National Anticorruption Strategies: Lessons from the Asia-Pacific Region

The 173 nation that have ratified the U.N. Convention Against Corruption are obliged by article 5 to “develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anticorruption policies . . . .”  Many meet this requirement by adopting a national anticorruption strategy, and such strategies are so common that the World Bank, the U4 Anticorruption Resource Centre, and Transparency International have all published works advising how to develop and implement them.  The latest, and most useful entry, comes from the Bangkok office of the U.N. Development Program.   Released December 9,  Anticorruption Strategies: Understanding What Works, What Doesn’t and Why — Lessons from the Asia-Pacific Region draws on the experience of 14 countries in the region  to  help guide policymakers wanting to promulgate a national strategy or revise an existing one.

The strongest part of the UNDP study is the stress put on measuring corruption.  An effective strategy, it contends, must be based on quantitative data taken from surveys, integrity assessments, news monitoring, and crowd-sourcing. Using examples from the countries reviewed, the authors show why such data is critical when designing and implementing a strategy and even more critical when monitoring and evaluating it.  Fully one-third of the paper is devoted to discussing measurement issues and an appendix expands on the discussion, describing the many innovative techniques countries in the region have devised to measure corruption.

The only complaint one might register is that the authors could have probed a bit on the validity and reliability of some of the measures the countries have developed.  Several have created composite measures, or indices, of corruption, but little attention seems to have been devoted to the methodological questions that arise in their construction. The Mongolian Corruption Index combines measures of a) the extent and scope of corruption and its social and economic consequences, b) forms of corruption, and c) causes of corruption into a single number that ranges from -1 to +1.  But how are these three dimensions weighted?  Is there any correlation among them?  If so, is that reflected in the technique used to combine them into a single number?

The report finds the strategies of Asian-Pacific nations are weakest when it comes to monitoring and evaluation. “Performance criteria and indicators are often lacking in [their] design” (p. 27).  Of the 14 countries they studied, the authors say only Malaysia and the Republic of Korea have identified measurable indicators with established baselines and tracking mechanisms capable of determining if progress is being made or changes are required.

Other lessons the study offers are the need for high-level coordination of strategy implementation and the importance of political change for strategy development and execution.  Implementation is typically left to the national anticorruption agency but these agencies can rarely compel a minister to carry out her part of the strategy.  Either a senior official must be put in charge or the anticorruption agency given more power.  Political change, such as the democratic openings in Bhutan and the Republic of Korea, often provide the impetus for the adoption of a strategy. Reformers should be alert to when it opens a window of opportunity or conversely when it threatens progress.

Like the reports by the World Bank, U4, and TI, the UNDP analysis says little about who might oppose an anticorruption strategy and how that opposition can be overcome.  But this is what distinguishes a strategy from a mere action plan.  “A plan supposes a sequence of events that allows one to move with confidence from one state of affairs to another. Strategy is required when others might frustrate one’s plans because they have different and possibly opposing interests and concerns.” Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (Oxford University Press, 2013), p.ix.  In a later post, I will explore some ways countries might turn what at least by Freedman’s lights are anticorruption action plans into real strategies.


4 thoughts on “National Anticorruption Strategies: Lessons from the Asia-Pacific Region

  1. First, let me express my gratitude to Rick for posting his valuable remarks and comments on my work in this extremely popular blog. I take it as a great compliment.

    With my little knowledge in statistics, I did try to dig into the weighting system in Mongolian Corruption Index but there were no response from the concerned people. After reading PAPI index from Vietnam, I suppose, the factor values are regression coefficients. Originally, when I embark on the study (2011-12), it was primarily for reviewing corruption measurement practices in Asia Pacific region. Using internet, and based in Kathmandu, I was able to collect or download nearly 100 surveys, research studies on corruption measurement practices. My review on methodology was limited or constrained by what is written in the survey report. What I can say is that there is wide variety of research methodology being used ranging from (1) household surveys, (2) telephone interviews to (3) focus group discussions. There are differences in research purpose, sample size, periodicity or regularity of measurement and so and so forth. It was bewildering for me to come across such a variety of tools and methodologies. Mongolia and South Korea (?) may be two countries where it is legally binding for anticorruption agency to carry corruption surveys. In most of the countries corruption measurement is in the realm of civil society organizations while formulation of anti-corruption strategy is in the hands of government officials. This could be a plus point (impartiality) as well as a minus point (lack of coordination in the use of data in strategy formulation).

    I am happy to share electronic copies of the surveys and research work I have collected if any one is interested to have a look. With the construction of GATEWAY site within TI, now more materials can accessed visiting that site.

  2. This is a very good work and much more of it is needed. Indeed, there are problems with the measurement and various methodologies, and in particular those based on a composite index (but isn’t the TI CPI and others also a composite index and despite a number of methodological criticisms it became accepted as a good measure). What is also needed is a good evaluation of the anti-corruption strategies and a sort of review of the outcomes of such evaluation. There are many problems with some of the anti-corruption strategies themselves and therefore a need to evaluate them. The work in Asia-Pacific is also important in view of the fact hat it is the only region in the world that does not have its own regional anti-corruption convention (e.g. like OAS, AU, EU and CoE and of course the global one UNCAC and OECD).

    Compliments for a very good work

    Ugi ZVekic

    • Narayan, thanks for the follow up note on the excellent study you did for the UNDP-Bangkok office. It is great to see that more and more countries are turning to empirical data to both design anticorurption strategies and evaluate them.

      But I have to admit to a growing unease about the potential misuse or misunderstanding of the data. Romania is the example I have in mind. One way it measures progress in implementing Its 2011 -2015 national anticorurption strategy is through changes in its CPI score. The strategy was drafted in 2010 when, as Matthew has noted on this blog, TI itself was clear that scores were not comparable across time. For the reasons he has pointed out in a subsequent post, the 2012 revisions in the way TI calculates scores does change this. TI CPI scores are still not comparable from year to year.

      I don’t know whether making improvements in TI’s CPI score a criteria for measuring the government’s success in realizing the goals of its anticorruption strategy has done any harm in Romania. Readers with any insight or information please post a comment! But it surely hasn’t done any good.

      Once again, thanks for producing such a useful and helpful report.

      Ugi, the CPI may be useful for some purposes, but as I explain above it can easily be misused.

  3. Hi!
    Nice one! My English is not great as I`m Romanian.
    If you would have lived in Romania during the 90`s, you would not believe that such progresses would have been achieved in 2015!. The new “National Anti Corruption Directive” (fighting corruption only), is an institution with a low budget, and less men power compared to other institutions in my country. Even though there are many suspicions and accusations that it was used as a “political weapon” by some politicians against their competition, today people from different political parties, high level officials from every domain are being charged and with a overwhelming percentage convicted! An ex Prime Minister was arrested, and current Prime Minister is under investigation! There is not a day passing by with news about new cases! Ukraine already wants to adopt this system, and Bulgaria wants to beat Romania`s “records” as it is news everywhere. It is a case for study! Romania is still corrupted till its bones (more than 80% of people joining politics do it for their personal gain), is like a cancer, and imagine how hard is to fight against those people, that actually make laws to protect them selves not to get arrested. At this point I could not be prouder of anything from my country as Im with DNA. It sure has its own flaws, but it is just relatively new, not yet matured, and so much more can be done if they are left alone, and not be sabotaged every time!

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