“Political will” is often said to be the sine qua non of a successful anticorruption policy (click here, here, and here for some examples), yet the term remains, as Linn Hammergren complained almost two decades ago, one of “the slipperiest concepts in the policy lexicon.” Derick Brinkerhoff tried to pin down what those advising on anticorruption meant by it in a 2010 U4 policy brief. He concluded that most used the term to refer to some combination of commitment by controlling corruption by top-level political leaders together with the ability to do something about it.
While a reasonable definition, a moment’s reflection will show that advising developing countries that to fight corruption they must have political will is empty advice. If a country’s leadership had the commitment to deal with corruption and the tools for doing so, it wouldn’t need advice on what to do, it would be in the heat of the battle. The reason most countries remain on the sidelines is that their leaders lack the necessary commitment and capacity. So telling developing countries that a successful anticorruption effort begins with political will assumes away the problem.
What would help is advice on how to create the commitment and ability to fight corruption. Continue reading