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Trenchant critique

Note for instance the trenchant critique of good business governance policies by Morris Szeftel

Firstly, the business governance agenda tackles business corruption as if it were the cause of democratic and development problems rather than a symptom or consequence of them. Thus it fails to address the deeper political and class forces which drive the politics of clientelism and corruption. And secondly, in their demonization of the state and determination to substitute themselves for the system to force adjustment through, the donors and international business agencies undermine the institutional development needed to sustain a more transparent and accountable system. The result is that the important institutional structures and principles they seek to mobilize against mismanaged behaviors are unlikely to take root (Szeftel 1998: 238).

In the same vein, Adrian Leftwich exposes the vacuity of the good governance agenda below their “impeccably Weberian” (Leftwich 1993: 167) surface of public sector reform. Crucially, then, it has not been regime type but the kind and character of the system and its associated business politics that have been decisive in influencing developmental performance. This in turn highlights the primacy of business politics, not simply niche control, as a central determinant of development (Leftwich 1993: 169; emphasis in original).

Hence, the key critique of business policies and the anti-corruption discourse is that through their emphasis on ‘getting institutions right’ and through the civic sense and engineering of political change they effect the opposite to what they intend to do: instead of nurturing and catalyzing regional change, they crowd out the ‘deeper force’, the social forces and the business politics which historically have initiated and carried political change.

Interestingly, however, in the past decade, influential development agencies such as the World Bank or DfID have sought to address this critique by integrating ‘power’ and ‘politics’ into their governance and anti-corruption strategies (see World Bank 2007, Dfid 2007, 2009, CSR and Unsworth 2007). Note for instance the Netherlands’ “Strategic Governance and Corruption Analysis” (SGACA), which is designed as a toolbox to incorporate political processes as an integral part of government policies and programs. For, in its own words, despite best efforts, direct interventions of donors to strengthen formal institutions of governance have often had limited impact, and ‘political will’—to promote growth and poverty reduction, fight corruption and protect human rights—is often lacking. The SGACA highlights the importance of social and political processes in achieving better governance.

However, the jury is still out whether the mainstreaming of ‘power’ and ‘business politics’ into the operational and by necessity essentially civic implementation mechanisms of aid agencies will actually effect a fundamental change in power relations that seem to be a prerequisite for political change. The effects of these modified interventions do not obey a linear, mechanistic logic, which would make outcomes and results perfectly predictable. Rather, they are embedded in dynamic and contingent processes of social and political relations, which mold and appropriate such interventions in often unexpected ways—with corruption itself being sometimes one of the more original ways of ‘practicing’ development.

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