When Corruption and Development Collide


American University’s Washington School of Law is known for innovation. It was founded by two women in the late 19th century, a time when conventional views held that women lacked the temperament to practice law. Since then, the school has been a pioneer on gender issues, as well as launching programs on human rights and war crimes. So it was fitting that as the Washington School of Law marked the mid-February opening of a new Tenley campus in Washington, DC, attended by the city’s mayor and a Supreme Court justice, the celebrations included a nod to one of the school’s most recent innovations: the U.S. and International Anti-Corruption Summer Program.

The program is perhaps the only one of its kind globally based in a law school. It features practitioners as instructors, and has an international scope reaching beyond the traditional U.S. preoccupation with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The second day of Washington Law School’s celebration, February 13, featured a series of panel discussions including one on “Recent Developments in International Anti-Corruption Law and Practice,” organized and moderated by Program Director Nancy Boswell.

“I find this issue engaging because it raises not only legal issues, but, more fundamentally, hits at our core values as individuals. It leads us to ask what we believe is right and fair, regardless of whether it’s legal,” said Boswell in framing the event for some 30 attendees.

The intersection of anti-corruption and economic development efforts was a touchstone throughout the panel discussion, which included brief presentations from Douglas Paul, a former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer, who played a lead role in the Enron investigation, Stephen Zimmerman of the World Bank Group’s Integrity Vice Presidency, and Carolina Soledad Rudnick Vizcarra, a Chilean human trafficking expert and fellow at Washington Law School. I presented on CIPE’s support of mid-sized firms seeking to implement anti-corruption programs in emerging markets.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration of the challenges of including robust anti-corruption elements into development projects in highly corrupt environments came from Zimmerman. He recounted the case of Bangladesh’s Padma Bridge, a large World Bank-funded construction project designed to spark economic development but cancelled due to significant corruption issues. The World Bank’s decision prompted a vigorous debate in anti-corruption and development circles over how best to serve the project’s intended beneficiaries while not feeding corrupt entities tied to the project.

“We’re a global development agency but we are also a bank.  At times it can be challenging to simultaneously pursue development goals while fighting corruption,” said Zimmermann. “And the question is: What is the appropriate balance between those two for development organizations and what are the tools we can use to get closer to that balance?”

Frank Brown is a Senior Program Officer for the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (GATF) and the Value Chain/Anti-Corruption Program Team Leader at CIPE.