Corrupt Conduct – Transparency, Norms and Trust


  • Wouter de Regt



Democratic systems are unable to operate without the active engagement of the population. According to Robert Dahl, an ideal democracy fulfils several criteria7. Interestingly, all stress the importance of civil engagement. Elected politicians rely on active citizenship. Dahl’s interpretation makes clear why transparency is an important institutional design (Hood & Heald, 2006, p.211). It engages society in the democratic process, as accessible information gives them the opportunity to have a say. Democracy can not only be discussed as a political system, but also as a cultural space. Democratic cultures rely on certain types of behaviours which are guided by ‘positive’ norms, for example a sense of responsibility. Transparency supposedly helps endorse these norms. It has also been advocated as a way to fight against undemocratic cultures, such as corruption8. It is argued that it replaces ‘negative’ undemocratic norms with ‘positive’ ones. This chapter focuses on the question as to whether, and to what extent, transparency promotes ‘positive’ norms and trust in one country, Mozambique, which is affected by a high degree of corruption. Corruption is understood as the abuse of public office for private gain (Kolstad & Wiig, 2009, p.522). The question engages with two points of view. Dominique Bessire stipulates that transparency undermines norms and trust as it depicts individuals as calculating and opportunistic (Bessire, 2005, p.428). For her, transparency constrains individual freedoms, and is thus essentially amoral and unethical (p.430). For Ivar Kolstad and Arne Wiig (2009), transparency introduces ‘positive’ norms as it fosters cooperation and trust (p.529). It establishes a sense of responsibility and a willingness to be open.


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