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Interpreting Corruption: Culture and Politics in the Pacific Islands
208pp. March 2012
Interpreting Corruption: Culture and Politics in the Pacific Islands
Author: Larmour, Peter;
Corruption is a popular topic in the Pacific Islands. Politicians are accused of it and campaign against it. Fiji’s coup leaders vowed to clean it up. Several countries have “leadership codes” designed to reduce corruption, and others have created specialized anti-corruption agencies. Donors, the World Bank, and NGOs such as Transparency International have made it an international issue. Yet there is often disagreement about what constitutes corruption and how seriously it matters. What some view as corrupt may be regarded as harmless by others. Existing laws have proved difficult to enforce and seem out of step with public opinion, which is often very suspicious of corrupt behavior among island elites. As well as talk there is silence: People fear the consequences of complaining. The dangers of anti-corruption campaigns became apparent during the “cleanup” following Fiji’s 2006 coup.

So what counts as corruption in the Pacific and what causes it? How much is really going on? How can we measure it? What types are present? Are gifts really bribes? Is “culture” an excuse for corruption? Is politics—in particular, democracy—intrinsically corrupt? In clear and concise language, this work attempts to answer these questions. The author takes a comparative approach, drawing on economics, law, political science, and anthropology, as well as literature and poetry from the region. He looks at Transparency International’s studies of National Integrity Systems and at newer research, including events since the Fiji coup.

Interpreting Corruption is a highly accessible and approachable look at an age-old problem. Those interested in the Pacific Islands and public integrity will find it remarkably comprehensive as will students and scholars of anthropology, sociology, and political studies.

Topics in the Contemporary Pacific Series
“Larmour has produced an informed, readable and highly pertinent study. It will be welcomed by analysts, developmental experts, governmental officials, and voluntary agencies grappling with this now ubiquitous problem throughout the Pacific.” —Journal of Pacific History (2013)

“A valuable addition to a largely under-researched field. It will be of use to those with a specific interest in the Pacific region. However, what it offers is more far-reaching than this, as it is a serious attempt to offer a precision to the analysis of terms and discourse that are often lacking when dealing with the highly contentious issue of corruption.” —Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies (1:1, May 2013)

“An accessible work providing valuable insights into corruption and the cultural and political factors surrounding it. The book’s relevance is well demonstrated in the current context of frequently reported corruption concerns in the PNG elections. Drawing on a variety of sources including media coverage, an array of experts from several academic disciplines, NGO studies and literary works, the book is brimming with both short, entertaining anecdotes and fascinating, in-depth examples of corruption throughout the region. Larmour manages to take a subject that could be treated blandly and share it in an interesting and engaging way.” —Pacific Institute of Public Policy (March 2012; read the full review here)

“Given the universal salience of the issue, Larmour has done a remarkable job of ranging beyond his limited (but interesting) case studies to produce a book that deserves a wide audience. His inductive, fieldwork-based approach markedly advances the dialogue on this timeless issue.” —Choice (50:2, October 2012)

“This book performs a hat trick (for those unfamiliar with upper-latitude sports, three goals by an ice hockey player is a hat trick) by explaining the meaning of corruption in the Pacific Islands, clarifying the central concepts in the study of public integrity, and deftly guiding the reader on a journey through coups, scams, and a plethora of ideas about an age old problem.” —Frank Anechiarico, Hamilton College

“The author uses an approachable style, but the material is presented with full academic rigor. The research discussed is remarkable in its comprehensiveness, and gives witness to the fact that the author devoted several years to immersing himself in the relevant discipline and area studies, as well as carrying out significant original work of his own. The author’s engagement with policy organizations provides him with unique insight and experience.” —Alena V. Ledeneva, University College, London
Author: Larmour, Peter;
Peter Larmour is professor of public administration and policy at the University of the South Pacific and an adjunct professor at the Australian National University.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
From the General 
1 Introduction  
2 Talk and Silence about Corruption
3 What Counts as ‘Corruption’? 
4 Explaining Corruption 
5 How Much Corruption Is There?
6 Seven Types of Corruption 
7 Culture and Corruption 
8 Politics and Corruption
9 Conclusions