76% of respondents think wealthy individuals often use their influence on government for their own interests, 59% of respondents thought financial support by companies to political parties and candidates should be banned completely and 28% thought ‘most’ or ‘all’ MPs are involved in corruption.

These findings are based on the TI Global Corruption Barometer (GCB). The full results of the 2016 survey are not yet available but previous polls are also instructive. The 2013 GCB, for example, found that 66% of respondents felt that political parties were corrupt, or extremely corrupt.

The GCB is not without its methodological failings. Taken at face value the poll would mean the UK would rank somewhere between Afghanistan (performs better) and Zimbabwe (performs worse) on the same measures. Despite the legitimate, and legion, disappointments we might have with our political elite that is not a ranking that holds up to serious scrutiny. Indeed, when the same poll asks about actual experiences of corruption, the UK comes out much better.

Following the Voters’ Wishes

However, as I show in the recently published collection ‘More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box: Another 50 Things You Need To Know About Elections’ findings such as these are consequential. Politicians feel compelled to respond to the overwhelming public belief that the system is broken. In 2010 and 2015 the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos all included some form of pledge to introduce (or at least discuss) reform of party finance. Alongside this, in the past ten years there have been two major government sponsored commissions on the subject: the Hayden Phillips Review (2006-2007) and the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) Inquiry in 2010-11.

This is no less ironic as the public overestimates how much businesses contribute and (considerably) underestimates how much individuals contribute. Although, in fairness, the knowledge that almost 50% of the financing of British parties is made up by (often large) individual donations is, perhaps, unlikely to quell public unease.

In fact, when it comes to party funding reform, we find ourselves in a situation in which policy recommendations are made – and put into manifestos – almost entirely based on public perceptions. Yet we also know this is a subject about which the public doesn’t really know much at all. Many experts also believe these perceptions to be mistaken – or at least exaggerated.

Where to from here?

TI suggest that their findings show that the ‘public want tougher controls on money in politics’. The solution proffered is to draw on the recommendations from the CSPL and cap donations at £10,000. The problem with this is the report entirely neglects to include the logical conclusion of this policy – as quoted on release of the CSPL report in 2011:

“If the public want to take big money out of politics, the only way to do so is a cap on donations. It is unrealistic to expect to be able to do that at a level low enough to achieve public support.”

You simply cannot remove a large institutional form of funding and expect parties to get by. Although Labour party membership has positively ballooned (technical political science jargon) party subs still only account for 18% of Labour’s total 2015 income.

Yet state funding continues to be unpopular with the public. When the CSPL held focus groups on the subject of increasing public funds they described a particular journey respondents generally followed. There was an initial concern about donations followed by that concern increasing and state funding becoming viewed as acceptable.  However, when facing the reality of trade-offs between caps on donations and increased state funding there was quickly a decrease in acceptability and a reluctance to introduce a cap or indeed to increase state funding. That’s no solution at all.

This, if nothing else shows you that focus group researchers do God’s work. More importantly it shows that there is an essential collective action problem, a paradox at the centre of debates surrounding party funding. The public by-and-large detest the current system – but aren’t willing to pay for it to change.

Further muddying the water is that there’s little evidence that reforms would have the desired effect. A cap on donations, for example, may or may not significantly reduce the risk of corruption, but it is even less likely to make a difference to perceptions of corruption.

As the report suggests a mistrust in politicians and the current political order is not unique to Britain, it is a (at the very least) Europe-wide phenomena. Significant state subsidisation is the norm on the continent.

As the public have little knowledge of how party funding works (and to be fair, that in and of itself is not unreasonable; Joe Bloggs has other things to worry about) it is unlikely that such reforms will work. Especially if framed as a panacea for both political disaffection and political misbehaviour. This makes it all the more perplexing that recommendations and policy reform lean so heavily on public opinion.

Any report that attempts to put party funding reform at the front and centre of public debate outside of a perceived episode of political malfeasance should be lauded. The problem TI have is that they fail to grasp a question that has foxed policy makers (and academics) for decades. What do you do when the voters are wrong?

Sam Power

University of Sussex

Corruption, Anti-Corruption and the Power of Education

Corruption, so it often seems, is everywhere. Yet there are only very few universities that have teaching programmes that are dedicated to analysing it. The University of Sussex has been in the vanguard of trying to change that. It introduced a full-time MA in Corruption and Governance back in 2012 and a two-year part-time LLM in Corruption, Law and Governance taught out of Qatar in 2016. Analysing corruption won’t rid us of the problem overnight, but, via the students who come through these courses, it does have the potential to help coax and cajole (sometimes reluctant) rulers to change their ways.

