Foreign Policy Blogs

New Year’s Resolutions

It is the time of year when people promise to do things differently, when they commit to change. What might world leaders resolve for fighting corruption and promoting accountability in 2010?

There are few political or business leaders on the planet who would not publicly vouch for anti-corruption and accountability. This is the lingo of our time. But if they truly wish to create change, such talk is meaningless. In place of mere words, a major step for all leaders to take is to support a serious investigation into credible allegations against someone at the high reaches of power. There is scarcely a country lacking such a person these days, and most major companies could find a suitable target as well. The investigation must be independent and thorough, and upon completion, its findings must be acted upon. If this means a trial, the proceedings must likewise be conducted independently of the ruling class.

Independence has proved to be the common sticking point. As leaders have moved beyond rhetoric towards prosecution, two scenarios have become familiar: either a political enemy is pursued and held up as a distraction from more loyal wrongdoers, or a former bigwig is investigated and even tried but ultimately pardoned in some way. These outcomes are both the result of interference in the inquiry and/or trial processes. Pursuing alleged offenders and maintaining the integrity of procedures would be ideal resolutions for fighting corruption in 2010.

Admittedly, some leaders are not ready for such bold action. As a smaller first step, improving transparency can go a long way. This means opening up government records and business practices to the scrutiny of the press and the public. President Obama’s executive order yesterday for declassification of security documents is a welcome step in this direction, but there is much more to be done.

Like any year, 2010 offers opportunity for progress and retreat. Scandals and public outrage will inevitably emerge. It is their treatment that will dictate the path to the future.