Guest Post: The Aims and Accomplishments of the OECD Report on Corruption at the Sector Level

Tina Søreide, Senior Researcher at the Christian Michelsen Institute and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Bergen Faculty of Law, contributes the following guest post:

Yesterday Rick posted a critique of the OECD’s recent Report, “Consequences of Corruption at the Sector Level and Implications for Economic Growth and Development.” He did not find much value in that report (and as anyone who read his post knows, that’s an understatement). I was heavily involved in the research and preparation of this report, and although criticism is always welcome, I think that many of his criticisms are unfair, and are based on a misapprehension of the report’s purposes. This rebuttal is an attempt to clarify the aims of the report and explain why, notwithstanding Rick’s criticisms, the report makes substantial progress toward achieving those aims.One of Rick’s main criticisms is that a lengthy discussion of the harmful effects of corruption, whether on economic performance generally or on specific sectors, will really make much difference in moving the anticorruption agenda ahead. “It seems hard to believe,” he writes, that “one more report showing how harmful corruption is will stimulate more action.” But the fact of the matter is that in the G20 policy environment there has been significant resistance to accepting the damaging consequences of corruption on economic development, hence the lack of progress on the anticorruption agenda. So while this may just be “one more report,” getting this information across–to G20 policymakers in particular–is still vitally important.

Rick’s other major line of criticism was the absence in the report of bold new policy proposals. “Readers hunting for policy recommendations,” he writes, will be disappointed, because the report contains “little that is new and much that is pedestrian.” But the purpose of this report was not the policy recommendations per se. The point was to provide insights about the consequences of corruption — and explain how they play out differently in different sectors. Those of us involved in writing the report were not asked specifically to provide policy guidance (though in the end we did include some). As for the lack of boldness or novelty in the recommendations, it bears repeating that the more uncertain we are regarding our knowledge on what works, the more careful we should be when drawing policy implications (including if we want to convince governments), and this caution may explain why Rick felt that the report lacks boldness.

As I see it, the report has contributed importantly in the process toward three victories.

  1. We managed to draw attention to the differences between sectors–and the nuances in the corruption mechanisms, including the damaging effect of corruption in other sectors than infrastructure and extractives.
  2. The report contributed directly to the articulation of the G20 High Level Principles on Corruption and Growth, which announced a consensus on the damaging impact of corruption and established the fight against corruption as a policy priority for the G20.
  3. The OECD will now build on the G20 agreement and consider how more efficient strategies for countries can be recommended. As far as I am aware, they are starting a process of developing improved better policy recommendations.

Of course, these are not real “victories” before we see changes on the ground, but this report is a step in the right direction, in contrast to what Rick seems to indicate.

Nonetheless, I totally agree with Rick that it is well worth keeping a critical light on policy initiatives and reports. Sometimes these policy reports are tools that bring us a step forward, even if they can appear boring as a standalone product.

One thought on “Guest Post: The Aims and Accomplishments of the OECD Report on Corruption at the Sector Level

  1. Tina and Matthew both make valid points in their critique of my critique of the OECD’s Consequence of Corruption at the Sector Level and Implications for Economic Growth and Development.

    I expressed doubts that one more report showing the harm corruption does was likely to move policymakers to act. Tina replies that within the G-20 there continues to significant resistance to accepting this elementary fact and thus documenting the damage corruption does in the extractive industries, utility, health, and education sectors continues to be an important goal. She and her OECD colleagues are surely closer to what goes within the G-20 than I so point taken.
    But with one caveat and one suggestion. The caveat: the U.S. experience teaches again and again that policymakers are often deaf to the advice of experts (climate change, security policy pre-9/11). On the other hand, when the pressure to act can no longer be resisted, having high-quality analysis at the ready can prevent hasty, ill-thought out action.

    The suggestion. While as I said in the original post I thought the chapter summing up consequences of corruption in the health sector was excellent, my own experience in the U.S. is that one story bests a thousand regressions by social scientists. The Ugandan journalist Gladys Kalibala recounts how the failure to pay a health care worker a small bribe cost both a mother and her child their lives (New Vision, July 15, 2014, (http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/657595-her-mother-s-death-could-have-been-prevented.html). If the purpose of documenting the harm from corruption is to prompt policy change, stress tragedies like these. They humanize the evils of corruption in a way quantitative data does not. Put it later in the text (or better yet in an annex).

    I appreciate that the purpose of the report may not have been policy recommendations per se. But coming from what many consider the leading source of sensible policy recommendations on a host of issues related to public integrity and combatting corruption, and with a personal bias towards reports that say “what to do” rather than “how bad the situation is,” I trust the authors will understand why I made the lack of bold policy recommendations the focus of my commentary. Moreover, with staff chief Gabriela Ramos writing in the forward that advancing policy recommendations was one of the two purposes of the report and with a section labeled “Assessment and Recommendations: Policy Conclusions,” that focus was not totally unjustified.

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