According to www.nexis.com the word corruption appeared 1,240 times in UK newspaper article headlines in 2015. Fraud was even more prevalent, appearing on 4,177 occasions. The word bribery, meanwhile, came up a ‘mere’ 264 times. The types of cases covered were also wide, varied and often bewildering; on one day alone in the UK in November, for example, the Independent was analysing how the Vatican was putting reporters on trial who had previously uncovered corruption cases in the Holy See. The Times was talking about an apprentice jockey who was facing a ban from horse racing on account of deliberately riding to lose whilst the Guardian was analysing FIFA’s alleged corruption problems.

Academic research in the area of corruption has also blossomed. A search in mid-2016 for the term corruption on JSTOR, the digital library of academic publications, revealed no less than 169,941 journal articles where corruption was mentioned. Fraud, meanwhile, appeared in 105,144 articles and bribery came up on 22,971 occasions. Corruption, and concepts that are closely linked to it, are on a lot of people’s minds.

Taught programmes on corruption

The widespread interest in corruption is nonetheless not replicated in taught programmes in academia. Around the world you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of universities where corruption or related topics are the subject of a whole degree programme. More places offer specific modules that look at parts of the corruption mosaic, but they are often small parts of much bigger and broader degree academic paths.

At least some of the reasons for this are (in part) understandable. Corruption is a difficult notion to pin down. Tricky methodological challenges need to be overcome. Corruption is inherently interdisciplinary in nature, yet, despite much high-minded rhetoric, university programmes tend to remain avowedly disciplinary in focus. Finally, and less understandably, corruption has also often been understood as nothing more than a marginal problem.

Rather than shirk these challenges, the University of Sussex has chosen to rise to them. The take up on the MA launched in 2012 has been encouraging, and this prompted Qatar’s Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Centre (ROLACC) to approach Sussex about launching a programme in the Gulf Region looking at similar questions. The product of that is a course that analyses how the rule of law can and must be at the centre of anti-corruption thinking, but also how other related but different concepts play key roles.

Getting governance right, for example, is vital in setting the groundwork for tackling corruption. Indeed, it is often work done in other, interrelated areas that is most vital. Hardwire in processes of both transparency and accountability across the whole bureaucratic machine and you will choke the oxygen out of corruption’s lungs.

Coaxing and Cajoling

The key contribution that programmes such as Sussex’s MA and LLM make is not of revealing the golden bullets that will help kill the corruption beast. If it were that easy, there would be no need for corruption and anti-corruption courses at all. It’d be a simple case of ticking off boxes on a technocratic check-list.

The role that education plays is to help students think about core concepts that academic research has revealed to be important. Transparency and accountability are just two of these, but how they translate into policy will naturally be determined by the structures on the ground. Successful anti-corruption tools can and do take on different forms in different places.

The job of Sussex’s graduates, from both the UK and Qatar, is to use the skills and knowledge they have acquired to evaluate what needs to be done in each given setting. Based on what they have learned, they need to have the confidence to use their judgement to coax and cajole those who are reticent to reform of the merits of their particular case. The great value of education is that it empowers citizens to think, to evaluate and to act. In terms of a global challenge such as corruption, there clearly is plenty for Sussex’s students to begin acting on.


Dan Hough

University of Sussex


Sam Allardyce, corruption allegations and the not so beautiful game

27th September 2016

In a post-truth world Sam Allardyce has always fitted in curiously well. He is football’s version of Donald Trump; rough and ready, populist and at times unconcerned about offending people. In football’s culture of deal-making and ‘ask no questions’ swagger Allardyce has made a good career for himself.  Whether he has done so in a way that football should be proud of is another matter.

Following England’s successful (if rather dour) start to the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Slovakia, thoughts should be turning to the next round of matches against Malta and Slovenia. Instead, Sam Allardyce, the new(ish) England manager, is having to defend himself against accusations of corruption.

