There’s a Power in Written Word

A few years ago, one of my professors gave the class a project in which we had to identify and explain fundamental arguments by Mlada Bukovansky in a paper she had worked on entitled “The Hollowness of Anti-Corruption Discourse”. My analysis of her work went something like this (I have removed much of the previous content for a more reader-friendly experience):

‘…Today’s anti-corruption discourse rings hollow in its neglect of the moral core of the corruption concept, and this reduces its effectiveness.’

Bukovansky’s analysis of some key documents of a few major international institutions and organisations reveals that the definition for corruption is lacking. This is despite initiatives such as resolutions and conventions being in place. Nevertheless, the author concedes that the emphasis of the public rationale given in these documents about the reason why corruption is a bad thing are worth studying since they help to constitute anti-corruption efforts. For example, the World Bank states that corruption corrodes good governance and for this reason it must be tackled, interestingly enough, based on principles of good governance.

Perhaps the author is too hasty in stating that the public rationale are worth studying. This is because corruption is perceived differently by different states. Thus, providing the rationale for corruption without properly defining its scope and ambit clearly obscures the anti-corruption discourse and its application.

Other than failing to provide a clear definition of what corruption is, Bukovansky also argues that the discourse on anti-corruption is silent on ‘what needs to be done to engage leaders and citizens in deliberation about the substance of the public good, and the pursuit of collective ends.’ This argument favours the discourse on republican political liberty and civic virtue.

It differs from theories such as the rational choice theory by advocating the placement of the corruption scourge in the hands of the members of a particular state, as it is likely that patriotic commitment to the interest of the state, rather than self-interest, can weed out corruption. This can be attributed to the sense of ownership over the problem which is preferable to imposition from external forces.

Bukovansky provides her own reasons for why this theory is inadequate, amongst others, the fact that it does not rely on statistical data. Additionally, it may prove to be impossible engaging with every single person in the community in a bid to make them less selfish and more patriotic.

Notwithstanding the fact that good governance is a global issue, the work on anti-corruption mechanisms has been exercised by industrialised states and international institutions to the exclusion of developing countries, even though the majority of anti-corruption campaigns are aimed at developing countries.

As a result, external standards of anti-corruption have been imposed on societies that have not been part of defining them.

Bukovansky contends that this raises an ethical and a pragmatic problem. Essentially the scruples of holding developing states accountable to high international compliance standards and also the practicality and reasonableness of the expectations, are called into question. For instance, it is almost certain that a developing state would struggle financially to make structural reforms that are part and parcel of attaining good governance.

These allegations are central to the shortfalls of the anti-corruption discourse. Failing to accommodate the entities to which the crafting of standards apply mostly, is a clear oversight that has fundamental effect in the anti-corruption discourse.

Further, Bukovansky states that the dominant rationale for the anti-corruption consensus has been economic. This is line with the technical-instrumental approach to institutions and the rationalist economic methods which allege that there is a sense of complementarity between institutional effectiveness and economic performance. Consequently, industrialised Western states as well as institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and even the United Nations (UN), have embarked on institutional reform agenda which for the most part, are incompatible with the right to self-determination of mainly the developing states.

The priorities of these different states and institutions differ marginally. Furthermore, it is arguable that due to this, even the rate of development is not the same. Therefore, it is incorrect to argue that a state is corrupt based on the rate of development. Further still, one may ponder the interest of major power players in the affairs of lesser developed states which have little to offer the free market. Perhaps it could be for future interests which are currently unbeknown to the developing states.

This contention correctly criticizes the high pedestal which industrial countries put themselves. More importantly Bukovansky, rightfully points out that the difference in priorities leads to there being unworkable governance demands on developing country governments and societies.

In summation, Bukovansky points out gaping holes in the anti-corruption discourse which need attention. A concerted and truly genuine effort to address each of the issues she has raised is a step closer to making the discourse less hollow.

I love Bukovansky, and other dissenters, for the simple reason that their words make us think about things that most people see but pretend not to. It alerts the majority who may be unaware of some social problems and  gives them an opportunity to decide whether or not they want to care.

I believe it was Gideon Hausner who said in one of his most awesome indictments, that words were created to express what man’s mind can reason with and his heart can conceive. Following from that, dissenters and their words force us to think about people and when we do that, we give faces to victims of corruption, human suffering, poverty, and injustice.

Your words don’t have to resonate with serious things such as  human suffering, but what you should be aware of is that if you ever decide to express yourself in writing, you’ll always have an audience. Bukovansky has me, and I have you. There’s a power in our ‘voices’, whether they are heard or ‘seen’.


The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the University and its management (which includes editors(s) of this blog. Information on this site may contain errors or inaccuracies; we do not make warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the site’s content. If you own rights to any of the images, and do not wish them to appear on this site, please contact us via e-mail and they will be promptly removed.

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