Guest Post: Aid Agencies Need to Improve Their Anticorruption Strategies and Implementation in Fragile States

GAB is pleased to welcome back Jesper Johnson, who contributes the following guest post:

Last year, Nils Taxell, Thor Olav Iversen and I contributed a guest post about the EU’s anticorruption strategy and its implementation (calling development aid a blind spot for EU anticorruption efforts), based on a report which was presented twice in the European Parliament. This material was part of a wider comparative study of the anticorruption strategies of the World Bank, European Commission, and UNDP that has just been published as a book by Edward Elgar. The book is the first major comparative study of work to help governments in fragile states counter corruption by the three multilateral aid agencies. The focus is on fragile states, where aid agencies face the greatest challenges in terms of both strategy and implementation. Although many recent reports and agreements, including the OECD’s New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report, have emphasized that agencies need to change the way they work in fragile states—in particular, the traditional policy frameworks cannot be uncritically copied from a non-fragile contexts—this message has not yet trickled down to the way these three multilateral aid agencies do anticorruption. Anticorruption and state-building policies are often disconnected or incoherent, and challenges rooted in the organization of the agencies prevent strategies from translating into results. More specifically, all three aid agencies shared a number of characteristics that inhibited their ability to address corruption in fragile states more effectively:

  • There was a significant gap between strategic propositions and resources for implementation, exemplified by the fact that anticorruption policy units were minimally staffed, and there were few full-time advisors at the country level;
  • Organizational barriers to effective execution included inadequate human and financial resources, rigid procedures, disbursement pressures, risk aversion, and perverse organizational incentives for prioritizing programs with high spending-to-staff ratios all contributed further to ineffective implementation;
  • Anticorruption and state-building/fragility units were uncoordinated, and relations between the two were marked by bureaucratic competition and/or culture conflicts;
  • A lack of strong organisational centers, official policies, and clear operational guidance has led to excessive decentralization, with considerable idiosyncratic decision-making;

But there’s some cause for optimism. When aid agencies follow their own strategies and have adequate resources, they do achieve results. In Afghanistan, for example, certain areas of the public financial management system were strengthened considerably, the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee played an important role in investigating high-profile corruption cases such as the Kabul Bank scandal, and Integrity Watch Afghanistan is a role model for other NGOs in fragile states. The World Bank has also come quite far in mainstreaming corruption concerns and anticorruption measures into country-level strategies, and the Governance Partnership Facility serves as an example of the importance of having finances for country-level governance and anticorruption advisors.

Improving anticorruption strategies in fragile states will take some time, but aid agencies can immediately improve practice by better implementing their own strategies.  Indeed, despite the focus on strategic gaps and implementation problems, the message of the book is ultimately a positive one: many reported failures of anticorruption programs may be due more to implementation than to theory failure. Rather than searching for the next generation of anticorruption tools, in the hopes of finding some new panacea, aid agencies should focus on formulating clear strategies for their anticorruption work in fragile states that are both implementable and aligned with their strategies for reducing state fragility. Evaluations of implementability should take into account the need for speed in delivery, as well as low government absorption capacity.

If you are still reading, the publisher has agreed to provide GAB readers with a special 35% discount code (JOHN35) for orders placed by December 31 of this year! (The offer is valid only for personal use purchases.) Orders can be placed at, or by emailing

One thought on “Guest Post: Aid Agencies Need to Improve Their Anticorruption Strategies and Implementation in Fragile States

  1. This is an interesting analysis that seems relevant to the problems of aid agencies with anti-corruption in all the settings that they operate in, not only ‘fragile states’. If I understand your core argument correctly you say failures are more due to implementation of something we already figured out, than to not really knowing what would make a difference. That would be very much aligned with my experience at a different level of the aid system (the NGO sector). You present that as a reason for optimism, but unfortunately the post doesn’t give any hints about how implementation problems/barriers could be overcome. I would argue that they have shown themselves to be quite intractable so far. The implicit suggestion of the post is that theory failure would have been worse. Maybe. One might also argue that a theory failure analysis would be a reason for hope because that would indicate that the aid delivery ‘machinery’ can deliver, if only it would go for the correct ‘tool’. Now we seem to have the tools but seem just unable to deliver. I’m not claiming that this argument makes more sense than yours. But it would be great to hear some hands on suggestions for how to solve some of the core implementation issues. Hope you have a couple up your sleeve.

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