Britain’s Department for International Development is funding thoughtful, ambitious projects in Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda to help those governments step up the enforcement of national anticorruption laws. What makes the three thoughtful is their recognition that improving anticorruption law enforcement requires the simultaneous strengthening of the entire criminal justice chain – from the entities that turn up possible corruption violations to the agencies which investigate these leads to prosecution services and courts – together with measures to improve collaboration among them. What makes the three projects ambitious is that they provide assistance from one end of the chain to another; building capacity in a single agency can be challenge, building it in several simultaneously even more so.
Yet if developing countries are to do better at catching, prosecuting, and convicting corrupt officials and those who corrupt them, more programs like these three, whether donor- or self-funded, are needed. It does no good to improve the ability of an anticorruption agency to investigate corruption if prosecutors don’t have the skill to present a convincing case. And no matter how skilled the prosecution, it will be for naught if the courts don’t understand the law or the evidence.
The 4 ½ year, £11.3 million Tanzania project, dubbed “STACA” for Strengthening Tanzania’s Anticorruption Action, was the first of the three DfID projects to tackle the criminal justice chain in one fell swoop, and along with the U4 Anticorruption Resource Center and REPOA, a Tanzanian think-tank, I reviewed its progress at roughly the half- way mark in implementation. While we trust close study of the review is merited, below I summarize three points that came out of it that I think are particularly critical, both for developing country policymakers looking for ways to enhance the enforcement of their nation’s anticorruption laws and for donor organizations wanting to help them.
1) Invest in the collection and analysis of operational data. The review found that STACA invested too little in the collection of timely, detailed information on the operation of the criminal justice chain. It leaves it to a small coordinating team, which has many other duties, to collate and data reported by the different agencies. But some agencies do not have the resources or the expertise to gather accurate, disaggregated data on their operations or to report it in a consistent manner. Reporting formats also have yet to be standardized; some agencies submit data on a calendar year basis while others use the fiscal year. The anticorruption bureau and the prosecution agency have also reported different figures for the same event, the bureau saying that it submitted 425 files to the agency for prosecution in 2014 while the agency reported receiving 317. Even if the coordinating team had the time to address such issues, it would need the backing of agency leaders to resolve them.
It is not surprising that STACA’s designers underestimated the challenges of gathering and harmonizing data across the criminal justice system. Even the U.K., a wealthier country with much more trained manpower than Tanzania, has had difficulties meeting the challenges – as a 1999 report by Britain’s National Audit Office amply documents. But the investment can pay large dividends. The different figures the anticorruption bureau and the prosecution agency reported are part of a larger conflict over whether the failure to bring more cases lies with the bureau’s investigators or the agency’s prosecutors. Accurate data is the indispensible prerequisite for resolving such controversies.
2) Fund Numerous Joint Activities. STACA’s design reflects one of the most important lessons to emerge from modern criminal justice reform programs: improving the enforcement of the criminal law requires not only that each agency in the criminal justice chain operate efficiently and effectively but that they all work together closely. Better collaboration was a key recommendation of a landmark report on criminal justice in the United States, and the U.K. National Audit Office subtitled its 1999 study recommending dozens of improvements to the British criminal justice system “Working Together.”
To date, however, most STACA activities have strengthened individual agencies – training auditors on how to detect fraud and corruption, helping the police weed out corrupt officers, providing office equipment to the lower courts, increasing the reach of the financial intelligence unit. Only a few have brought staff from different agencies together to work out common problems, to be trained together, and simply to develop the personal ties that make for harmonious inter-agency relations. Yet those who participated in STACA-sponsored joint activities found them quite valuable. Queried about one involving staff from the anticorruption bureau and the prosecution service, three-quarters of respondents replied it had been “relevant” or “highly relevant” to improving relations between the two organizations.
To be sure, armchair analysts in the development community find it easy to criticize development agencies for funding joint trainings, retreats, and even social events that bring personnel from different agencies together. These activities produce no immediate, tangible, measurable outcomes and are easily characterized as junkets or make-work. And these activities are also ones that poor countries are hardest pressed to finance themselves. Yet it is exactly these types of programs that build the interpersonal trust that is the foundation for inter-agency cooperation and collaboration.
3) Deemphasize Conviction rates. STACA seeks to improve the enforcement of Tanzania’s anticorruption laws and thus not surprisingly, the percentage of cases that result in a conviction in court is a key measure of its success. While it would seem that the higher the conviction rate the more effectively the law is being enforced, this is not necessarily the case. The rate can be increased by opening fewer investigations but devoting more resources to those that are opened. Alternatively, difficult complex, cases can be eschewed in favour of smaller, less complex matters that are easy to prove. Neither alternative results in more effective enforcement, but both will produce increases in the rate of conviction.
The answer is not to jettison the conviction rate indicator but to collect data on related topics that, together with the conviction rate, will provide a more accurate picture of the system. One addition would be information on whether the case involves “petty” or “grand corruption.” Few if any prosecutions for grand corruption would be a sign that adjustments somewhere along the chain are needed. A second would be data on the resources expended per case which can show whether some investigations are “overworked.”
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DfID is not the only development agency that has recognized that improving the enforcement of the anticorruption laws requires the simultaneous strengthening all agencies along the criminal justice chain. Both the Norwegian and German aid agencies have sponsored similar efforts in the past, and others in both the development and the anticorruption communities are beginning to recognize the importance of a holistic approach. In its 2015 Guide to Anticorruption Policy and Programming the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs advises U.S. program designers to address the entire criminal justice chain or develop a joint program with others that does, and Transparency International’s new tool for assessing the performance of anticorruption agencies reflects the need to evaluate the other components in the chain.
But with its Ghanaian, Tanzanian, and Ugandan projects underway and more apparently planned, DfID is in the lead. The STACA program and its cousins in Ghana and Uganda offer many lessons for those wanting to help developing states fight corruption. They merit close study.