Anti-corruption and governance are the new rhetoric of post-economic crisis reform in East Asia. But is the governance strategy of aid funding in East Asia flawed? This research, from the University of Melbourne, establishes new theories for understanding corruption and governance and tests them in relation to Indonesia and Vietnam. It argues that the political, legal, commercial and social dynamics of East Asia must be understood not as they are meant to be but as they are.
Governance development aid in East Asia has become a major exercise in social engineering, attempting to restructure entire national political and administrative systems riddled with corruption. Conditionality puts real weight behind governance projects. If successful, these reforms could transform the face of Asia. However, the systemic problems in the region point to the basic flaw in the good governance paradigm: the imperatives of political, business and family survival act against tackling vested interests. In the absence of the rule of law, the institutions of these transitional societies remain largely as they were: personal connections, money politics, rentseeking and bribery. There is, as yet, no viable alternative system in either Indonesia or Vietnam. To assume that these societies are following some steady path of reform is just wishful thinking.
The key question is not why Indonesia and Vietnam are failing to implement a good governance agenda. But why are international agencies, donors and NGOs continuing to push a new reform agenda that cannot achieve its objectives.
- Asian cultures are not inherently corrupt and they are not the real obstacle to foreign governance reform initiatives.
- The real problem is the failure to get to grips with their content and complexity in a thorough and effective way.
- Analysis is so often blurred by the persistent, if sometimes unacknowledged, Oriental stereotypes promoted by many Asian leaders and deeply embedded in the thinking of many Westerners and most governance reform assistance.
- Moral reading of corruption viewing culture as the obstruction to governance reform programmes, misunderstands the nature of the problem in states where corruption has been embedded cross-sectorally and for long periods.
- It also alienates the local pre-reform constituency, further undermining the likelihood of success of any given governance reform project.
Western donors and agencies must not assume that legal systems in developing countries can be remade in ideal Western form. Furthermore:
- They must see that Western systems are not objectives on an idealised path of global legal evolution. They are culturally specific constructs or tools, not objectives of cross-jurisdictional law reform.
- Anti-corruption campaigns are profoundly ideological and thus political. Bilateral and multilateral agencies need to be aware of this before they design and deliver assistance.
- Agencies must move to understand better the specific politics and economics of corruption in the country that they seek to reform.
- The anti-corruption agenda cannot be achieved without domestic political will and policy tailored to the local conditions.
- Only gradually with careful planning can there be delivery of a clean domestic legal system and bureaucracy needed to ensure implementation of new laws. And that may mean working with corrupt state systems to effect real change.