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Corruption blooms as distance increases

Last year an article in the American Economic Review provided statistical figures about a very robust link between the level of corruption and the level of remoteness of capitals of regional states in the USA.

It found out: The greater the distance to the national capital the higher the level of corruption in a regional state.
The article proved its point by statistically analysing the electoral process and the role of the media in the most remote regions of the United States. It showed that campaign financing by private businesses in isolated capitals is substantially higher. Public services are of much lower quality in these remote regions.
The authors of the study, Campante and Do, were able to prove what political observers suspected for quite some time. By using tools of modern statistics and economics they got around a problem civil society and anti-corruption commissions faced until now. They didn’t need to wait for a few brave whistleblowers to state their case.
If we look at the results of the recent Namibian elections we may have reasons to be worried too: While in the central region only about 45% of the registered voters really went to vote for the winning party we have figures of close to 90% in some of the remote regions.
Civil society and opposition parties were obsessed with the procedures on election day. They may have missed out on the point the two American economists were bringing home: The electorate may be bound by something more profound to them than constitutional rights.
Namibia’s Regions are lead by a tiny elite of persons who are businessmen and politicians at the same time. Some even serve as weekend reverends. They remain obscure and downplay their role. What is worrying is the national influence these regional power brokers got over the years.
Nowadays most national conferences of sports codes, unions, churches and political parties are pre-arranged in weeks of internal struggles on the regional level. When the delegates ultimately arrive in the nation’s capital they come with a firm mandate given by their constituency.
The same applies to the most important regional businessmen. While national business conglomerates think they have nothing to worry about politics the owner of a shopping centre definitely has an interest in [the local] politics af a town. In addition he or she does not want national politics to get in the way when it comes to expanding business interests.
All of this is not only bad news for democracy as such. It may as well present an important obstacle to a national government. One may interpret the great victory of the ruling party as a sign of a firm national leadership but one may also see the opposite: an indication of the strength of its regional networks.
Local politicians micro-manage drought relief, tender procedures, town planning, development funding, and sit on many regional boards. National government’s ability to enforce its own visions on a daily basis clearly is limited.
Civil society and the media have to increase their presence in the regions. They may have to develop more relevant indicators for the democratic development of a region and its national influence. And last but not least: Nationwide businesses have to start showing an interest in democracy. Otherwise they may be outsmarted one day by their local competitors.

Andreas Peltzer

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