Nigeria has been progressing on administrative burden in the past decade, although it still has a lot to do on fiscal transparency and regulatory quality. Constrained by a poor security situation and an ethnic patronage structure, the country has not struggling with corruption: most of its citizens appreciate the efforts of the government, despite its limited impact so far. Nigeria needs full transparency of expenditures, property, procurement and proceeds of natural resources, as well as drawing more on social accountability for audits of public projects. However, the number of enlightened citizens is still small and insufficient progress was made on e-government and e-participation.

Can we really speak about corrupt countries?

Prime Minister Cameron shocked everyone by referring to Afghanistan and Nigeria as possibly some of the most corrupt countries of the world just a few days before this week’s anti-corruption summit in London. Many saw his statement as yet another instance of Western hypocrisy. Given London is famously a playground for the corrupt and Mr. Cameron’s family itself profited from stashing money overseas, it does seem odd that he is the one to point the finger. But is it justified to be politically correct about corruption? The evidence tells us otherwise.

The Panama Papers show that elites in most countries will display a quite shameless (and selfish) appetite for privilege if a loophole presents itself. But while people from countries with a reasonable control of corruption, such as the United Kingdom, have to go to some exotic island with their money, people in countries where corruption is systemic (the majority of places) need not go that far. In those countries public budgets and banks are controlled by ruling elites, who openly flaunt lavish houses, cars and incomes worth far more than their declared earnings.

Countries like these have their very own Virgin Islands within their own borders, and their populations know it. This is how the Global Corruption Barometer assesses whether their officials and indeed their countries as a whole are corrupt. In countries with tighter control over corruption, survey respondents tend to claim their national rulers merely put their private interests first. Both groups are right in identifying corruption, but there is a big difference between the two cases. The summit concentrated on closing offshore havens, but did not touch havens operating within national borders. While this may help clean up less corrupt countries a little more, but it will do nothing for the others.

Another key facet in the politically correct approach to corruption is that money from developed countries is feeding corruption in the developing world. Granted, there is evidence to suggest assistance funds and even EU structural and cohesion funds can turn into a resource for corruption in countries where corruption is systemic. One Afghan leader at the summit aptly pointed out that the flow of Western money into his country was only making things worse. However, what came first was not the flow of foreign money – completely benign when invested or donated in a country with low corruption – but the ruthlessness and unchecked power of governments in recipient countries. They designed the rules to extract as many rents as possible from all public and private resources, be they local taxes or foreign investment.

Unchecked local power is the number one cause of corruption. Without tackling this, pressure on international donors makes little sense. At most, it can lead to investors avoiding countries with corruption and donors organizing aid through non-governmental channels, for example by funding international and local charities or communities. Similarly, repatriating assets makes little sense if future governments continue to act corruptly. This is exactly what happens in over eighty democracies and forty autocracies, where public resources are openly raided by whoever comes to power.

Finally, is it right to say we can only speak of corrupt individuals and not of corrupt countries? The idea was suggested by the Prime Minister of Malta, a country with a reasonable control of corruption. Once again, this is untrue, as survey respondents all over the world have repeatedly shown. Although corruption is universal and human nature tends to give in to temptation all too easily, history shows us countries have constructed constraints on corruption within national borders over time. In a minority of countries the constraints are strong enough to keep an eye on the resources available for corruption.

Once constraints have reached this level – with, for instance, critical and engaged citizens able to sanction rent seekers, as in Iceland, where the Panama tainted PM had to leave immediately – resources for corruption, such as oil, no longer pose a danger. This is still far from the case in “fantastically corrupt” Nigeria, as Cameron called it. We can therefore speak of corrupt countries where the rules of the game normalise government extraction of public resources and where most people in power do just that. Here, payments provide virtually the sole access to public services and careers are forged on the basis of connections and not merit. Inhabitants of such countries know and connect together all these symptoms. Many of the most talented people leave, preventing the creation of a critical mass for reform and strengthening the fate of subdued populations and predatory elites.

When statistically analysing resources and constraints for corruption, we create a ranking system that clearly shows what reforms are needed. Researchers from ANTICORRP have done this in the Index of Public Integrity. It shows Norway leads the world, while Venezuela and Chad are on the bottom rung. By addressing these areas for reform, Nigeria has the potential to progress from ‘corruption as a rule’ to ‘corruption as an exception’. None of this was discussed at the summit. There is a huge knowledge gap between making the world a cleaner place and addressing the issues of individual countries. Future summits can bring further well meant and hopefully still politically incorrect contributions.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi is Professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and policy chair of the EU FP7 Projects ANTICORRP, the EU’s largest policy research program on corruption. She is the author of the Quest for Good Governance: How Societies Develop Control of Corruption and recently wrote a report on integrity and trust in the EU for the Dutch EU Presidency, as well as many academic and non-academic contributions.

Democracy in Decline

What is the state of global democracy? According to renowned democracy expert Professor Larry Diamond who spoke last week at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance , democracy around the world continues to decline largely because of a lack of good governance.

During the event, chaired by ERCAS Director Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor Diamond presented evidence that between 2005 and 2014, Freedom House scores (assessments of political rights and civil liberties, both of which are reported every year by the organisation) consistently declined. While 5 new democracies (Fiji, Kosovo, Madagascar, Maldives, Solomon Islands) were added to the global tally, the overall trend is shifting away from democracy.

