The Role of Parliament in Curbing Corruption

By Rick Stapenhurst; Niall Johnston et al. | Go to book overview

10
Building Coalitions: Parliaments, Civil Society,
and Corruption Control

Michael Johnston


Introduction: Sustaining Reform

Societies rarely bring corruption under control through penalties, morality campaigns, or administrative improvements alone.1 Anti-corruption coups and “oneman show” crusades are even less successful, weakening civil society, the press, political competition, and accountability. Too often they substitute intimidation for transparency. Long-lasting corruption control must draw on the energies and self-interest of citizens themselves, enabling them to resist exploitation. Equally, it requires that that those who speak for the people effectively demand accountability, exercise oversight, and check official abuses. Vigorous civil societies and strong, socially rooted, credible parliaments can be effective partners for good governance.

In 17th-century England, Parliament began to curb royal abuses of power in the course of a long struggle with the Crown over issues as diverse as taxation, religion, and crown patronage (Roberts 1980; Peck 1990; Johnston 1993). The elected chamber—the House of Commons—was chosen by a very few people; many places did not have Members to call their own. Further, Parliament was not designing better government, but rather defending its own autonomy and prerogatives—in effect, insisting on its place in an emerging web of processes that were transforming governance. The result was a fundamental expansion of the political process and new notions of accountability, driven by sustained political contention.

Such a process cannot simply be proclaimed; rather, it must draw on lasting interests. It involves real contention—in the English case, a series of impeachments, a regicide, civil war, and (near century’s end) a reconstitution of the monarchy itself. Also, it involves real costs and risks. But political partnerships of this sort bring major segments of society into politics, build stronger linkages between citizens and those who speak for them, and create new institutions and standards capable of enforcing acceptable limits for the uses of wealth and power.

1 This chapter is an adaptation, in part, of Johnston and Kpundeh (2002).

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