February 06, 2007

Anti-Corruption Botox

Over at Drishtipat blog, ZaFa and Asif have commented glowingly about some recent developments on the anti-corruption front, namely, the face-life (as ZaFa calls it) in the ACC personnel, and Bangladesh's signing on to the UN Convention Against Corruption. Nai mama-r cheye kana mama bhalo (a blind uncle's better than no uncle), I suppose. And definitely, there will likely be some short term impact. But unlike ZaFa, I do not see the long-run possibility of "cleans[ing] the institution from the webs of corruption". And unlike Asif, I do not see there being "pretty huge and ... far reaching implication" to the signing of the treaty.

First, the treaty. Notwithstanding any discomfort with the ability of an unelected government being able to sign on to international obligations, and notwithstanding the fact that UN itself is going through its own issues with regard to corruption (with various structural weaknesses revealed in the Iraq oil for food scandal that are not really being addressed very well) I do not think that the problem ever was about lack of laws or obligations on the books against corruption. Rather the problem was one of execution. I think we all recognize that we have plenty of good laws on the books, but not a lot of proper execution of them. Treaties are not self-executing devices (unless someone from the outside is pressing really strongly.) Some time last year I went to a very interesting seminar in Dhaka on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as it pertains to juvenile children. It was signed by Bangladesh in 1974. It's never been executed.

Second, the ACC face-lift: Now I share ZaFa's hope that the new kids on the block will be able to clean house. But again, I reiterate my point that the issue is not one of personnel, but one of institutional structures and checks and balances. Sure, we may have a clean house at the ACC for the next few months (or we may appear to have a clean house at the ACC for the next few months) but really, can we, given our historical experience, expect the situation to hold?

Structural changes in the way that the ACC does things need to be put forward. The one's that have been put forward do not give me much hope that the SOE really has thought through this issue in anything but an ad hoc manner. More on this in a later post...

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