Anti-corruption in Bolivia: fighting greed - or attitudes?

29th June 2015

Unsurprisingly, when people are asked about corruption, they say they are against it. But that doesn’t tell us what they really think about it, or what they do when confronted with it.   

While minds can’t be read, there are certain social and political indicators that suggest a significant level of tolerance towards corruption. The re-election of governments that are known to be corrupt, for instance. The continued paying of bribes, despite the widely accepted credo that the person who pays up is as corrupt as the person who demands cash. In some countries bribery is so widespread, it has come to be seen as a natural and normal practice. Bolivian life offers a good example of this everyday reality.

'... popular perceptions of corruption may be based not on fact, but on a set of beliefs and values that shape social attitudes towards corruption'

Bolivians do not generally think that their president, Evo Morales, is corrupt. Yet, according to the Latin American Public Opinion Project, they do say that there is now more corruption than before and also that the government is to blame for it. Despite this, and criticisms that the government has broken its promises, annexed state power, lacks transparency, and fails to respect laws, Morales and the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) was re-elected in October 2014 for a third term. Although the integrity of the elections has been questioned, MAS was well ahead of its nearest rival, the National Front (UN), taking 62% of the vote against UN’s 24%.  

But, beyond the result, what really suggests a certain tolerance towards corruption is the argument often used to justify it. During anti-corruption fieldwork in Bolivia, we've heard people say: "Yes, we know the government steals. But they also do things like build roads, provide a funicular in La Paz, and other good things."  

So, what do Bolivians really value about their society? And why, despite highly publicised government efforts to fight corruption, do people think that now there is more corruption than before?

Intriguingly the Latin American Public Opinion Project reveals a mismatch between people’s direct experience of bribery and their perceptions of corruption. So while reported experience declined from 51% in 2000 to 33% in 2010, perceptions that corruption is a problem went up from 63% in 1998 to 74% in 2010. It seems popular perceptions of corruption may be based not on fact, but on a set of beliefs and values that shape social attitudes towards corruption.  

Money and material goods are highly valued in Bolivia, as reflected in the local witticism: ‘he who steals 10 bolivianos [about £1] is a thief; he who steals millions is a millionaire’. The fieldwork we conducted in late 2014 as part of the EU’s ANTICORRP project revealed a clear sense of satisfaction among Bolivians about the perceived prosperity of their country today.

This perception comes from policies such as the nationalisation of the hydrocarbon industry, and a general policy of ‘giving away money’ – paying double wages at Christmas and bonuses to pregnant women, children, and the elderly. Experts predict future economic problems, since such populist measures can hardly guarantee long-term economic growth. Nevertheless, the ‘policy of giving’ plays very well with the majority, for whom "all that matters is to have money today". One interviewee told us that government stealing is forgiven in Bolivia, so long as the people get something in return.

'There is a widespread belief that even public officials who have the best of intentions will find the context in which they work more powerful than any personal commitment to integrity'

Another popular Bolivian saying has it that society is divided between clever people who know how to take advantage of any situation and idiots who do not. This implies an acceptance of a ‘natural’ link between power and the opportunity to become wealthy. Evo Morales’ discourse turns on the principle that now it is the turn of the indigenous peoples and the marginalised to govern; one interviewee suggested that this translates as ‘it is now our turn to enjoy the benefits of power, as others did before’. 

There is a widespread belief that even public officials who have the best of intentions will find the context in which they work more powerful than any personal commitment to integrity. Guillermo Pou, founder of Transparencia Bolivia, says Bolivians feel that belonging to a group is more important than thinking for themselves. This makes it hard for anyone to stand up for what they believe in if their personal values conflict with the views of those around them. This situation is similar to that facing citizens in the former Soviet Union as described by Grodeland, Koshechkina and Miller in the late 1990s: ‘Foolish to give, and yet more foolish not to take’.

This all suggests that values and beliefs, seen in context, may hold the key not only to our understanding of attitudes towards corruption, but also to what we can do about it.  

