The Good Governance of the Corona Crisis

The years since 1989, the previous threshold crossed by the contemporary world have seen unprecedented stress on good governance, with the adoption of international conventions and treaties, disclosures like Panama Papers and spectacular enforcement of the older American Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. But during this interval the world largely stagnated on the quality of governance. If anything, governance in top income countries declined slightly, and in less affluent countries stayed the same. Only a handful of countries registered significant progress- those good governance ‘achievers’ that I covered with an international team of researchers in several books and articles, and which are less than a dozen across continents.

It is very significant in these days’ debate to monitor the performance of these countries in the fight with the epidemic and to compare them with their income and regional counterparts, and why not, with older good governance achievers, like US, UK or Scandinavian countries. Of some, everybody heard in the past two weeks, even if not researching anticorruption: South Korea and Taiwan. These two democracies handled the Corona crisis brilliantly, acted swiftly on evidence to prevent the spread of the virus, learned from previous epidemics and summoned e-government, technology (apps to trace contacts) and the excellent relation between state and citizens, based on transparency and trust.

In Latin America, the good governance achievers have the lowest fatality rates. By Easter 2020, Chile with 1.1% and Costa Rica with 0.5% clearly stood out compared to Nicaragua’s 11.1%, Bolivia’s 8.2%, Mexico’s 6.6%, Honduras’ 6.3, the Dominican Republic 5.6%, Brazil’s  5.7% and Ecuador with 4.7%. Uruguay also did well. Africa was still at the very beginning, but already you could see that Tunisia, who is among the very recent countries which started on the good governance path (see map) has been handling the situation better than its neighbors.

It is more difficult to judge in Europe, the land of the oldest good governance achievers, but there it also seems that many countries which have improved their governance in the last thirty years- Estonia, Georgia, the Czech Republic, Portugal- handled the crisis better than ‘old achievers’- countries like France or UK.

This highlights a previously neglected issue- that the equilibrium representing good governance, the state-society balance that we capture in the Index for Public Integrity, needs to be sustained over time and should not be taken for granted. Indeed, the John Hopkins University-EUI who  estimated UK and US far better prepared than Germany or South Korea should revisit their criteria and allow a larger role for political leadership. Also, would it not be nice to include Taiwan in the 195 countries GHS index, as clearly its governance was superior to many and so some lessons could be learned from there? Poor leadership (as well as a good one) matters. It can enable or deter collective action needed in such times, and both these old good governance achievers showed that, leading to loss of lives. From the “old achievers”, Germany confirmed the most, with a low fatality rate (compared to the other West European countries) owing a lot to the same non-populist, solid social contract, where the state acts on evidence and broad consultation, the citizens trust it to do so and the public and private sector, as well as different branches of government cooperate well. Still, Germany did not react as swiftly as either Korea or Taiwan, who had more cases after China originally, but managed to curtail the spread from very early on. Or Iceland, the marginal European island which made a prime minister resign in half a day after it turned out his family’s money was invested offshore and tested all skiers returning in one flight from Ischgl, an Austrian virus hotspot.

The more a government is able to draw on trust and technology, the swifter and more effective the response. Taiwan merged its national health insurance data with customs and immigration databases to create real-time alerts to help identify vulnerable populations. Iceland made an app which created a log of where the user had been to enable contact-tracing – sharing it with authorities being done on a voluntary basis, unlike Korea where quarantined people have to use it. Countries which used e-government tools to lower red tape and electronic means of payment to increase tax collection and diminish the unaccountable money volume- like Estonia or Uruguay- found it easier to handle the crisis. They had been already reducing personal contacts and paperwork between government and its citizens.

Acting rapidly on the evidence to prevent corruption, with the help of both responsible and critical citizens is also the essence of successful anticorruption: what you do after the outbreak already matters less, because it cannot be so effective even in the best of circumstances, that few countries enjoy anyway (like great impartial prosecutors and effective courts). The countries which had managed to build control of corruption successfully in recent times were thus far more prepared for this crisis even than those advanced countries which had received it as a heritage from their ancestors. Good governance needs current practice, but also returns dividends, as we could see during this pandemic.

Tunisia

Tunisia continues to be the regional leader in god governance, but a laggard in its income group. Over the last ten years it has progressed lest than expected, in particular on the Arab Spring agenda of administrative simplicity, soft formalization policies and fiscal transparency. It even regressed on judicial independence. Its main progress was in the area of e-government and e-participation and its main assets remain a free press and a highly educated and committed civil society. Tunisia needs to tackle directly (and get support for) the reduction of legal rent granting privileges and the broad opening of access opportunities rather than to embark in the adoption of more standard anticorruption repertory tools which will remain unimplemented.

The Anticorruption Report Vol. 4: Beyond the Panama Papers

The final title in the series The Anticorruption Report covers the most important findings of the five-year-long EU-sponsored ANTICORRP project on corruption and organized crime. How prone to corruption are EU funds? Who wins and who loses the anticorruption fight? And can we have better measurements than people’s perceptions to indicate if corruption changes? This issue introduces a new index of public integrity and a variety of other tools created in the project.

The Anticorruption Report Vol. 4: Beyond the Panama Papers looks at the performance of EU Good Governance Promotion in different countries in the European neighbourhood. Case studies focussing on Spain, Slovakia and Romania are considering the impact of EU structural funds and good governance promotion within the Union. Further chapters looking at Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Tanzania are analysing EU democracy and good governance support in third countries. The report, edited by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi and Jana Warkotsch offers a comprehensive and overarching look at the successes and pitfalls of the EU’s efforts to democracy promotion and introduces new ways to assess the state of good governance in different countries around the world.

EU governance promotion in Tunisia: Lessons from the Arab Spring

This report explores the intersection between European Union assistance to Tunisia and the development of that country’s good governance and anti-corruption framework, both during times of stability under the authoritarian rule of former President Ben Ali and during the turbulent transition period that ensued after the Arab Spring. The report furthermore analyses the changes in funding priorities during the period 2007–2013, as well as the concomitant development and application of the EU’s conditionality framework. It argues that the EU’s use of the instruments at its disposal, as well as the incentives that were on offer, were not always helpful in pushing forward good governance and anti-corruption reforms, and indeed may even at times have been harmful to them.

Report Exposes Dimension of Corruption in Ben Ali’s Regime

A report presented last Friday by a National Investigation Committee in Tunisia revealed details about evidence of corruption and misappropriation by members of Ben Ali’s regime. The document concluded that corruption was widespread across state agencies, ministries and even the media.

According to Neji Baccouche, a legal expert who presented the Committee’s findings, around 5,000 files were examined and 320 were sent to the prosecutor’s office for further investigations.

The document also included a portrayal of Ben Ali’s and his wife Leila Trabelsi’s life style based on what was found at the former leader’s official residence. Mr. Baccouche suggested that the presidential palace be turned into a museum to remind the public of the corruption that characterized the old regime.

Read the full article Ben Ali Baba’s cave: Tunisia may turn palace into ‘corruption’ museum on middle-east-online.com. The picture shown above is also featured in the article.