Diamond highlighted the breakdown of democracy in Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Kenya. In Africa, 25 nations declined in their Freedom House scores, 11 improved, and democracy overall on the continent eroded. He argued that the situation in Venezuela is continuing to deteriorate, and pointed to the incipient populist authoritarian leadership in Bolivia and Ecuador as further cause for alarm.

Shifting focus to the Middle East, Diamond looked at what he dubbed an “Arab Freeze”, arguing that the hope of the Arab Spring has in fact failed to deliver democratic gains, with the exception of Tunisia where democracy is slowly taking hold.

Why have so many democracies broken down? Diamond argues that in all instances there is a weak rule of law coupled with executive abuse of power. Many fragile or failed democracies are also quite complicated countries; they are quite ethnically or religiously or linguistically diverse.  If, as Diamond pointed out, effective institutions are not developed and if broad and inclusive political coalitions are not developed, the results (for example in Ukraine) can be disastrous. Poor economic performance can also have a detrimental effect on democracy, but Diamond argues that government performance and perception of legitimacy by citizens is sometimes as or more important than mere economic success.

With many established democracies mired in legislative deadlock, and authoritarian countries gaining global influence, there seems to be little hope of inspiring new democracies. The rise of China for example as a global economic power could have negative impacts on leaders of non-democratic states who could argue that authoritarianism has produced good economic results. On a slightly more upbeat note, Diamond did point out that there is a real possibility (even in China) of economic success leading to more citizen demands for democracy. When these happen in countries that are already high-functioning, there is a a hope for democracy taking hold.

Nigeria Means Business, Mr Dick Cheney!

Yesterday the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian anti-corruption agency, filed bribery charges against former US Vice-President, Mr Dick Cheney. This is not the first attempt of the EFCC to go after Mr Cheney. An arrest warrant was issued earlier this year on his name in relation to the same fishy oil business he was conducting in the Niger Delta through a subsidiary of his firm. Read more about this story here.

It is definitely not the first bold statement made by the EFCC. Without going too much into Nigerian politics, Mr Goodluck Jonathan, acting Nigerian President since February 2010, seems to have brought along a higher tolerance to prosecution of corruption. It was after his official appointment as President that Mr Ibori – governor of the Niger Delta – was arrested, also for corruption, giving greater hope to democracy and rule of law activists in Nigeria and abroad. And they did not stop there. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), two former state governors, four Siemens representatives, five representatives of a natural resources exploitation company and a senator are the highlights of the charges filed by the EPCC in the past 2 months alone. The EU praised the efficiency of the EFCC and assured more support for the activity of the agency. Beyond facts, we draw three important lessons from all this.

Lesson #1. Things work better when the word of the ruler is the rule of law. Mr Jonathan might just be on his way to giving leaders of African presidential regimes the most important lesson they could possibly receive. Instead of debating on the rightfulness of good governance aid conditionalities or the anthropological significance of the “good governance” concept, fundamentally different in Africa from any other place on earth, they might try cleaning up their countries. The implementation of Nigerian anti-corruption strategy began 2000. Since then serious efforts were made to make the collection of revenues from the extractive industry more transparent.1 According to the country report provided by the Revenue Watch Institute (RWI), the revenue transparency policy initiated by President Obasanjo in 2003/4 encouraged the development of an effective institutional setup for curbing corruption. Since 2006, the EFCC has recovered more than 5bil USD. These small advancements could be the positive sign that aid donors were waiting for, while the obvious political efforts to make Nigeria cleaner could build enough capital for its leaders to set their aid investment priorities, and in another 10 years maybe they will ask USAID for their own MIT, as India did a while ago.

Lesson #2
. This goes to Mr Filat, still in office Moldovan PM (and to clarify why an African corruption story is posted on a webpage targeting Eastern European civil society projects). Mr Filat took another approach than Mr Jonathan: after his appointment he did almost nothing to depoliticize his administration or his judiciary, and consequently prosecute those who had unrightfully jailed and battered the protesters who brought his alliance to power. This is not a judgment of Mr Filat’s or his Cabinet’s intentions. However, it could be an explanation for the price he had to pay in the November elections. After next year’s Nigerian presidential elections we will find out whether Mr Jonathan’s credit balance with his voters is negative or positive.

Lesson #3. Nigeria filing corruption charges against a former US high rank official draws attention on both North – South power relations, as on the accountability links that the current global governance system makes available to national integrity agencies or anti-corruption prosecution institutions. This question goes to the core of the debate on responsibility towards the use of public goods. Nigeria got to be Africa’s biggest oil and natural gas producer because 25% of the continent’s resources are on its legally recognized territory. Under these circumstances, should the right to use belong to its citizens alone? Consequently, if these rights are breached on integrity grounds, should regular courts have the legitimacy to judge them? If allegations against Mr Cheney are backed up by enough evidence, then to which court should he respond to and by which rules should he be trialed? What is the responsibility that regional organizations should play in the administration of national public goods of regional or global relevance, if any? Should the corrupt administration of global public goods be addressed in special courts? We leave the answer to these questions open for debate.

1Revenues collected by the Nigerian government from the extractive industry account from 85% of total revenues. According to World Bank data (2008), the extractive industry is the most productive sector of the Nigerian economy (52% of GDP).

Author: Sinziana – Elena Poiana


*Disclaimer: This article presents the views of the author and it is not the official position of the institutions supporting this project.