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Corruption in the time of COVID-19: A double-threat for low income countries

It is critical to continue a strong stance against corrupt practices during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anti-corruption procedures and systems of accountability will ensure that development aid is deployed to benefit those who need it the most. A wave of corruption-related incidents linked to the current situation underscores the importance of continuing and strengthening transparency and accountability efforts.

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26 March 2020
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Corruption in the time of COVID-19: A double-threat for low income countries

Main points

  • In many countries, responses to COVID-19 have seen breaches of anti-corruption standards such as cutting corners in procurement processes, or persons in power taking advantage of the crisis to increase their private benefits.
  • Traditional anti-corruption policies are insufficient in situations of outbreak response, as experience from the Ebola outbreak has shown. Anti-corruption policies have to be built into the sector-based intervention design.
  • There must be a strict practice of regulatory procedures for drug research and development, with decision making kept under scrutiny to secure public interest and equal access.
  • Donors should channel funding through existing channels that already apply anti-corruption best practice for health.
  • Health workforce governance, recruitment, and management in many developing countries has failed – through corruption and lack of transparency – to ensure that staff is able to implement complex treatment protocols. As pressure to recruit increases, effective crisis management depends on following a certain standard of hiring and staff management procedures.
  • It is important to keep involving civil society organisations in the important role of monitoring health outcomes and procurement systems, to track budget spending, and provide user feedback.
  • Pandemics affect women and men differently. Donors should apply a gender-lens in the response to COVID-19.
  • Practitioners seeking to ensure and build integrity in the health sector require a thorough understanding of the social forces that perpetuate the corrupt practices.

Cite this publication

Steingrüber, S. ; Kirya, M. ; Jackson, D. ; Mullard, S. (2020) Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Brief 2020:6)

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About the authors

Sarah Steingrüber

Sarah Steingrüber is an independent global health consultant, an advisor at PTF Europe, and a U4 Affiliate Expert specialising in anti-corruption, transparency, and accountability.

Monica Kirya is Deputy Director at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre and a lawyer. Kirya coordinates the themes on mainstreaming anti-corruption in public service delivery and integrating gender in anti-corruption programming.

Dr. David Jackson leads U4’s thematic work on informal contexts of corruption. His research explores how an understanding of social norms, patron-client politics, and nonstate actors can lead to anti-corruption interventions that are better suited to context. He is the author of various book chapters and journal articles on governance issues and holds degrees from Oxford University, the Hertie School of Governance, and the Freie Universität Berlin.

Saul Mullard is a senior adviser at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre and a civil society specialist with a background in historical sociology, development studies, and South Asian studies. His research interests include the relationship between corruption and climate change and the role of local communities and indigenous peoples in addressing corruption and environmental protection. Mullard holds a doctorate and master’s in South and Inner Asian Studies from the University of Oxford, as well as a BA in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)