Perceptions of Corruption and Their Relevance to Anti-corruption Measures: Research Findings of the EU-Project ‘Crime and Culture’

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  Perceptions of Corruption and Their Relevance to Anti-corruption Measures: Research Findings of the EU-Project ‘Crime and Culture’
   1 Angelos Giannakopoulos, Konstandinos Maras, Dirk Tänzler Perceptions of Corruption and Their Relevance to Anti-corruption Measures: Research Findings of the EU-Project ‘Crime and Culture’ Abstract The article aims at presenting summary results and main insights on perceptions of corruption elaborated within the EU-research project ‘Crime and Culture’ (Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission, 2006-2009). In order to optimise corruption prevention in the European Union, policymakers should pay closer attention to how corruption is viewed in individual member states and candidate countries. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is unlikely to be effective. Instead, prevention policies should be adapted to fit prevailing socio-cultural conditions and take into account how such policies are perceived in daily practice. Efforts to encourage rule-conforming behaviour should be viewed as evolutionary learning processes. The article identifies, first of all, patterns of perception and interpretation of corruption in seven countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Greece, Germany and the United Kingdom. In a second step, these countries are grouped into three representative clusters: Germany and Great Britain, representing modern western European societies (democracy, rule of law, market economy), Greece and Turkey, representing partially modernised countries with a paternalistic state, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, representing post-socialist transformation countries. Therein, cluster analysis is oriented to common patterns of perceptions of corruption between countries as well as to the particular ‘paths of modernity’ of the single countries. Against this background the article finally sets the frame within which policy suggestions could be formulated. 1. Introduction: An overview of the ‘Crime and Culture’-project The policies against corruption that have been implemented so far within EU-member or candidate countries have in general been characterised by legislative, administrative and police force measures. These are based on a definition of corruption prevention developed in political and administrative institutions that, for its implementation, rely on a top-down procedure. The EU-research project ‘Crime and Culture’ (full title: Crime as a Cultural Problem. The Relevance of Perceptions of Corruption to Crime Prevention. A Comparative Cultural Study in the EU-Accession States Bulgaria and Romania, the EU-Candidate States Turkey and Croatia and in the EU-States Germany, Greece and United Kingdom) proceeded from the assumption that the considerably varying perceptions of corruption, determined as they are by cultural dispositions, have significant influence on a country’s respective awareness of the problem and thereby on the success of any preventative measures. For this reason, the project investigated the ‘fit’ between institutionalised prevention policies and how these are perceived in daily practice, as well as how EU-member and candidate countries as a result handle the issue of corruption. The research project has been supported within the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission in the period January 2006-July 2009. Different patterns of perception and interpretation of corruption have been illustrated and analysed in the countries Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Greece, Germany and the United Kingdom in six different societal areas (target groups) of each country, that is in the fields of politics, judiciary, police, media, civil society and economy. 1   1  See more details and research related materials at:   2 The ‘Crime and Culture’ project followed during the three project phases a twofold line of inquiry: The objects of the project were both the conceptual preconditions of the expert systems as well as the socio-cultural conditions under which these systems are put into effect. Accordingly, during the first empirical project phase an evaluation of expert systems took place. This was based on the analysis of a variety of documents of all target groups in all participating countries. The documents under examination were compiled of protocols of parliamentary debates from the national parliaments and the EU Parliament, verdicts, police guidelines for investigating and prosecuting indictable offences along with interrogation protocols, news and background media reporting, statements and strategy papers issued by national and international anti-corruption initiatives and finally public statements and statements of formal obligation by trade unions. During the second project phase interviews with representatives of all target groups have been conducted. The aim of the analysis was to reconstruct the common-sense definitions of corruption out of the data. The goal of the third project phase was, finally, to draw up a systematic strength–weakness analysis of expert systems. The results have been then discussed with invited practitioners and experts in the anti-corruption field in the final conference of the project in Brussels the aim of which was to define possibilities of bottom-up strategies for the prevention of corruption. During all project phases the project cooperated very closely with national and international anti-corruption agencies (Transparency International). The sociological approach of the project can be sustained by pointing to the widely acknowledged fact that the common-sense perceptions of corruption often go well beyond what the penal law prescribes as such. The pragmatic dimension of corruption, i.e. its embeddedness in socio-cultural forms of action, reaches far beyond what the classificatory definitions of penal law circumscribe as criminal deed. From the perspective of the experts, corruption is nothing other than deviant, criminal behaviour incommensurable with institutional values and for this reason to be combated. In average people’s daily lives on the contrary, corrupt conduct can be a part of that social order of things that is perceived as securing their existence, thus making it appear a factual ‘normality’. Under such conditions, corruption may not even be considered criminal. Alternatively, corruption might commonly be seen as a widespread and socially tolerated trivial offence. In the everyday life of a society, corruption is enmeshed in people’s existential interests to the extent