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Understanding corruption and how to curb it

A synthesis of latest thinking

Corruption is complex and resilient and there are limits to what anti-corruption interventions alone can achieve. Even incremental improvements are difficult to sustain. There is never a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether anti-corruption efforts work. For development agencies, however, potential success factors include collaboration and coordination, building trust, and seizing opportunities as they arise. It can pay off to build and harness political will and citizen support for good governance, and work to change expectations and reshape the policy arena.

14 March 2021
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Main points

  • Corruption is not a disease or deviation, but the historical standard. No country has achieved zero corruption, nor is any country likely to do so soon.
  • Corruption is complex and resilient. The process of moving from a high-corruption to a low-corruption society is long and non-linear. Even incremental improvements are difficult to sustain.
  • There are many forms and degrees of corruption both across and within countries.
  • Anti-corruption interventions need to be based on a context-specific understanding of the multiple reinforcing drivers of corruption, as well as the wider political economy, in a specific locality or country.
  • There is no single blueprint. A unique combination of approaches, tools, and actors is needed to address the root causes of corruption in a given context.
  • When corruption is systemic, anti-corruption efforts need to take a systems approach that goes beyond targeting individual ‘bad apples’.
  • While there is no single path to reform, potential success factors include collaboration and coordination, building trust, taking advantage of windows of opportunity, building and harnessing political will and citizen support for good governance, changing expectations, and reshaping the policy arena.
  • Anti-corruption interventions need to be flexible, politically responsive ,and designed with potential backlash in mind.
  • There are limits to what anti-corruption interventions alone can achieve, as well as the role that donor agencies can play. The effectiveness of anti-corruption interventions depends on the wider political economy, including the policy arena.
  • Successful anti-corruption efforts by donors may require a broader approach, one that considers the transnational dimensions of corruption and employs a whole-of-agency, or even whole-of-government, approach.

Cite this publication


Wathne, C.; (2021) Understanding corruption and how to curb it. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2021:3)

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About the author

Cecilie Wathne

Cecilie Wathne led U4’s thematic work on Measurement and Evaluation from 2018 to 2020. She has been the head of planning, monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning at the Norwegian NGO Strømme Foundation. She has also worked as a researcher at the Overseas Development Institute on issues related to aid effectiveness and accountability. Wathne holds an MSc in Economics for Development from the University of Oxford and a BSc in Economics, a BA in Political Science and a Certificate in Quantitative Methods from the University of Washington. She has undertaken fieldwork in over a dozen countries in Asia and Africa.

Disclaimer


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)

Keywords


anti-corruption reforms, anti-corruption policy, anti-corruption measures, political economy, donor coordination, governance, citizen engagement, whole-of-government approach