Fighting Corruption:  Lessons from Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Over the last few years a number of studies have appeared analyzing the lessons learned from the first decade of anticorruption policies.  The most recent is  Why Corruption Matters: Understanding Causes, Effects and How to Address Them reviewed March 18 on this blog.  Others are: the U4 Anticorruption Resource Center’s Mapping Evidence Gaps in Anticorruption; Kennedy School Professor Rema Hanna and colleagues’ The Effectiveness of Anticorruption Policy: What has Worked, What Hasn’t, and What We Know; The Norwegian Aid Agency’s Joint Evaluation of Support to Anticorruption Efforts, 2002 – 2009; Contextual Choices in Fighting Corruption: Lessons Learned by Hertie School Professor Alina Mungiu-Pipidi and associates; the report by GRECO, or the Group of States against Corruption, Lessons Learnt from the Three Evaluation Rounds (2000 – 2010): Thematic Articles; and the analysis by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, A Review of World Bank Support for Accountability Institutions in the Context of Governance and Anticorruption. While each merits study, I thought it useful to highlight some of the important findings of each in a series of posts over the coming weeks.

Today’s entry summarizes a valuable contribution to this “lessons learned” literature by the Anticorruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a regional outreach program of the OECD’s Working Group on Bribery whose members include the nations of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and OECD member states.  As part of the network’s activities eight countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan – volunteered to have their anticorruption policies judged by their peers against the standards in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, other international conventions, and international best practice.  Anticorruption Reforms in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Progress and Challenges, 2009 -2013 sums up the lessons from the latest round of review of these eight countries efforts to combat corruption.

The peer reviews examined three areas of anticorruption policy in the eight countries: 1) the experience with national anticorruption strategies and specialized anticorruption agencies, 2) reforms to criminal laws and the strengthening of enforcement agencies, and 3) prevention efforts.

National anticorruption strategies/anticorruption agencies.

* All eight countries have a national strategy to combat corruption and several have developed a second or even third generation strategy.  Although the more recent strategies were an improvement over the earlier ones – setting clear objectives with timelines and performance indicators and drawing on country-specific research, implementation was disappointing.  Weaknesses in monitoring and evaluating the strategies were likely the principle reason.  Even when governments gathered data on the progress made in meeting strategy objectives, analysis of what needed to be changed followed by changes in the strategy or action plan was lacking.

* The inability to change course was due at least in part to problems of coordination.  Implementing an anticorruption strategy requires close cooperation across a number of ministries, departments, and agencies within the executive branch; it often demands the acquiescence if not active support of the legislative and judicial branches of government, and in many cases local and provincial governments must also cooperate.  The most common solution to the coordination problem among the eight was the creation of high-level consultative councils with representatives of the different agencies, branches, and levels of government.  But with the exception of Georgian and Azerbaijan, reviewers found the councils were ineffective.  Meetings were sporadic, political leadership lacking, and administrative support poor.  Often coordination was left to the country’s anticorruption agency, and as the focus of these agencies was enforcement of the criminal laws, they lacked the expertise, and often the clout, to coordinate the whole range of anticorruption policies.

Criminal law reform/enforcement agencies.

* Although the eight countries all made progress in aligning laws governing bribery, asset confiscation, and other corruption-related issues with UNCAC’s requirements, many gaps remain.  Of the eight, only Georgia has enacted legislation making corporations and other “legal persons” criminally liable for corruption offenses.  Georgia too was the only one of the eight that allowed authorities to confiscate the proceeds of corruption when the offender has converted them into another asset, as say using a bribe payment to purchase real estate.  In the other seven, once the bribe money is used for a purchase, the item purchased is not considered the proceeds of corruption.  Statutes of limitations for embezzlement and bribery are still too short in several countries.  In Kyrgyzstan, for example, prosecutors have but one year from the time a bribe is paid to bring a case.

* Agencies responsible for enforcing the criminal anticorruption laws remain under-resourced and exposed to political pressure and with staff poorly trained to develop and prosecute complex corruption cases.  A common weakness is the lack of specialization among prosecutors.  Of the eight, only Azerbaijan has prosecutors devoted solely to corruption cases, yet these cases requires a working knowledge of accounting, banking, and finance — subjects most generalist prosecutors know little about. In some instances this weakness arises from how prosecution offices are organized.  In Ukraine prosecutors do not specialize in different types of crime but in procedural steps.  So there are prosecutors responsible for pre-trial investigations, overseeing the legality of the case, and presenting evidence to the court.

* Data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions is either not collected or not collected in a way that allows for an assessment of the effectiveness of enforcement efforts.


