Top Three Challenges and Good Practices in Anti-Corruption

By Diana Chigas and Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church

We were asked to identify the top challenges and “good practices” for developing countries in preventing and combating corruption for the June 2019 edition of Multiples, a Just Governance Group publication.  As developing countries, and especially fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS) face many challenges to preventing and reducing corruption, we felt a somewhat longer version of our original response was a worthy endeavor.

What are the three main challenges?

Answering what are the main three challenges in fragile and conflict-affected states and developing countries was not easy; our experience is that corruption dynamics differ greatly from country to country, and across sectors. After much discussion we finally identified three that we believe can (and need to) be addressed in order to improve the relevance and effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts. Not surprisingly for those who follow this blog, they relate to how we as policy makers and practitioners understand and address corruption.

1. It’s not a moral problem.

Good vs. evil illustration

The first challenge relates to how anti-corruption activists typically frame corruption as a moral problem—the result of “greed” and moral depravity. While this is sometimes true, anti-corruption policies based on this conception—such as awareness campaigns, professional training, oversight and punishment mechanisms—have largely not been effective. Corruption is a moral issue, but it is also a complex system that persists because it serves social, political and economic functions, both for “perpetrators” and “victims” who need to survive in the context of weak state institutions and insecurity. These need to be understood and addressed if efforts are to be effective.

We would add that the imperative to understand all the factors behind corruption is just as true for “need-based” as it is for “greed-based” corruption. There is evidence that low salaries and poverty are causes of corruption and that raising salaries can help to curtail corruption. However, this is neither sufficient nor very effective in contexts where robust monitoring is not possible or there is weak rule of law—conditions that prevail in most FCAS. Like “greed”, low salaries are one of many factors—including political dynamics, insecurity, lack of trust and social and other pressures from kin and colleagues—that drive corrupt behavior. Those factors interact to cause corruption, sometimes in counter-intuitive ways, as the cases where raising salaries actually increased the amount of bribery demonstrate.

A 2010 study of police behavior on highways in Ghana, for example, showed that after the government raised salaries police did allow more trucks to pass without a bribe, but also demanded higher bribes—with the result that the value of bribes increased by 23%, in part because of increased demands from kin from their now wealthier family member. We posit that the salary increase raised the officers’ social status and shifted the reference point for what an appropriate income should be.

2. One size does not fit all.

Digital illustration of a dollar bill imposed over a Panama skyline

The second challenge relates to the dominance of international models and interests over local approaches to anti-corruption. Many have questioned the  logic of the international “best practice” of relying on “principals” to enforce anti-corruption policies in developing and FCAS economies. Yet this model dominates internationally-supported anti-corruption policy and practice, while the lived experience and knowledge of people working in the local agencies charged with combatting corruption is largely ignored. As a result, programs tend to be technical, formulaic, and often not relevant to local conditions. What is more, international partners are also often unwilling to address issues of political power, including the political exclusion that corruption sustains. Indeed, as the Panama Papers poignantly demonstrated, Western nations benefit from illicit financial flows originating from corrupt actors in developing countries at the same time that these nations financially support anti-corruption efforts. The result: significant drivers of corruption go unaddressed, and indeed, may be reinforced by international intervention.

3. Change needs a process, not a demonstration.

Anti-corruption protest in Guatemala

Finally, the belief that “everybody does it” sustains corruption: it is difficult for individuals to take steps to behave with integrity if they do not trust that others will do the same. It is encouraging that in many countries—from Guatemala and Brazil to Romania—people have taken to the streets in large numbers to protest corruption, with some significant successes. But these achievements are no guarantee of sustained reduction of corruption; punishing the corrupt, removing leaders, or pressuring them to take action is commendable but will not change the system of corruption. An anti-corruption reform coalition—i.e., sustained coordinated and collaborative action by actors within and across the state and in the private sector and civil society—is needed to implement real reform. Pressures and incentives within these sectors, however—from demonization by civil society of political actors to pressures within government institutions to engage in corruption—make it difficult to form such coalitions.

What “good practices” exist?

Very few studies or evaluations distinguish advanced economies from developing country contexts or FCAS, so the evidence for anti-corruption “good practices” in these contexts is not robust. Nonetheless, based on our research, we think we can suggest a few good practices for anti-corruption strategy development:

1. Develop policies based on contextually grounded systemic analyses of corruption.

Part of a systems map of corruption showing factors contributing to normalization of corruption in the workplace

This requires abandoning the notion that there is one answer or ideal anti-corruption framework, and valuing local knowledge and experience more. There are many “good practices” with evidence of impact. However, as experience from increasing salaries, community-based monitoring of government service provision, and other initiatives suggests, what may be “good” in one context may not work in another.

