Fighting corruption in a globalised world
27th July 2023
Author: Grant Walton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University
Scholars (e.g. Brown and Cloke 2006, Brown and Cloke 2007, Graycar 2015, Warf 2019) now increasingly recognise that the geographies of corruption – that is where corruption occurs across space – is critical for meaningfully addressing it. Yet, much of the corruption literature focuses on one geographic scale: the nation-state.
This is apparent in popular indices that measure corruption, such as Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index and the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicator's control of corruption index, which rank and rates levels of corruption in individual countries. Such country level indices have dominated assessments of corruption across the world, with economists and political scientists in particular, using them in statistical models to explain why corruption is caused and its outcomes (Cooley and Sharman 2017). Those using qualitative research have also often focused on the scale of the nation-state through case-study methodologies (Cooley and Sharman 2017).
The domination of such approaches has led some scholars to suggest the study of corruption suffers from 'methodological nationalism' whereby analyses of corruption solely focuses on the national scale (Brown and Cloke 2006, Gregson and Crang 2016, Cooley and Sharman 2017, Heywood 2017).
In an increasingly global world, it is critical that researchers and policy makers look beyond the state when trying to understand corruption, its causes and consequences. And there has been a growing body of research that has attempted to do just that (e.g. Sharman and Chaikin 2009, Sharman 2012). Cooly and Sharman (2017) have, for instance, examined what they call 'transnational corruption', and have focused on the role that international intermediaries – such as banks, shell companies, real estate firms, as well as investor visas and second-citizenship programs – play in facilitating corruption.
International indices have helped to reframe debates about the transnational and networked nature of corruption. For example, the Tax Justice Network's Financial Secrecy Index scores countries on how much secrecy a jurisdiction's laws allow and how much financial services it supplies to residents of other countries (Tax Justice Network 2022). This index turns debates about corruption on its head: while the Corruption Perceptions Index and Worldwide Governance Indicators find that poor countries are the most corrupt the Financial Secrecy Index puts the spotlight on richer nations. In turn, its 2022 index lists the United States is the country "most complicit in helping individuals hide their finances" from the rule of law, followed by other prominent tax havens including Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong (Tax Justice Network 2022).
Efforts that refocus attention to the interlinked and transnational nature of corruption can be referred to as networked approaches.
In my own research, I have drawn upon both approaches to understand corruption and the effectiveness of responses to it in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific nations. By drawing on a nation-wide survey in Papua New Guinea, I have shown that definitions of corruption vary across the country, with the marginalised – particularly those in rural areas and women – more likely to have a broader definition than those who are more enfranchised (Walton 2015). I, along with co-author Caryn Peiffer, have also shown that Papua New Guineans are more likely to fight corruption if they are educated beyond primary school level, trust that the state will respond and are reminded of how corruption impacts their local communities (Walton and Peiffer 2015, Walton and Peiffer 2017, Peiffer and Walton 2019, Peiffer and Walton 2022).
Moving beyond the scale of the nation-state, my research has also highlighted the importance of understanding the multiple scales in which corruption takes place. My book – Anti-corruption and its discontents: local, national and international perspectives on corruption in Papua New Guinea – highlights how local, national and transnational anti-corruption efforts sometimes misunderstand the nature of corruption and fail to respond to citizens' more localised concerns (Walton 2018).
I have also focused on the networks of corruption within and between Pacific countries and their neighbours. Drawing on research from Papua New Guinea (Walton 2016) and Solomon Islands (Walton 2020, Walton 2021) I have shown how anti-corruption efforts are shaped by a transnational assemblage (or networks) of local and international actors. And Sinclair Dinnen and I have highlighted the importance of responding to transnational corruption and crime across the Pacific Islands region (Walton and Dinnen 2020). This means recognising that countries in the region often considered to be 'clean', such as Australia and New Zealand, play an important role in facilitating money laundered from Pacific Island countries. In turn, both of these countries need to address the role they play in helping perpetuate corruption in the region.
These findings remind us that corruption is facilitated across a variety of geographical scales and networks. Meaningfully responding to it thus requires engaging across a variety of scales – from the subnational, national, regional and global. This is particularly the case in a world in which goods and, to a lesser extent, people move within and across borders more freely than ever before.
- Brown, E. and J. Cloke (2006). "The critical business of corruption." Critical perspectives on international business 2(4): 275-298.
- Brown, E. and J. Cloke (2007). "Shadow Europe: alternative European financial geographies." Growth and Change 38(2): 304-327.
- Cooley, A. and J. Sharman (2017). "Transnational Corruption and the Globalized Individual." Perspectives on Politics 15(3): 732-753.
- Graycar, A. (2015). "Corruption: Classification and analysis." Policy and Society 34(2): 87-96.
- Peiffer, C. and G. Walton (2019). Overcoming Collective Action Problems through Anti-Corruption Messages. Canberra, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University. Paper No. 77.
- Peiffer, C. and G. W. Walton (2022). "Getting the (right) message across: How to encourage citizens to report corruption." Development Policy Review 40(5): e12621.
- Sharman, J. C. (2012) "Chasing kleptocrats' loot: Narrowing the effectiveness gap."
- Sharman, J. C. and D. Chaikin (2009). "Corruption and Anti-Money-Laundering Systems: Putting a Luxury Good to Work." Governance 22(1): 27-45.
- Tax Justice Network. (2022). "Financial Secrecy Index 2022."Retrieved 12 May, 2023, from https://fsi.taxjustice.net/.
- Walton, G. (2020). "Establishing and maintaining the technical anti-corruption assemblage: the Solomon Islands experience." Third World Quarterly 41(11): 1918-1936.
- Walton, G. (2021). "Can civic nationalism reduce corruption? Transnational and translocal insights from Solomon Islands." Political Geography 89: 102422.
- Walton, G. and S. Dinnen (2020). "Lost in Space? The spatial and scalar dimensions of organised crime in the Pacific." Asia Pacific Viewpoint 61(3): 521-536.
- Walton, G. W. (2015). "Defining corruption where the state is weak: the case of Papua New Guinea." Journal of Development Studies 51(1): 15-31.
- Walton, G. W. (2016). "Gramsci’s Activists: How local civil society is shaped by the anti-corruption industry, political society and trans-local encounters." Political Geography 53: 10-19.
- Walton, G. W. (2018). Anti-Corruption and its Discontents: Local, National and International Perspectives on Corruption in Papua New Guinea. Oxon, Routledge.
- Walton, G. W. and C. Peiffer. (2015). "The Limitations of Education for Addressing Corruption: Lessons from Attitudes Towards Reporting in Papua New Guinea." Crawford School Development Policy Centre Discussion Paper 39 1 June. Retrieved 4 September, 2015, from http://ssrn.com/abstract=2614179
- Walton, G. W. and C. Peiffer (2017). "The impacts of education and institutional trust on citizens’ willingness to report corruption: lessons from Papua New Guinea." Australian Journal of Political Science 52(4): 517-536.
- Warf, B. (2019). Global Corruption from a Geographic Perspective. Cham, Springer.
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