Whilst a club manager Allardyce was widely known, and in many quarters widely admired, for being able to play the transfer market. At Bolton Wanderers, for example, a club that Allardyce managed between 1999 and 2007, he managed to persuade global high-fliers Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria), Youri Djorkaeff (France) and Ivan Campo (Spain) to come and spend time in one of the less fashionable parts of Greater Manchester. At both West Ham United and Sunderland he was also never scared to pull a metaphorical rabbit out of the transfer hat.

But there have been always been rumours about his methods. Back in 2006 claims were made that no less than 18 present or former managers of premier league clubs had taken ‘bungs’ to help make transfers happen. Allardyce was explicitly name-checked. Questions about Allardyce’s relationship with Peter Harrison, a players’ agent, and his own son Craig (at the time also an agent) were also raised. Indeed, the Panorama programme that sparked that particular round of accusations blatantly alleged that Craig was paid inappropriately on three Bolton deals, the signings of Tal Ben-Haim, Hide Nakata and Ali Al Habsi. Ultimately, an inquiry in to the matter found no evidence of irregular payments, but it did note that there may well have been conflicts of interest in play.

The ‘Bung’ Culture

So what is it that Allardyce has allegedly done now? In short, there is video evidence of Allardyce explaining that he knows how to get around the rules relating to transfers and the roles that agents, players and managers play in them. Allardyce makes particular reference to the issue of ‘third party ownership’ – something that Michel Platini once referred to as akin to ‘modern slavery‘ – of players. The FA outlawed this back in 2008 (to stop abusive ‘owners’ of players from taking advantage of them), but Allardyce is heard claiming that you can get round these rules if you know how. Whether Allardyce is telling undercover reporters that he will help them do that or is simply stating that he knows that that still happens is unclear.  It’s on that issue that ‘Big Sam’s’ future as England manager may well turn.

As of now, Allardyce (just about) has a clean record. Indeed, nothing has ever come of the accusations made back in 2006 or indeed of others that have been made since then. But it is hard for the Football Association (FA) to look away when a high-profile employee is seen to be crowing about how easy it is get around their own rules. The FA has no choice but to agree to look in to the matter.

Cultures of Corruption

It’ll never be clear just how much corruption exists in contemporary football. We know that FIFA, the organisation that heads up the game at the global level, has faced serious corruption allegations, just as we know clubs big and small alike have faced, and pleaded guilty to, an array of match-fixing charges. Nottingham Forest fans, for example, still flinch at the thought of their 1984 UEFA Cup Semi-Final against Anderlecht being rigged when their Belgian opponents bought off the referee. Supporters of Juventus have been forced to acknowledge that their club was involved in (and punished for) fixing an Italian championship. Similar incidents have happened across the length and breadth of the football world.

Behind the scenes, the sheer amount of money involved in ownership battles, player transfers and wages, marketing and advertising deals means that there is a lot up for grabs. In an environment such as this transparency and clarity of procedure are vital. Football has always paid lip service to that, but in practice it has (nearly) always been found wanting.

Corruption analysts increasingly stress the importance of institutional settings in shaping ‘appropriate’ answers. In a ‘clean’ environment, then an appropriate response will be to abide by the letter and importantly the spirit of the rules. In an environment where rules are there to shape action only when there is no way of getting round them, expect to find plenty of people for whom sailing close to the wind is simply part of the game.

Once that rot has set in, you have a problem. You can change the rules, you can increase the penalties for being caught and you can threaten all sorts of ills on perpetrators. But that won’t in and of itself change the way people think. If, as in professional football, the savvy old soul who gets around rules tends to be viewed with admiration rather than scorn, then simply changing the rules won’t be enough.

Sam Allardyce has sailed close to the wind before. And he’s got away with it. It’d be a brave person who’d expect this time to be any different.


Professional gamblers will tell you that there is little point betting on favourites.  If the bookies are offering short odds, look somewhere else to make your money.  A savvy gambler – unlike a professional academic – might have taken a punt on Big Sam’s future and put some hard cash on him being forced out.  That’s why gamblers survive.

Sam Allardyce’s resignation on the evening of Tuesday 27th September ended the shortest reign of any permanent England football manager in history.  It’s not for this blog to offer a running commentary on the reasons for that; there’s plenty of good journalism out there (see here for example) that is already on that particular case.

From an anti-corruption perspective, however, the Football Association’s swift action is interesting.  One of the key things that we have learned about tackling corruption in deeply corrupt settings – and make no mistake about it, professional football in England can be talked about in that context – is the tone from the top.