Transparency, accountability and more efficient bureaucracies are obviously part of the solution. However, Bolivia shows us that reducing tolerance of corruption is also a critical factor that goes to the very heart of the problem. Anti-corruption policies are usually wholly focused on regulating behaviour by punishing infractions of ethical codes. Clearly they also need to proactively develop integrity programmes that can promote and embed best practice.

The challenge of actively promoting integrity – not just fighting corruption – will determine whether there can be real change in both attitudes and outcomes in Bolivia.

 

Image: Views from the new cable car and its station in El Alto, La Paz, Bolivia (David Almeida, Flickr)

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Documents

Author

Nieves Zúñiga

Nieves Zúñiga

Dr Nieves Zúñiga is a Research Fellow in the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham. She has a special interest in the design and implementation of anti-corruption policies, with a particular focus on integrity management. She is currently working on the EU’s ANTICORRP project, seeking to identify factors that promote or hinder effective anti-corruption policy in Bolivia.

Read more

Author

Paul M Heywood

Paul M Heywood

Paul M Heywood is Sir Francis Hill Professor of European Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham. His research focuses on political corruption, institutional design and state capacity in contemporary Europe. Current projects include an ESRC/Hong Kong Integrity Management study in the UK, HK and China, and the EU’s ANTICORRP project on anti-corruption policies.  

Read more

Related items

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre/DLP paper.

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015

Oil reform in Nigeria: The ups and downs of channel-hopping programme delivery

How much do we really know about what 'thinking and working politically' can achieve – and where it might present dangers – in challenging political and sectoral contexts?

Opinion by Joanna Buckley27th July 2017

Different development: walk the talk

The argument for asset-based approaches to development programming and practice that value communities' capacity, skills and knowledge.

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher14th April 2015

Corruption research: Hunting for glimmers of light in the gloom

Why it can be hard to start a conversation with the people who might know what really works in the fight against corruption.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer25th July 2017

Overcoming premature evaluation

Sometimes failure is the first stop on the road to success for development programming. (Guest post in From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Chris Roche15th November 2016

Perceptions of women in politics in Fiji: how to accelerate change?

Women are widely seen as entirely capable of taking on political leadership in Fiji. Yet when asked to think about 'leaders', many automatically see men in the role.

Opinion by Rachel Fairhurst20th January 2015

Fixing aid: we can't turn off the tap at the first sign of corruption

Much 'petty' corruption is about the poor using what little power they have to stave off destitution. (Guest post for The Conversation)

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th November 2014

Development cooperation and fighting corruption: thinking differently

Corruption is an emotive word and covers a huge range of behaviours - yet anti-corruption efforts still follow a one-size-fits-all pattern.  

Opinion by Heather Marquette24th June 2015

Anti-corruption in Bolivia: fighting greed – or attitudes?

Social attitudes towards corruption may be shaped by beliefs and values, rather than facts.

Opinion by Nieves Zúñiga29th June 2015

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?

Examining the reluctance of those working in development to engage with the public on the complexity of corruption in poor countries. Guest post for The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network.

Fragmentation of the Thinking and Working Politically agenda: Should we worry?

Many different paths, but all leading to similar destinations - and adding useful nuance to development thinking and practice.  

Opinion by Thomas Parks29th August 2016

Corruption: do we target the servant or the paymaster?

Corruption can only be fought effectively with a coherent strategy collectively supported by all actors. (Guest post for The Guardian on UK aid watchdog report)

Opinion by Heather Marquette5th November 2014

Development - getting our story straight

Replacing the traditional aid narrative with a more grown-up - and more inspiring - development story. 

Opinion by Alex Frankel20th April 2016

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

How do anticorruption messages influence people’s views about corruption and about anticorruption efforts?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

'Sticky’ change: What international development can learn from adaptive management

Promoting and sustaining individual behavioural change is as important as building flexibility into development programming.

Opinion by Greg Power2nd December 2016

Indonesia and the political settlements trap

When aspirations triggered by development and prosperity outstrip a political settlement's ability to deliver on those expectations, how easy is it to 're-settle' the settlement? 

Opinion by Graham Teskey17th July 2015

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

Communicating anti-corruption messages in development

If donors are allowed to be open about the possibility of corruption, monitoring mechanisms and proportional responses can be planned - and may improve results. Guest post for the OECD.

