By Farooq Sulehria
November 29, 2013
Anti-corruption is a relatively new discourse that began to proliferate global development discourses in the mid-1990s. During the mid-1990s, the UN, IMF, World Bank, OECD besides NGOs and western aid agencies, such as the UK’s Department for International Development (DfId) began their jihad on corruption. Portals such as Coris and Ancor also emerged besides NGOs such as Transparency International.
Now with chapters in 85 countries, Transparency International manages a budget worth six million Euros. It has also worked in close collaboration with the World Bank. At least four members on its board of directors formerly also held top position in the World Bank besides a few others in its secretariat.
Ironically, during the Cold War, liberal developmentalist theoreticians were glorifying the role of corruption in stimulating growth in the countries of South. Samuel Huntington, for instance, thought: “In terms of economic growth, the only thing worse than a society with a rigid, over-centralised, dishonest bureaucracy is one with a rigid, over-centralised, honest bureaucracy”.
Why did anti-corruption became a global jihad only in the post-Cold War period?
One scholar on the topic, Elizabeth Harrison offers two explanations. On the one hand, there are those who strongly believe that corruption is the cause of all the ills.
On the other hand, there is a set of scholars viewing anti-corruption discourse as an attempt to divert attention from the failure of structural adjustment programmes and as a manifestation of a neo-liberal policy agenda. For them, anti-corruption is closely linked with the governance agenda in development providing a pretext for greater neo-liberal intrusion in foreign aid.
The answer, says Harrison, lies somewhere in between: “Corruption does exist and its pre-eminence in international discourse is not innocent of neoliberal values…Like all discourses that of anti-corruption does not exist in an institutional vacuum”. It is used and developed, she thinks, by particular actors therefore we need to look at the anti-corruption establishment and the way they frame the problem.
By blaming under-development on corruption alone, the anti-corruption crusaders at World Bank and IMF do not want to look at the structural inequalities globally or locally. Without taking into account the international political economy, colonial history and neo-colonial perspectives the international anti-corruption establishment whitewashes the role of imperialism.
Equally problematic is the definition of corruption. For instance, the debt trap for the third world, the international division of labour and many other forms of structured exploitation pose no development dilemmas to anti-corruption crusaders.
These one-dimensional neo-liberal anti-corruption discourse whereby corruption is the root cause of all third-world problems has been adopted by neo-liberal politicians and intelligentsia in many third world countries. The PTI, captained by Imran Khan, for instance, has un-problematically adopted the World Bank discourse on corruption and anti-corruption.
Corruption in PTI narratives refers to the use of public office for private gains or breach of law (tax evasion, for instance). This is, in fact, standard liberal definition. The way this over-simplified definition rids World Bank and its cousins from the responsibility they should bear for destroying Africa, this definition also helps the PTI avoid ‘awkward’ positions.
For instance, class perks of the feudal lords, Pirs (two of them occupying leadership positions in the PTI), or capitalist exploitation do not constitute corruption in PTI manifesto.
Likewise, for the PTI, institutionalised grabs by the civil and military bureaucracy do not merit being called corruption. Private education and medical care fail to pose any problem either. National oppression, Balochistan notwithstanding, is also an alien concept for the PTI.
Hence, the system that generates an atmosphere for corruption is not questioned. Understandably, the way the World Bank has failed Africa, the PTI is failing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Farooq Sulehria is a freelance contributor.