John R. Heilbrunn
Numerous governments have adopted anti-corruption commissions despite growing evidence that such commissions fail to reduce corruption. Why do policy makers allocate scarce revenues to establish a commission that consumes resources and possibly undermines the credibility of their commitment to reform?
A cynical response is that policy makers are not seriously committed to enacting effective reforms. At an extreme, the reasons may be as simple as malice and greed: political leaders are engaged in looting the economy, and an appearance of reform allows them to postpone the adoption of meaningful efforts. A more common scenario is that policy makers are risk averse and reluctant to enact reforms that might threaten domestic constituents who profit from systemic corruption. Meanwhile, governments in developing countries need international investments, and international donors often require policies to reduce corruption as a prerequisite for continuing development assistance. Establishing an anti-corruption commission may represent an effort to satisfy international donors and placate domestic calls for reform, even if for only a short while.
Evidence of dysfunctional anti-corruption commissions is manifest in the numerous agencies that lack independence from the executive, receive inadequate budgetary support from the legislature, have no procedures for forwarding cases of corruption for prosecution by the relevant judicial authorities, and fail to submit regular reports to the legislature. Herein lies the dilemma: whereas it may be desirable to enact policies to reduce corruption, a weak commission leads to a reputation for token reforms, which undermines the political leadership’s credibility. Indeed, it is easy to explain why anti-corruption commissions fail in so many places. It is far more difficult to explain why any succeed.
This chapter argues that anti-corruption commissions often fail to reduce public sector venality. It will be noted that those governments that have established successful anti-corruption commissions have done so in response to demands for reform from a broad base of domestic constituents, including legislators and actors in civil society organizations. Such demands generally occur after a precipitating crisis has caused deep economic hardship and a national consensus emerges that reforms must be implemented. Without such a crisis, building domestic coalitions