Opinion by Heather Marquette9th March 2015

Coalitions for inclusion in Indonesia: communities and government tackling discrimination together

Following up to Luke Arnold on coalitions for disability inclusion in Indonesia, Angie Bexley introduces broader work on the inclusion of six marginalised groups.

Opinion by Angie Bexley22nd August 2016

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

Anti-corruption messages aim to recruit citizens to the fight - but what do they actually hear?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Developmental leaders, 'dirty hands', and the dark side of collaboration

Should donors support developmental leaders who gain or keep power through questionable means? 

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi11th December 2013

Is fighting corruption like fighting zombies?

Corruption - a scary word. And our childish, simplistic view of it is hampering efforts to fight it. Guest post in The Guardian

Opinion by Heather Marquette13th October 2015

Why are Africa's poor more likely than the rich to pay a bribe for public services?

The poor aren't simply 'easy targets' - they necessarily come into contact with corrupt state officials more often.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer19th January 2017

From functional governance to sustainable peace: Making the space to reflect, learn and adapt

Learning how to balance the technically possible and politically feasible in volatile, conflict-affected contexts.

Opinion by Aditi Haté 22nd February 2017

Higher education in the post-2015 agenda: proof that it matters

Taking stock of recent research evidence that shows how higher education can feed into political stability and civil engagement.

Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

Beyond perceptions of corruption?

Corruption is hard to define without straying into the subjective. It's also difficult to build robust methodologies to investigate it.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer5th February 2015

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The importance of acknowledging the dilemmas donors may face when giving aid to developmental states.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

The brutal rape and murder in December 2012 of a 23-year-old student in a Delhi bus has been the catalyst for rapidly evolving activism against sexual violence in India.

Opinion by Martin Rew16th September 2015

When the stars align to tackle inequality

Reflections on the 2015 DLP annual conference.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

‘Crows who come in search of dollars’: NGO legitimacy in conflict zones

Do political dynamics affect NGO legitimacy more than performance?

Opinion by Oliver Walton19th August 2014

Innovation: transactional or transformative?

It's time to discuss how the word 'innovation' might mean different things to different audiences. 

Opinion by Chris Roche23rd March 2015

Reforming FIFA: what can we learn from experience with (other) corrupt autocrats?

FIFA may not be a developing nation, but international football has its own complex political economy. Guest post for From Poverty to Power.

Opinion by Paul Jackson and Heather Marquette11th June 2015

Corruption? The developing world has bigger problems

More nuanced anti-corruption work should focus on results - and even put up with some corruption if things are working well. (Guest post for Prospect)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal26th April 2016

Connections, contradictions and the political economy of attention

Thoughts on two sources of new and useful ideas about the deeper structures that might shape creativity.

Opinion by Chris Roche7th May 2015

Decentralisation and the potential for corruption in PNG

Guest post for Devpolicy on findings from a DLP-supported study on decentralisation and service provision.

Opinion by Grant Walton30th June 2017

Time for a grown-up conversation about corruption

To combat corruption, we need to understand the deeper political realities, power dynamics and social structures that perpetuate it.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal9th December 2014

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included?

DLP hosted a day-long high level introductory workshop on political settlements in June. This post introduces a series that showcases the contributions of researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

Political analysis as the practical art of the possible

Bringing politics back into PEA - a new paper with Adrian Leftwich

Opinion by David Hudson24th July 2014

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

The Developmental Leadership Program will host its 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne on 8 February. Its theme is Power, politics and positive deviance.

Opinion by Chris Roche1st December 2015

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Parliaments - and the political parties that populate them - are the institutions people trust least. Guest post for ODI's Shaping Policy for Development blog.

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

Corruption: unpacking the black box of political will

New thinking on the reasons why individuals engage in corruption - including the pragmatic calculation that, right or wrong, corruption may be the only solution to pressing difficulties. 

Opinion by Heather Marquette12th January 2015

Neither 'good guys' nor 'bad guys': Positive engagement with armed groups

The final post in our short series on 'Power, Politics and Positive Deviance', the theme of our 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University, Melbourne, on Monday (8 February).

Opinion by Suda Perera5th February 2016