A gathering of renowned professors, scientists, and practitioners provided an interesting evening in the Palais Kaunitz-Wittgenstein, the home of the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) in Laxenburg, on 22 February.
Master in Anti-Corruption Studies (MACS) participants and other Vienna guests heard a thoughtful discussion on “Illegal vs Illegitimate—Criminal Law at its Limits?”, by Edward Spence, Senior Lecturer on Moral Philosophy and Professional Ethics in Australia, Mark Pieth, Professor of Criminal Law in Switzerland and Chairman of the OECD working group, Nikos Passas, Professor of Criminology in the United States, Dimitri Vlassis, Chief of the Corruption and Economic Crime Branch, UNODC, and Ms. Folake Oluokun, a political scientist working for the UNDP in Nigeria and currently attending the MACS programme.
The panel moderator, IACA’s Senior Academic Programme Advisor, Suzanne Hayden, started the discussion questioning whether the law should form a bright line and if so, what happens to society when the line becomes blurred. She left the panelists with the open-ended query, “Is there an anti-dote for corrupt actions?” In the ensuing hour the answers were wide-ranging, covering the role of law and society, ethics versus morals, and principles versus rules. They included both the philosophical and the pragmatic, but shared common characteristics: a belief in the need to build moral integrity, because although law and morality are not the same things, they are inextricably intertwined.
All of the participants were able to illustrate the general nature of the night’s subject matter with personal examples. First, Folake Oluokan described the notion of the lawful but harmful by examining some of Africa’s experiences in which a leader remains in that role even though he/she is incapacitated and unable to carry forward the needs of the people. She also looked at the effect on society when a leader or sector lawfully engages in procurement processes, but excludes the wants and needs of the greater society as they fulfill their own selfish and illegitimate desires.
Nikos Passas expounded on his “lawful but awful” notion when the law does not criminalize actions or contains loop-holes, particularly in “white-collar” activities that have the effect of corrupt behavior—producing harmful consequences on society.
Mark Pieth highlighted the damage by the lack of transparency in the behaviour of lobbyists while Dimitri Vlassis stressed the importance in the careful use of language: the law must be precise. Both agreed that without clarity in the language of the law, the illegal and legal become too easily blurred. Dmitri Vlassis further described what the law should do--look ahead in anticipation and also reflect the current expression of society.
Members of the audience also asked numerous questions, including those on the role of the media, which elicited a discussion on the problem when the media, as the watchdog, becomes corrupt, itself. The relationship between moral beliefs and the anti-corruption debate sparked several observations: The belief that corruption can be eradicated may not be foreseeable, but the panel remained upbeat that an atmosphere in which corruption is not accepted is a positive and achievable goal and suggested that clear and concise laws, transparency, and trust in the legitimacy of government all play valuable roles in building a promising atmosphere in anti-corruption.
At the close of the evening, the panelists and audience enjoyed an informal gathering over drinks and appetizers that provided additional opportunities to exchange ideas.