2. Pay attention to the level, location and type of corruption in developing strategy.

Corruption is not an undifferentiated phenomenon. Different sectors, institutions and geographic regions have their own challenges, “rules of the game,” political economies, and different corruption types and dynamics. While there are common dynamics across sectors and local regions, it is important to understand how corruption operates in specific sectors or areas and program accordingly.

3. Address drivers as well as enablers of corruption.

The vast majority of anti-corruption programs, especially those supported by international development partners, address only enablers of corruption (factors that make it possible for people to commit corrupt acts). However, these mainstream approaches of promoting transparency, accountability and institutional reform will rarely be sufficient by themselves to reduce corruption dynamics.  Anti-corruption programming needs to be multi-faceted, including strategies to deal with the drivers of corruption—factors that motivate or cause people to engage in corruption, such as political interests, incentives of stakeholders, governance failures, etc.

4. Align legal, social and moral norms.

Illustration of social norms as mutual expectations that include beliefs about what others do and beliefs about what others think we should do

If a law criminalizes a social norm-driven behavior or a practice that is considered to be morally right—i.e., if the law deviates too much from the social or moral norm—people will ignore the law. By contrast, if a more moderate law, closer to the social norm, is passed (e.g., banning of firearms on weekends rather than fully), it is more likely to be obeyed (or enforced without great resistance) and can catalyze a process that eventually allows for more stringent laws as social norms change.

These ideas were originally shared in a short, interview-format contribution to Multiples, the knowledge sharing bulletin of the Ottawa-based Just Governance Group (JGG), a professional network providing multidisciplinary consultancy services on good governance. This post is a longer version of our contribution to Multiples, in the hopes of generating discussion, debate, and commentary from your experience. 


About the authors

Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church is Principal at Besa: Catalyzing Strategic Change, a social enterprise committed to catalysing significant change on strategic issues in places experiencing conflict and structural or overt physical violence. She has significant experience working on anti-corruption and state legitimacy in the DRC and Uganda. As a Professor of Practice, she teaches and consults on program design, monitoring, evaluation and learning. Cheyanne is also the Corruption in Fragile States blog series editor.

Diana Chigas, JD, is the Senior International Officer and Associate Provost at Tufts University and a Professor of the Practice of International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Diana has worked with governmental and non-governmental organizations on systemic conflict analysis, strategic planning, and reflection and evaluation to improve the impact of peace programming. Diana has over 25 years’ experience as a facilitator and consultant in negotiation and conflict resolution, as well as supporting and evaluating social change programming in conflict-affected countries. Her interest in corruption emerged from her experience supporting peacebuilding programming, where corruption has consistently been a key factor hindering effectiveness and driving conflict.


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4 thoughts on “Top Three Challenges and Good Practices in Anti-Corruption

    • July 13, 2019 at 12:14 pm
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      Thanks Waldemar for the comment. Could you say more about how you see these as challenges or good practices or are you suggesting that this counters something we have noted in the post?

      Reply
  • July 13, 2019 at 6:00 pm
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    Systemic analyses of corruption and systemic approach to considered problem is undoubtedly a fundamental challenge for a correct understanding the nature of studied phenomenon.
    Unfortunately, the corruption in management pratice is a lasting and the most important element of any system of power, because on the basis of corruption it can persist and pursue its particular goals.
    The vast majority of anti-corruption strategies refer to counteracting only corruption crime, which is only one of the manifestations of broadly understood corruption.
    The most important corruption consists in using legal power to create and dilate the network of the influence, connections and dependencies which enables gaining tangible personal and material benefits by selected people, companies, organizations belonging to the closed system.
    Corruption covers well-thought-out actions carried out with full awareness.

    Reply
  • July 20, 2019 at 12:54 pm
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    Corruption is common in organizations wherein certain of the people in power (e.g. executives of whatever rank) are enabled to make rules which–if adhered to, as these are now rules or even policy–cannot be labelled as corruption by anyone lower in the organization. This brings into play a complex porridge of morality, ethics, loyalty, organizational culture, accountability, oversight, power plays and so on.

    Reply

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