FPIN member Roberto Laver’s “How might faith-based actors play a role in changing values and norms of corruption?” originally published on the Corruption and Fragile States Blog of the Fletcher School on March 29, 2021

Having grown up in Argentina, with its consistently high levels of societal corruption, I am quite familiar with the significant incoherence between formal rules of public integrity (the law) and the pervasive and widespread corruption (the practice). Whether in a school setting, a hospital, a workplace, a sports competition or a public office, I have experienced, directly and indirectly, the dire consequences of living and working in a social context lacking strong normative constraints against privilege and favoritism.

This is not a new reality in my home country. Jorge Luis Borges, the famous Argentine writer, observed decades ago that Argentines think in terms of concrete individuals and personal loyalties, not in terms of community (a “friendship of the whole”). In such social environments, where personal ties and loyalty prevail over merit, there is little trust in the public sector and the notion of the common good is very weak.

While there is a growing recognition among international development agencies that contextual factors are critical in a good diagnosis of governance dynamics, there seems to be little change in their strategies in the anti-corruption reform agenda. 

The conventional technocratic anti-corruption reforms (such as anti-corruption agencies; new legal and regulatory frameworks on public procurement and access to information; new monitoring mechanisms and new judicial structures), are not producing a real and lasting transformation in the rules of the game, and this is unsurprising to anyone who has grown up in a similar environment of endemic corruption, as I did. While many factors might explain these disappointing results, there is a growing realization that a more positive and broader focus on building values and norms of public integrity is needed to produce a collective shift in behavior.

Some of us have pointed out the potential role of faith leaders and communities in fighting corruption and building a culture of public integrity and ethical universalism.