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Pressure to change: a new donor approach to anti-corruption?

By Phil Mason (last update: 23 February 2019)

Read the full blog post in Public Administration Review – 23 October, 2018.

The evidence has long been clear that corruption is a brake on a country’s chances of achieving sustainable development. It impedes inclusive economic growth and accentuates inequalities; diverts public funds from productive uses; deters inward investment through increasing the costs to, and unpredictabilities for, business; and it corrodes the foundations of accountability and the institutions of rule of law. It also fuels conflict and instability.

Donor programmes to tackle corruption operate in a diverse range of conditions, from stable to fragile or severely conflict-afflicted. Leadership and commitment to tackling corruption varies in intensity and takes different forms: political commitment at the top may fail to bite because of powerful obstruction further down; conversely, islands of integrity can exist within a system in spite of indifference higher up. The scale of citizen and media influence on government varies widely. There are wide-ranging opportunities, currently underplayed, for leveraging change through influencing from the outside in areas beyond aid interventions.

Classical donor approaches rest heavily on ‘capacity building’, working with governing authorities as partners. But more than 25 years of such effort shows little return – for a good reason. In most places where donors work, the governing authorities themselves are distinctly part of the problem. Expecting those who benefit from the status quo actively to assist in organising its demise looks a decidedly optimistic basis on which to build an external donor’s anti-corruption approach.

Read the full blog post in Public Administration Review.

This blog suggests that the role of incentives (and disincentives) has been underused. Incentivising elites away from corrupt practices (or disincentivising their prevailing behaviours) could be key. Donor programmes need to re-think their strategy, which also means working much more in conjunction with other levers available to their governments.