At the time of writing it is still not clear what the difference is between being a silly buffoon and a corrupt fixer – we need more details of what was said and promised and we need to hear evidence from all parties before we can be clearer on that.  But the FA has clearly decided that it cannot have a manager who is both prone to say offensive things (‘Woy’) to those he doesn’t know well and who sails close to the wind in terms of acting in ways that are appropriate to his job.

Anti-corruption is a manifold beast.  But the tone from the top has to be clear.  Behaviour that even looks like it might be bad isn’t good enough.  Getting rid of Sam Allardyce won’t clean football up overnight, but critical junctures are important in changing directions of travel.  Whether the FA did enough due diligence beforehand (it wouldn’t, after all, have been hard to discover Allardyce’s colourful past) is one issue here, but if the message that gets sent out is that managers and those who hang around them don’t have high standards of integrity, they could easily get in to a lot of trouble.

It may be that times are already changing. We await more exposes from the Telegraph (and they are promised for later in the week) before we hear whether it’s yesterday’s men who are being accused of corruption or whether it is people in the here and now.  If it’s men who have largely moved on, then the message may already be hitting home.  Allardyce really could simply be a dinosaur.  But it’ll be a while before we can know for sure.


Dan Hough

University of Sussex

Electoral Fraud hits China. Again.

Imagine a situation where 45 British MPs were kicked out of the House of Commons for indulging in electoral bribery. Or one where a majority of parliamentarians in Scotland or assembly members in Wales or Northern Ireland were booted out for committing the same offence. There would, to put it mildly, be a little bit of controversy. Precisely that has happened in China. And political life is going on much as normal.

China might not appear to be the type of polity where you’d find electoral bribery. After all, the People’s Republic doesn’t have popular elections. But elections of a sort do take place behind closed doors. Their processes are clouded in secrecy, but just occasionally news filters out about how they work.

The background to these elections is both simple and complicated. It is simple in that China basically has six administrative levels. The national level is centred around the party and the government in Beijing. Below that China has 34 provinces and below that 334 prefectures. There are then 2,852 counties, 40,466 townships, and (apparently) 704,386 villages. Representatives at each level are tasked with electing some of their own to the level above. This pyramid structure works right from the village level (where some genuine elections do take place, although they are heavily supervised by the Communist Party) up to the very top of Chinese government. On paper, all clear enough.

The process of gaining support

In practice, there are two real issues with how the system works. First, people regularly get parachuted in to these bodies. As the Hong Kong Standard noted on 13 September, in practice the system can be “highly opaque and exceptions are common”. Paper and practice can often seem to be a long way apart.

Second, quite how representatives go about winning these contests is, to the outsider at least, anything but clear. We’re certainly not talking about systems of open elections. The winners generally ‘emerge’ and are subsequently nominated, often after a prolonged process of politicking in the background. That politicking may well involve paying money to influential power brokers to get your name put forward.

The legislatures at all of these levels have little genuine power – that is reserved for the Communist Party’s committees – but they can still be prestigious places to be. It’s not so much that you can necessarily do much in terms of public service, more that you can be seen to be making progress in your career and to be mixing (and having access to) the rich and powerful.

Mass sackings

It’s for that reason that representatives will often try very hard to get themselves nominated. Indeed, sometimes too hard. In 2013 in Hengyang, a city in Hunan Province, 518 out of 527 representatives of the legislature were unceremoniously sacked from their positions after it became clear that they had bribed their way in to them. The total amount of bribes paid exceeded RMB110m (around £15m).  Quite how the (decidedly exceptional) 9 who weren’t found to be doing a bit of bribing got in to their positions is not clear.

Similar forms of skulduggery were revealed in early September 2016 when no less than 523 deputies to the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress (the official name of the legislature) found themselves implicated in electoral fraud. The details of what precisely this fraud entailed have not been revealed, but it is very likely that these officials will have been involved in buying their way up the pyramid. All of them have now either resigned or simply been disqualified from serving in these posts (which they have had since the last election in 2013). 45 Liaoningers have also been sacked from the national parliament in Beijing, all of whom were implicated in the vote-buying scandal.

Liaoning, the southern most province in Manchuria in China’s North-East, now finds itself without a government as no less than 38 of the 62 members of what was previously the government are amongst the 523 who are no longer in parliament. In words that show that understatement is not just a preserve of the English, Xinhua, the official state news agency of China, was quoted as saying that the situation was unprecedented in China and “warrants a creative institutional arrangement”. Indeed.

