Cornering corruption

Monday, March 25th, 2013

As the Charbonneau Commission’s inquiry into corruption and collusion in the construction industry in Montreal gears up for a spectacular week of questioning, Headway is stepping back to ask how we got here.

Not why corruption exists — that is a much more complex, and in some ways much simpler, question… Rather, how did years of whispering about kickbacks and collusion at City Hall finally culminate in revelations last year that blew the lid off the whole thing?

In other words, why do some acts of corruption become public while others remain secret in the first place?

One theory comes from research done by McGill political science assistant professor Manuel Balán, who set out to answer this question by examining the publicity and reactions that resulted from revelations of corruption in Argentina and Chile between 1989 and 2007.

Public disclosures of corruption, he found, are often triggered by competition within a governing party or coalition itself (intragovernment competition, as opposed to intergovernment competition among multiple parties).

In other words, while corruption is ever-present, it is more likely to become public when there is political infighting, as government insiders with privileged access to information leak details about misdeeds for their own gain.

The takeaway? Those who are successful in the political underworld keep their enemies close and their friends even closer…

Or, to put a positive spin on what is generally seen to be a negative phenomenon: political infighting is crucial for a transparent and accountable democracy.

This infographic, along with other research-related news, can be found in the Spring 2013 issue of Headway available here.

Comments are closed.