Policies aimed at preventing corruption cover an enormous range of topics, from simplifying administrative procedures to reducing opportunities for corruption to adopting ethics codes to reforming public procurement systems. The review examines six: 1) instilling integrity in the public service through conflict of interest laws, income and asset declarations, and other ethics rules, 2) procurement reform, 3) adoption and implementation of access to information laws, 4) campaign and party finance regulation, 5) judicial integrity, and 6) anticorruption compliance programs for privately-owned, and state-owned, firms.  Among the highlights –

* Rules requiring firms to maintain adequate internal controls are in the early stages of development or implementation, meaning companies organized under the laws of the eight can easily create the kind of “off-the-books” slush funds that can be used to pay bribes.  Controls on state-owned enterprises, an overlooked area in many anticorruption strategies, are lagging although Croatia’s recent efforts to ensure its state-owned companies observe the highest standards of integrity offers a model – and not only for other countries in the region.

* E-procurement reforms are taking hold in many countries.  One of the most valuable sections of the report is the clarity it brings to the discussion of e-procurement, a vague term used to cover many different processes and stages in the procurement of goods, works, and services. Not all e-procurement reforms reduce corruption as the report makes clear.

* The discussion of laws curbing the use of “undue influence” and the tension between controlling influence peddling without infringing on lawful efforts to persuade, or “lobby,” legislators and government officials is also valuable.  This section demonstrates the value of the peer review process.  Leaders of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are far more likely to take notice of comments from their peers warning them not to infringe on the right to influence government than they are from other sources.

* One bone to pick with the report.  It implicitly assumes that the system for regulating contributions to and expenditures by candidate and political parties found in the United States and Western Europe is appropriate for the, at best, nascent democracies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  In fact it is not, for the U.S.and European rules by design or accident entrench the existing parties at the expense of new ones.  The report alludes to this problems at several point, cautioning that campaign and party finance regulations should not retard the entry of new parties, but as the experience in the U.S. and Europe shows, it is very, very hard for incumbent parties to write laws that do not advantage them at the expense of potential competitors.

But this is one issue in what is otherwise a valuable report that is important reading not only for policymakers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia but anyone seeking to understand what anticorruption interventions are effective and why.

1 thought on “Fighting Corruption:  Lessons from Eastern Europe and Central Asia

  1. Thanks for drawing attention to the report– I have a long-standing interest in the region. I write to you from Tajikistan, where I was told today that the judiciary is perceived as so corrupt that judges are afraid to acquit defendants because it will make it seem as though they have taken a bribe!

    I have read of a couple of chapters and am struck by some major shortcomings that I think undermine the report’s usefulness overall.

    I find the approach– picking and choosing examples of statements, laws, working groups, etc. from the various country along each theme without examining them in context– obscures real analysis of important differences in the countries and in their anti-corruption outcomes. In some cases it is just nonsensical– “In Uzbekistan, various NGOs, but in particular the academic community, have been involved in development of the new anti-corruption programme. In Georgia, NGOs were involved in development of anti-corruption policy in 2010 in a limited way….” A reader could be forgiven the impression that civil society participation is more robust in Uzbekistan than in Georgia, when just the opposite is true.

    This leads me to my next criticism: the report is so deeply divorced from the political realities on the ground that in some places it reads like fiction and in others the lack of context renders the findings not very useful at best. But maybe this is what you get from a peer review based, at least in part, on self-reporting of activities by governments?

    The prevention chapter does conclude with a useful insight– there is difficulty in assessing real progress given the lack of information on practical implementation. What it does not say is that a fundamental problem in many of the countries is the lack of truly independent civic institutions– NGOs, free media, even academic institutions– that can help report on the realities, hold governments to account, and raise the stakes for failure to improve. Local TI chapters are great– where they exist– but are not the only groups needed to do this critical work (I did enjoy the optimistic, if unrealistic note that local TI chapters do not exist in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan… yet). Regional trends are not promising– Azerbaijan, a founding member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, has been imprisoning opposition figures, human rights activists, and independent journalists at a truly breathtaking rate, including members of the EITI coalition. All signs point to a coming crackdown on NGOs in Armenia. A foreign agents laws is under consideration in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is poised to pass an Azerbaijan-style law that would make foreign funding of NGOs subject to government approval. The kleptocratic government of Uzbekistan has decimated independent civil society through harassment and imprisonment. And of course Ukraine, where an active civil society helped expose the corruption of the ruling elite and preserve the evidence, is not yet a success story.

    It seems to me that reporting by the OECD, UNCAC, and IFIs would be more robust and meaningful if there were a developed culture of shadow reporting or other mechanisms for civil society to contextualize and balance the government-centric views, as is the practice within most human rights bodies.

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