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Interpreting Corruption

Interpreting Corruption: Culture and Politics in the Pacific Islands

Peter Larmour
Copyright Date: 2012
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  • Book Info
    Interpreting Corruption
    Book Description:

    Corruption is a popular topic in the Pacific Islands. Politicians are accused of it and campaign against it. Fiji's coup leaders vowed to clean it up. Several countries have "leadership codes" designed to reduce corruption, and others have created specialized anti-corruption agencies. Donors, the World Bank, and NGOs such as Transparency International have made it an international issue. Yet there is often disagreement about what constitutes corruption and how seriously it matters. What some view as corrupt may be regarded as harmless by others. Existing laws have proved difficult to enforce and seem out of step with public opinion, which is often very suspicious of corrupt behavior among island elites. As well as talk there is silence: People fear the consequences of complaining. The dangers of anti-corruption campaigns became apparent during the "cleanup" following Fiji's 2006 coup. So what counts as corruption in the Pacific and what causes it? How much is really going on? How can we measure it? What types are present? Are gifts really bribes? Is "culture" an excuse for corruption? Is politics-in particular, democracy-intrinsically corrupt? In clear and concise language, this work attempts to answer these questions. The author takes a comparative approach, drawing on economics, law, political science, and anthropology, as well as literature and poetry from the region. He looks at Transparency International's studies of National Integrity Systems and at newer research, including events since the Fiji coup.Interpreting Corruptionis a highly accessible and approachable look at an age-old problem. Those interested in the Pacific Islands and public integrity will find it remarkably comprehensive as will students and scholars of anthropology, sociology, and political studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6119-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. From the General Editor
    (pp. ix-x)
    Brij V. Lal
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    There are now two opposite views about corruption in the Pacific Islands. The first sees a cultural misunderstanding. Behaviour that people in the West might regard as corrupt is regarded differently in the Islands. What looks like a bribe, for example, is really a gift. What looks like nepotism is proper concern for one’s kin. This view tends to blame foreigners for corruption. The second, more recent view sees a catastrophe. Leaders and officials are everywhere self-seeking and incompetent. The old rules have broken down, and the promise of independence has been betrayed. This view tends to blame the politicians...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Talk and Silence about Corruption
    (pp. 20-41)

    Corrupt payments of money, offers of jobs, and contracts are often invisible, and their meaning is shaped by the language people use to describe them to one another and to report them to others. In Solomon Islands, for example, perceptions of corruption at the time of the NIS survey were based on ‘off-the-record word of informed insiders, snippets of official documentation, and the occasional intimation or allegation in the media by rival politicians or community leaders’ (Roughan 2004: 9). The obligations one participant in a corrupt exchange lays on another are often unsaid: one might say to the other, ‘Do...

  8. CHAPTER 3 What Counts as ‘Corruption’?
    (pp. 42-59)

    What is all this talk (and silence) about? Discussions of corruption often stall over definitions. Activists and officials, wanting to do something about it, are often impatient of discussion. But definitions matter when they differ, when people try to mobilise others against something they see differently, and when they are enforceable. Some of this defining and explaining is done by powerful, specialised institutions, like the courts interpreting the law, the media uncovering scandals, aid donors promoting good governance, and churches promoting morality. Some of it is more popular. Some is sporadic and coalesces around events: the demonstrations around the Sandline...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Explaining Corruption
    (pp. 60-78)

    Corruption is often talked about as a disease, particularly a cancer. For example, an Australian minister for Pacific Island affairs argued,

    Corruption is a cancerous thing and there is a developing crisis of government in some parts of Melanesia. If the leaders of a country do not have the best interests of their citizenry at heart and don’t act in those best interests, then no amount of aid will save them. (cited in Bennett 2000: 352)

    That familiar metaphor suggests the possibility of a treatment, even cure. But it also raises the question of diagnosis, or misdiagnosis. What kind of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 How Much Corruption Is There?
    (pp. 79-99)

    New ways of measuring corruption are being used to assess the performance of governments in tackling the problem. The Pacific Islands Plan, for example, envisages a ‘control of corruption (integrity) indicator’ that could be used to assess a government’s progress towards achieving good governance (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat 2008: 33). This chapter reviews the kinds of measures that are becoming available for the Pacific Islands.

    In most countries of the region the criminal code creates offences such as abuse of office, misappropriation, secret commissions, and the bribery of public officials. The police may investigate more serious cases and a government...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Seven Types of Corruption
    (pp. 100-115)

    In its desire to be useful, it may be that the NIS approach was running ahead of itself. It was looking for signs of plausible remedies before analysing the disease it wanted to cure. So this chapter re-analyses the reports of the surveys focusing on the types of corruption their authors report. These are summarised in table 5.8, which also includes earlier surveys of PNG and Fiji. The chapter concludes that it may be more useful—for purposes of understanding and preventing corruption—to dis-aggregate corruption into several types or sectors.

    ‘Lumping’ and ‘splitting’ are alternative approaches to classification of...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Culture and Corruption
    (pp. 116-133)

    Ideas about ‘culture’ have often been used to explain, or excuse, acts of corruption. Gift giving, it is sometimes said, is ‘part of our culture’. Outsiders should not confuse it with bribery or corruption. Such a relativistic approach has been strongly criticised by academic writers on corruption, such as Syed Alatas in his classicThe Sociology of Corruption,and by activists, such as TI. Alatas (1968) saw cultural relativism as another kind of Western naïveté and condescension towards non-Western societies. The West, he argued, imagined them to be incapable of telling right from wrong. He provided copious evidence of concern...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Politics and Corruption
    (pp. 134-150)

    Ti’s Global Corruption Barometer, discussed in chapter 5, asked individuals how much corruption affected their ‘personal and family life’, ‘the business environment’, and ‘political life’. On average ‘political life’ was thought to be the most affected (Transparency International 2006: 14). My analysis of the NIS surveys in chapter 6 found a distinct category of ‘political corruption’, including the use of slush funds, political appointments, political interference, party funding, party dominance, and vote buying. So in this chapter I look more closely at the relationship between corruption and politics (and politicians) in the Pacific Islands, particularly as revealed in the NIS...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Conclusions
    (pp. 151-166)

    At the start of this book I identified two views of corruption in the region: Gothic and relativist. The NIS reports, and other more recent sources, provide plenty of evidence for both views. The Gothic view was widely held, by local as well as international opinion, though the surveys analysed in chapter 5 pointed to a disquieting gap between perceptions and experience. Though it was hard to tell how much corruption there was—and to distinguish it from a background of non-corrupt mismanagement—the number of types and examples listed in chapter 6 was alarming. The forest industry in Melanesia...

  15. References
    (pp. 167-182)
  16. Index
    (pp. 183-188)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-193)