We have the tools to fight corruption

Just over two-thirds of South Africans polled by FutureFact last year agreed with the statement “South Africa will over time minimize the scourge of corruption”. Some observers, noting the imminent spectacle of the country’s president going on trial for corruption, would say South Africans were an optimistic lot. Global Integrity, a Washington-based NGO which puts out what is increasingly regarded as the gold standard of international corruption indices,  gives grounds for a less cynical view in its latest annual report, released on Wednesday.

Transparency International, which pioneered corruption rankings, deals in inherently bias-prone perceptions. More empirical in its approach, GI deploys peer-reviewed field researchers to answer a comprehensive list of questions – 320 this time – from which it calculates what it calls an Integrity Indicators.

The focus is not on corruption per se but on what bulwarks a society has in place against it. Do citizens have access to their government? Can they see what it’s doing? Can they safely, affordably, and successfully seek redress when it does wrong? Can they hold it accountable at the polls? Can they rely on their laws and institutions to keep the kleptocrats at bay? Continue reading “We have the tools to fight corruption”


Correspondents Good for the Brand

The number of foreign correspondents based in Washington has never been higher, the Pew Research Centre reported this week, perhaps counterintuitively. Close on 1 500 journalists are accredited with the State Department’s Foreign Press Centre, strategically located in the National Press Building, six floors down from the National Press Club bar. 15 years ago it was under a thousand.

796 media outlets from 113 countries and territories have at least one correspondent here, up from 507 from 79 in 1994. The majority of the correspondents are full-time employees of the organisations they represent, which indicates the value their employers attach both to the Washington story and to having it told and put in context by own one of their own.

The growth of the foreign presence is rendered all the more striking by the simultaneous shrinkage of most domestic bureaus in the US capital.  Cash-strapped American publishers increasingly don’t see how having their own people on the ground helps their bottom lines. Why should they spend money on producing content that is already available to their audiences free on the Internet from any number of other sources? Continue reading “Correspondents Good for the Brand”


“I screwed up.” Not words you often hear from a politician, let alone an American president just two weeks in office. The phrase and variants of it were much on President Barack Obama’s lips last Tuesday afternoon in a series of interviews with America’s top television news anchors. A bad day for his fledgling presidency? No, I’d say a pretty good one.

Obama’s mistake was to imagine that former Senator Tom Daschle would be the right man clear the Augean stable of America’s health care system in spite of Daschle’s cavalier approach to paying taxes – taxes, worse, on income earned hawking his good name in the service of interests who like the stables as they are.

Most of Washington made the same mistake.  It came as a shock to almost everyone that Daschle changed his mind about becoming Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.   So ideal were his credentials , the consensus ran, the Senate would easily confirm his appointment, overlooking the R 1.5 million he hurriedly forked over to the Internal Revenue Service to square accounts before subjecting himself to public scrutiny as a presidential appointee. Continue reading “Change”