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.