Fighting corruption is a tough gig. It requires fighting on many fronts simultaneously, against opponents who often don’t play fair, and it takes a long time. But, on the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day, CSC Director Liz David-Barrett argues that there are at least five reasons for anti-corruption activists to be cheerful:
- The Biden administration promises to put global leadership back into the fight against corruption. Biden’s victory brings an end to four excruciating years in which President Trump rode roughshod over democratic norms, undermining the global fight against corruption by providing cover for kleptocrats and authoritarianism elsewhere. Biden promises to reinvigorate democracy globally and, at home, is taking on the critical area of campaign finance. He also plans to end the practice of anonymous shell companies, a huge step that will make it much harder for kleptocrats to hide their ill-gotten gains.
- Investigative journalism is back with a vengeance. A few years ago it looked like journalism was dying out: everyone was making their own news on twitter and nobody wanted to pay for the long-term research needed to uncover misconduct. But recent years have seen the emergence of a new form of global governance institution – the informal networks of investigative journalists (the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Finance Uncovered) that brought us the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, and many other exposés of misconduct and kleptocracy. Despite scanty resources, this group has consistently collected and analysed a vast body of evidence that has helped to hold leaders and industry to account all over the world.
- Law enforcement is cooperating like never before. Corruption is a transnational crime and tackling it requires cross-border cooperation among anti-corruption agencies and law enforcement bodies. That is working better than ever, with initiatives like the International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre in London, donors ploughing major funds into building capacity in this area all over the world, and the recently announced Riyadh Initiative set to fill in some gaps and speed up learning among anti-corruption agencies.
- Corruption has become a topic in pop culture. This is partly a consequence of the proliferation of scandals, but it has brought debate about corruption into popular culture and got everybody talking. TV series and movies about corruption abound (a couple of my recent faves are Line of Duty and Spotlight). They increasingly tell nuanced stories about how anti-corruption tools can themselves be infiltrated or misused as weapons to discredit opponents and undermine accountability, and they also highlight the courage of those who work to uncover and expose corruption. If anti-corruption professionals are showing up on tv and in the movies as glamorous heroes, that is a sure sign that norms are changing.
- The global network of anti-corruption professionals is growing fast. There are swelling cadres of anti-corruption professionals in the public and private sector of many countries, with in-depth expertise about how to tackle complex problems. Some people snipe that anti-corruption should not be its own ‘industry’ like aid or human rights, and as a relative newcomer we should certainly learn lessons about the need for contextualisation. But the presence of a community is especially important to anti-corruption work, because knowing that you are not alone in the fight is critical to overcoming the collective action problem. We see this with our own students on the CSC’s MA programmes and our PhD researchers: our alumni support each other around the world and swap ideas on what works in fighting corruption. That is a big reason to be cheerful!