that the consciousness of wrongdoing may resist both rational reasons and institutional enforcement of sanctions against corruption. Therefore attending to everyday life orientations rooted in socio-cultural contexts and conducive to corrupt behaviour comes closer to how more effective prevention policies may look like. Thus, taking our bearings from the cultural embeddedness of corruption perceptions facilitates examining those aspects of corrupt conduct that are almost insusceptible or even resistant to administrative measures. Against this background the article will proceed by presenting in the following second chapter a summary of results on perceptions of corruption in the countries participated in the project. On the basis of research findings the countries will be in the third chapter grouped together in three clusters of analysis. Cluster generation is thereby based on similar patterns of perceptions of corruption among countries as well as on their specific “path of modernisation”. Finally, lessons learned and anti-corruption suggestions based on research evidence will be formulated in the fourth and last chapter.   3 2. A summary of perceptions of corruption in the single countries   2.1 Perceptions of corruption in Bulgaria First of all, there are some basic structural components of the transition period in Bulgaria which should be underlined: The research period is characterised by Bulgaria’s ambition to become a member of the EU (which it has become in 2007). To fulfil this ambition, certain demands of the EU had to be fulfilled that can be subsumed under the notion of democratisation including measures against corruption. This has had different consequences: 1. Industries that were under control of the state during the communist era had to be privatised. Concerning this matter the ruling parties that were oriented towards the EU had an interest to sell these industries to international investors, whereas the opposition focused more on national interests and favoured national investors. This gave place to mutual accusations of corruption: The government was accused of disregarding the national interests (see below), the opposition was accused of following their particular interests rather than those of the country (e.g. in the case of the tobacco industry where one of the parties – the MRF, the political representation of the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria – had the opportunity to ‘buy votes’ since the tobacco industry is ruled by ethnic Turks). 2. The financing of the political parties had been precarious because of the lack of sufficient sources of funding referring to the state and membership fees. Other sources had to be tapped, especially donations from the private industry. Since the existing laws (up to an amendment in 2006) were not adequate to regulate this practice, doors were open to corruption or at least to respective accusations. 3. Due to the lack of experience foreign experts (political and economical) were invited to the country. These ‘borrowed’ forces brought with them their own interests or those of their actual employers that were not identical with the national interests of Bulgaria. The same goes for the financiers who were lending money to the country. In summary, some of the persons responsible for privatisation acts had allegiances to former colleagues and friends who worked for Western companies. 4. The distribution of competences between politics and judiciary were not clear as a result of the missing democratic heritage. Because of this the government was able to take back a  juridical decision against their privatisation policy, arguing that the court was not to decide on the economic expedience of the deal, but only on its conformity to the law. This restriction of the courts led to a minimisation of according judgments and to a public perception that the fight against corruption is ineffective. 5. The introduction of democratic elections had the effect of a ‘marketisation of politics’ that caused various discourse strategies. According to that the following core discourse strategies on corruption can be underlined. The depletion of certain resources for political mobilisation (ideology and patronage) in Bulgaria forces the political parties to draw more heavily to each other: the anti-corruption discourse became finally an implication of political interests. In this sense, measures against corruption were just a way of gaining control over the political discourse. The crucial point in this reference is the establishment of ‘discourse coalitions’. These have been of specific interest for the government which otherwise tended to become isolated in the anti-corruption discourse because of its srcinally legalistic conception of corruption (see below). For example, the government can try to establish a discourse coalition with the media, accepting their more broad definition of corruption and ‘feeding’ them with information about cases of corruption which complement their interest in ‘breaking news’, knowing that the media interest is not as great in long term. The concepts of corruption varied – initially – according to the political position: Largely, when in power, politicians tend to support a legalistic view according to which actions in conformity with the law cannot be corrupt. On the other hand,   4 politicians while in opposition claim that corrupt behaviour can be more broadly defined as an offence against the national interest. Because of the aforementioned risk of discourse isolation the government in power is forced to reject its initial definition of corruption as too narrow. The consequence of all these points is a considerable breach between an inflationary corruption discourse on the one hand and a very small number of actual juridical judgments on the other: when cases reach the courts, corruption curiously shrinks. The EU tends to criticise only the lack of judgements, disregarding the possibility that there could be more cases of accusations of corruption than actual corruption itself. As a result of the inflationary corruption discourse one can observe the public perception of an all-encompassing corruption, creating a situation in which populists can easily gain votes by promising unrealistic measures against corruption. Therefore the last elections in Bulgaria have all been characterised by such promises to the effect that none of the ruling parties could win a second mandate. As a consequence of these regular regime changes, there is a lack of continuity regarding anti-corruption policy and a complementary lack of law enforcement. Accordingly, four theses on perceptions of corruption in Bulgaria can be stated: 1. In Bulgaria a transition is taking place towards an understanding of corruption which transcends the accepted everyday meaning of the word. In everyday parlance, corruption usually signifies a specific, illegal or illegitimate transaction – a quid pro quo situation. Debates on corruption generally start from this quid pro quo understanding, but they then usually replace it with a much broader understanding of corruption, which generally means bad and irresponsive government and government not in the interest of all. 2. What we are experiencing in Bulgaria is the profound politicisation of the understanding of corruption. The corruption discourse has been transformed into a tool for everyday politics. 