Transparency International and Corruption as an Issue of Global Governance

By Wang, Hongying; Rosenau, James N. | Global Governance, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Transparency International and Corruption as an Issue of Global Governance


Wang, Hongying, Rosenau, James N., Global Governance


The globalization of economies, politics, and culture has broken down traditional barriers of governance. A growing number of issues that were formerly the exclusive responsibility and prerogative of national or regional governments are increasingly subject to global governance. For us, the global governance of an issue has two dimensions: high sensitivity to the issue on a global scale and, at least, rudimentary global norms that focus on the issue. Environment, human rights, poverty, population, and international financial flows are just a few examples that come to mind.

But how does an issue become a concern of global governance? We hope to shed light on this question by probing the emergence of corruption as a global issue. Our empirical focus is on the role of Transparency International (TI), a transnational nongovernmental organization (NGO) devoted to fighting corruption. We hope this study will facilitate understanding of the role played by idea and organizational entrepreneurs in setting the global agenda and creating global norms.

In the first part of the article we highlight the rise of corruption as an issue of global governance. We go on in the second part to examine some structural changes that have prepared the ground for this development. In the next two parts, we focus on TI as an agent of change and compare TI with other transnational organizations working in the realm of global governance. Finally, we conclude with some words of empirical and theoretical caution.

Emerging Global Governance of Corruption

Corruption is not easily defined. Some observers, persuaded that defining corruption presents difficult and complex challenges, undertake extensive definitional efforts. [1] Others assume that its meaning is widely understood and make no attempt to specify its component dimensions, as if these are so self-evident or overlapping that there is no need to draw clear-cut lines among them. Most analysts emphasize that corruption involves public officials, but some conceive of corrupt transactions occurring between corrupters and corruptees in the private sector. For our purposes here, however, we confine the analysis to the notion that corruption is the collaboration between public officials and private actors for private financial gains in contravention of the public's interest. The scale and level of corruption ranges widely, from small bribes to low-level bureaucrats (petty corruption) to distortions of large procurements and major policy decisions (grand corruption). [2]

Neither corruption nor efforts to contest it are new. Nevertheless, recent years have seen a dramatic ascendance of corruption on the global agenda, what one analyst calls the "corruption eruption." [3] The growing salience of the issue of corruption is suggested by the results of a Lexis-Nexis keyword search of the New York Times Index for the average number of annual entries on corruption during six-year periods starting in 1969. [4] These data, presented in Table 1, show that sensitivities to corruption issues have indeed peaked in the most recent period. [5]

Increased media attention reflects and reinforces increased public awareness of the corruption issue. [6] In addition, there appears be a growing consensus against corruption. In other words, people are not only more aware of the corruption issue, but they are also more judgmental with respect to it. With few (though notable) exceptions, these judgments are all in the direction of viewing corruption as detrimental, "as one of the world's greatest scourges." [7]

The evidence is compelling. In the first place, the long-standing taboo precluding public criticism of corruption has begun to crumble. A recent example has been the scandal--and its worldwide repercussions--involving the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to grant the 2002 winter games to Salt Lake City. This scandal is especially indicative of the pervasive preoccupation with corruption inasmuch as such practices involving the IOC have not captured worldwide attention in the past even though they are not new. …

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