Honesty the best policy for corrupt nations, says SFU professor

Social values can play a large role in corruption, Dr. Hara argues.

In a collection of essays titled Broken Windows: Why Culture Matters in Corruption Reform, SFU Political Science professor Andy Hara sets out to research the root causes of corruption and critically analyze why common attempts at reform remain ineffective.

The research is split into two volumes — one published in March 2016, and the second to be published this summer — that are essentially compilations of various case studies written by a number of experts and threaded together with Hara’s narrative and analysis. Each case study focuses on corruption in one country.

In an interview with The Peak, Hara spoke about his purpose for conducting the research. “The question we’re trying to answer is, if everyone knows corruption is such a major issue for development, how come we haven’t made any progress?” he asked.

What sets Hara’s study apart from previous academic literature covering corruption is that, instead of simply detailing the extent to which corruption exists in various developing countries, his research seeks to use historical information to critically analyze past attempts at corruption reform, and then suggest more effective strategies.

In his introduction, Hara writes about the World Bank’s cost-benefit type approach to corruption: “that an individual will engage in corruption if they see a benefit of taking a bribe that is less than the consequence of enforcement.” He continues by arguing that it has proven to be ineffective numerous times in the past. He counters this economics-focused approach to corruption reform by suggesting a more culture-centered reform program.

Hara’s research includes three developing countries where corruption is at a minimum — Singapore, Hong Kong, and Chile — and he detailed three commonalities between the successful case studies.

“There were decade-long efforts to not only change formal rules, but also change the values of the government and the private sector at large to be more honest [in these countries],” he said.

Additionally, all laws passed were equally enforced at higher levels of government, such as the show trials in Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew’s cabinet and union leaders were tried, reinforcing the idea that no one is above the law.

Finally, all three cases showed an ongoing effort to reinforce honest social values. In the case of Chile, the most common university degrees are liberal arts or law degrees, the entire culture is essentially based on the law and the legal process.

When asked about how his study can be applied to corruption seen in Canadian politics, such as the senate expense scandals that made headlines last summer, Hara replied that the major news coverage of the incidents serve to reinforce what his research concludes — that the nationwide concern over the “minor infractions” speak to Canada’s strong societal values against corruption.

“I would say that Canadians should take pride in the fact that their system works,” concluded Hara.