When what’s expected can be what gets you in to trouble

This, however, is not a simple case of bribery on steroids. In China, the process of making financial contributions to get yourself nominated to higher positions is common. The details are often sketchy and the transactions are done away from the (not so) prying eyes of the press. But they are done nonetheless. And it is commonly known that they are done and indeed that that’s the way you have to behave to make progress.

That the informal norms are widely understood doesn’t mean that they are in line with Chinese law. They aren’t. Hence members of these bodies in China are in an odd position. They are at once expected to bribe and expected not to bribe. If they ‘play the game’ then it won’t be long before they have to get their metaphorical chequebooks out, but by doing that they leave themselves open to accusations of corruption. In Xi Jinping’s China, where many tens of thousands have been prosecuted for corruption offences, that can be a dangerous place to be.

The point is not to defend those implicated in this case. For one thing, the actual details of what happened are hazy. But it is worth acknowledging that Xi’s anti-corruption drive is making a big play of rooting out bad apples. And it is Xi and his close circle of friends who do the defining of terms. The notion that Xi’s system of looking after and furnishing his orchard may be the problem that produces so many bad apples is not, however, something that is up for discussion.


Dan Hough

SCSC Director


Global corruption is like smoking; here’s how to quit

Last week, the Danish newspaper Politiken reported that the Danish government will pay £1million to obtain secret financial information on its citizens that was gathered as part of the ‘Panama Papers’ scoop.

The information will help them uncover corruption, tax evasion and money laundering – surely in the interests of justice? Yet the move was controversial. The information had originally been stolen from a major offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Is it ever acceptable for a government to buy stolen goods, some asked?

One thing is for sure: the Panama Papers have focused worldwide attention on the problem of global corruption. They revealed that corrupt practices are not just a dirty habit of poor countries, but are widely practiced in wealthy countries too – and by their wealthiest members. It is not somebody else’s problem; it is all of ours.

In my teaching, I often compare corruption to tobacco. For many years, it was common knowledge that smoking caused cancer: the US Surgeon General publicly said so in 1964. And yet smoking remained fashionable, people continued to take it up in great numbers, governments failed to legislate, and companies did not change their practices.

Growing up in the 1980s, I cast around for explanations. Maybe the addictive properties of tobacco were to blame. Maybe human nature was too weak to resist. Perhaps governments had a vested interest in tobacco tax revenues. Or the tobacco lobby was simply too powerful?

The same kinds of explanations are often given for why corruption persists: Human nature? Culture? Vested interests?

But on tobacco, huge progress has been made. In many countries, governments have legislated against smoking in public places, fewer individuals take up smoking, and smokers are stigmatised rather than admired. Admittedly, laws are not always implemented and tobacco companies still see some developing countries as growth markets. But the trend, as my children grow up, looks radically different.

What are the lessons for the fight against corruption, or for achieving social and political change more broadly?

For the anti-smoking lobby, an important shift occurred when they started to highlight the effects of passive smoking. No longer was smoking just the problem of smokers; it was harming innocents – children, co-workers, even other patients in hospitals.

The world is beginning to wake up to the fact that corruption too is not a victimless crime. But anti-corruption campaigners must keep demonstrating the myriad harms that corruption causes. At the macro level, these are about retarding growth, exacerbating inequality, undermining the rule of law. For individual victims, corruption means being denied access to jobs or school places, watching your business collapse because you don’t have the right connections, or being unjustly punished for a crime you didn’t commit.

Anti-corruption campaigners also need to build constituencies. In the case of smoking, framing the problem as passive smoking meant that healthcare workers got involved, as did employees of bars and restaurants, so too parents – adding their voices to those of more obvious victims. This in turn motivated some employers to ban smoking, and forced governments to accept their responsibilities to protect vulnerable groups.

To fight corruption, too, we must involve as many stakeholders as possible. Force lawyers and real estate agents to admit their complicity in corruption – when they facilitate or turn a blind eye to money laundering. Remind people that the costs fall on them too: through soaring London house prices as corrupt tycoons buy up property, or shoddy public services as corrupt companies win contracts. And urge people to use their power to challenge corruption wherever they see it.

The Panama Papers investigation was a remarkable piece of journalism, but it was also a pioneering work of global political activism. Its effects are only just starting to be felt…

Liz David-Barrett