3. The Bulgarian case study demonstrates that the more one “rationalises” the anticorruption discourse, that is the more one ‘disenchants’ the anti-corruption world (in the Weberian sense), the more anti-corruption magicians and superheroes emerge (see for example the outcome of the last parliamentary elections in Bulgaria). 4. The forming of discourse coalitions (e.g. between politics and civil society) tends to ‘de-politicise’ corruption as an issue. ‘De-politicisation’ does not mean the removal of anti-corruption measures from the field of politics as such, but the devaluation of the issue as a means in party struggle: Parties build coalitions – with other parties or other target groups – to the effect that the change of government is no longer seen as the key measure to be taken and that instead long-term, institutional anti-corruption measures are being favoured. 2.2 Perceptions of corruption in Romania Can there be such a thing as a corrupt country without corrupt people? For some politicians in Romania this is not paradox at all, for it can pretty well be the case that the institutional framework provides the legal regulations to detect and sanction corrupt conduct, but the prosecution and indictment ‘output’ nevertheless falls very much short of standing up to the needs of effective punishment. Across all target groups in Romania one encounters the widespread belief that, rather than being an institution dedicated to prosecuting corruption, the  judiciary is on the contrary its main structural cause. In the face of this, the aforementioned paradox can be rendered intelligible by claiming that everybody takes corruption for granted, but (almost) nobody, at least nobody that matters, seems to be held responsible or guilty. Thus, the judicial way of understanding ‘corrupt country without corrupt people’ would be to point to the insoluble tension between generalised corrupt conduct on the one hand, and the extreme difficulty of breaking down this generality in determinate corruption cases to be   5 sanctioned by justice on the other. The other way of explaining it is to connect perceptions of diffused corruption in Romanian society to the awareness that corruption has developed into a complex mechanism that aggregates multiple interests forging a ‘thick fabric’ of interdependencies, mutual liabilities and law-deviating networks spreading across all social fields. Single phenomena to which perceptions of diffused corruption are related are: a) the ‘thick fabric’ of corrupt networking as a form of a ‘Mafia ensemble’ involving politicians, policemen and public administration servants; b) in the framework of privatisation the ensemble of intermingling interests consisting of a set of positions in the political, economical and judiciary system; c) the permanent law-deviating or extra-institutional exchange relations between business and political sphere; d) turning politics into a personal business as a network that transcends party boundaries and bundles the variety of corrupt practices across the political spectrum together; e) disposing of public property for party-political purposes; f) illicit transactions between politics and civil (and economic) society, public funds being diverted to political activities through the mediation of NGO’s and private companies; and g) relationships and personal allegiances from the communist past constituting a form of social capital. What seems to be the characteristic feature of corruption perceptions in Romania is a kind of mental habitus of turning corrupt conduct into an individual right and in turn a social norm everybody must but observe under the existing state of affairs. ‘Rightful’ corruption is perceived and practised not only on the grounds of ‘legitimate’ privileges accruing to certain social positions, though. It is often buttressed by various supplementary beliefs about it having a compensatory function. This consists in a) compensating for low income levels, b) compensating for perceived inequalities regarding the relation between effort/work and reward; and c) compensatory claims as lingering effects under the former communist regime. What generally seems to bring together the various aspects of the mentality of ‘righteous’ corrupt conduct is the intersection of two sets of regularised law-deviating practices: one has its srcins in the economy of state-managed scarcity of the communist past, the other is a concomitant of the mechanisms by means of which the transformation of Romanian society from communism to market economy has taken place. As regards the former, corruption as a mechanism of compensating for perceived injustices still rests on the people’s ‘legitimate’ corruption that under communism functioned as a re-allocation of the system of scarce resources. For the communist ruling classes, however, ‘legitimate’ corruption had functioned as a steering mechanism of resource allocation. Thus, one of the legacies of communism is a culture of corruption to the extent that all sorts of constraint, coercion and inescapability under the communist regime of scarcity created over time firm orientations for action and patterns of dispositions sustaining the practices of ‘legitimate’ corrupt appropriation of public resources. As regards ‘rightful’ corruption forged during the transition period, the ways in which property transfer and institutional/social change took place rested upon firm and long-standing beliefs and perceptions of why a ‘rightful’ appropriation of resources by means of corruption was not only unavoidable, but also desirous. A great deal of the rules governing property transfer and privatisation thus consisted in adapting the communist culture of allocating resources by means of corruption to the exigencies of the new redistribution rules dictated by the forced and fraudulent privatisation process. Taken together these two sets of regularised law-deviating practices have resulted in ‘spaga’ (petty corruption) and ‘mita’ (grand scale corruption) becoming interchangeable patterns of
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