Of corruption, aid and respect

Update 02/12/14: news link fixed

Grand corruption is one of the stories of the year across East Africa, with several countries enduring major scandals. I am with many others who assert that corruption is not necessarily the most important development issue to address. (China seems to have got impressively rich incredibly quickly despite being also pretty corrupt.) And even were you to want to address corruption as an economic development rather than justice/rule-of-law issue I think that endemic petty corruption is probably a bigger barrier to development than political grand corruption. Finally, donor threats to punish especially egregious scandals by withholding funds always come with the inevitable downside that the poorest get punished twice whilst having only the slightest impact on the guilty politicians.

But then you have stories like this, and I am reminded of how useless many developing countries are at investigating their own elites when it really isn’t that difficult. Duh! Of course they are, I mean this is political science 101, right? But here’s the jarring juxtaposition; the same political elites want us to simultaneously accept the following:

  1. Their countries are poor and need the help of a few $bn of Western taxpayers’ money.
  2. That corruption in their countries is hardly as bad as others make it out to be*, and anyway their law enforcement agencies lack the capacity to finger and then prosecute such few officials who may be guilty of sticking their hands in the cookie jar.
  3. Western donors are too bossy and guilty of neo-colonialism in their interference in supposedly internal affairs.

I don’t think Western donors do themselves any favours with their regular finger wagging, but honestly, do the corrupt local elites really expect the donors to show them the respect they so clearly feel they deserve when they carry on like that? It’s just cause and effect. Respect is earned.

* Ever heard the one about the smoke without a fire?

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One response to this post.

  1. The poor get hit twice has always been the problem. It is why I am more Collier than Easterly though I can’t help admire the latter’s blunt assessments.
    The measure of growth in China with all the reported corruption is a big mystery. I think it has to be classed with the difference between Asian and African corruption, identified in some places. The Asian elite seem more interested in milking rather than slaughtering the cow.
    The three points you make are spot on. It actually means, when they are accepted, development just doesn’t achieve so much as it can.
    So it comes back to the poor get hit but what else can be done.
    Well surely something. It is not all at village level but if a substantial part of development could be directed there missing out the governments then I think more value would be achieved.

    Reply

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