Why everyone fighting corruption should worry about sprawling rules & regulations

In ‘Corruption from a Regulatory Perspective’ (Hart 2021) Professor Maria de Benedetto makes the case for a less-is-more approach.

What sets this book apart from the previous literature is how it brings together numerous related disciplines into a systematic whole – looking at rules and regulations during their “whole life-cycle”. It helps you consider how rules, corruption and controls are linked to regulatory effectiveness and why regulatory effectiveness is an important part of combatting corruption. And counterintuitive as it might seem, every rule that is created and every control that is devised to monitor compliance with the rule – also creates opportunities for corruption. So what to do?

I have been involved in anti-corruption efforts in various ways for over four decades. So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover an approach I had not heard advocated before. It had occurred to me that administrative corruption exists specifically in relation to laws, rules and/or regulation. It has also been part of my own values-based approach to advocate drafting rules and regulations carefully and keeping them to a minimum. Intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic, rules derived motivation. Professor de Benedetto however covers new ground with her analysis and her recommendations. And, she is suggesting a better and more cost-effective way to “fight” corruption, without – basically – fighting.

You may be wondering, what is regulatory anticorruption and how might it help? Professor de Benedetto states that it “is intended to develop a diagnostic intelligence by limiting the use of troops in the war against corruption, in a certain sense by winning without fighting* (François Jullien, Traité de l’efficacité) to the greatest extent possible.” What is meant by this is that it looks at rules, rather than at administrative activities, and therefore considers how they can be drafted and adopted effectively long before any corruption is even contemplated. Another way of understanding this is that regulatory anticorruption carries out its anti-corruption assessment “much earlier and works upstream” in order to prevent countless potential acts of corruption from ever occurring. (p.77) Regulatory anticorruption can be applied when the rules are first made or reformed, i.e. in law making and in the regulatory delivery process when guidelines and other documents meant to ensure regulatory effectiveness are created. Managing rules allows the detection of opportunities for corruption rather than incidents of corruption (p94) and so occurs at a very early stage. Prevention, rather than cure.

Professor de Benedetto’s comprehensive and inclusive analysis of the regulatory anticorruption approach and all it implies is both readable and comprehensible. That’s a feat in itself. I would recommend it to anyone involved in anti-corruption, especially those working in policy and advocacy roles.

The exploration of the ways in which regulation itself increases corruption and provides practical and feasible ways of combatting this – without fighting- but rather by improving the regulatory stock (rules, controls, sanctions) and their flow (delivery). And, although addressed to the macro environment of lawmakers and regulators, I found much to consider for internal “compliance” systems that are often characterised by unnecessarily complicated policies and procedures, onerous controls and unevenly applied and often counterproductive sanctions, all of which crowd out the more powerful intrinsic motivation provided by values and ethical principles.

Corruption from a Regulatory Perspective

I have only begun to scratch the surface of the ideas and analysis presented in Corruption From a Regulatory Perspective, but I hope I have succeeded in convincing some of you to read it and consider its implications for your own work. We can continue to create quantities of ineffective rules and kid ourselves that we are fighting corruption or we can take a step back and consider the issue from a regulatory perspective and understand that ‘less is more’ if that ‘less’ is effective.

The ideas laid out in the book, when combined, suggest that we have been wasting much of our time in the past creating ever more complicated anti-corruption laws, regulations, controls and sanctions, while in fact our energies would have been better spent in other ways.

Find Corruption from a Regulatory Perspective on Amazon or directly from Bloomsbury, the publisher.