Guest Post: A Critical Evaluation of National Anticorruption Strategies

Mark Pyman, Senior Fellow at the London Institute for Statecraft, contributes the following guest post:

Many countries now have official “national anticorruption strategies” or similar plans; indeed some have had them for ten years. So surely there are insights to be had from reviewing the substantive content of a decent sample of them? Unfortunately, most of the existing analysis of national anticorruption strategies focuses not on substance, but only on process (things like stakeholder engagement, the drafting process, the need for realism, cost-benefit analysis, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, etc.) In fact, everything except substance. This is a shame.

In order to remedy this gap, I recently collaborated with the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm on a study of the substantive provisions of national anticorruption strategies in 41 countries that rank between 21 and 130 on Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). (We chose that range because we wanted to look at countries that have a significant corruption problem, but not those that are in the grip of deep, systemic corruption issues.) The report, published earlier this week, is available here. Our objective in conducting this review was to extract lessons that can help country leaders make better strategies in the future

So, what did we find?

Let’s start with some basic descriptive observations:

  • First, almost all of the national anticorruption strategies we reviewed advocated a “comprehensive” or “multi-pronged” approach that incorporates three broad elements: prevention, prosecution, and education. Partly as a consequence, most of the strategies we reviewed (33 out of 41) were broad in scope, with only eight adopting a more narrowly targeted focus.
  • Second, we looked at whether the principal emphasis of the strategy was on “building integrity” – that is, developing a high integrity culture and fostering ethical cultural values – or whether the strategy focused more on fighting or preventing corruption. Of the 41 strategies reviewed, only one (Taiwan’s) has a tone that is almost entirely focused on building integrity. Eleven countries’ strategies refer in some significant capacity to both preventing corruption and building integrity, but the majority (29 out of 41) focus only on corruption reduction.
  • Third, we tried to ascertain what the specific objectives of the strategy were – beyond simply “reducing corruption.” The national strategies were rarely explicit about this, so we typically had to infer each strategy’s larger objectives. The most common objectives were improvement in government performance and public service delivery (14 strategies), improving national reputation, often as measured by the CPI score (13 strategies), strengthening democracy, transparency, or integrity (9 strategies), and improving economic performance (9 strategies). (Additional objectives associated with some other strategies included improving national security, meeting international anticorruption standards, and gaining accession to the European Union.)

In addition to basic description, we also attempted a more systematic critical analysis of the national anticorruption strategies we reviewed. Unfortunately, about half of the country strategies we reviewed were deficient in one or more serious respects:

  • The first weak area was the thoughtfulness of the choices of reform measures. This is where real anticorruption knowledge, change management competence, and political skill are required. Too often, strategies advocated measures for which there is evidence against their effectiveness; for example, too many hopes are often pinned on civil society. Many strategies included too many “shopping lists” of generic measures, such as impossible-to-achieve generalities like “implement a meritocratic civil service.” And while most of the national anticorruption strategies that we reviewed make reference to the principal corruption risks in the individual country, only ten of the 41 had done any substantial situational analysis.
  • Second, the strategies were all relatively weak on just how change is going to be achieved, despite the fact that there is already an extensive literature on how to effect change in large organizations, covering both private sector organizations and, to a lesser extent, public and state-owned organizations. The anticorruption world needs to embrace this literature and translate it to anticorruption-related initiatives.
  • Third, and related to the preceding point, few of the strategies were explicit about how political leadership will be exercised to drive or support change. Statements from other strategies about the “need for political will” almost seem to imply that they do not believe that they have it. In only three strategies – those of Bhutan, China, and Rwanda – was there a more explicit statement from an authoritative governmental figure, usually the Head of State. More such ownership is needed.
  • Fourth, while 18 countries put special emphasis on improvement in particular sectors (the most common of which were health (10 strategies), business (7), the judiciary (6), education (6) and procurement (5)), none of them seemed to have separate sector strategies for those sectors.
  • The biggest surprise of the analysis was the complete absence of any focus on supporting committed individuals, or communities of committed people who were working against corruption. Committed individuals are known to be one of the key drivers of positive change against corruption. We could find not one reference to this in any of the 41 plans.
  • Finally, while 28 strategies comment to some extent on mechanisms for implementing and monitoring the strategy, fewer than half provide quantitative criteria or indicators for success, and fewer than one-third note clear timelines or deadlines for each reform measure.

It is clear that some strategies are the product of much more consideration, political analysis, and attention to achievability than others. We hope that our report will encourage the emergence of the next generation of national anticorruption strategies and that they will also take into account the new thinking coming out of constructive initiatives such as the EU Anticorpp programme, the DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme, the Princeton initiative on Successful Societies, and the J-PAL initiative.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Critical Evaluation of National Anticorruption Strategies

  1. Thanks very much for this guest post. I look forward to reading the full report, and your summary was certainly thought-provoking. Indeed, it provoked a few specific thoughts (and questions and challenges), which I wanted to raise:

    I was a bit confused by the relationship between a couple of the deficiencies you pointed to in the strategies that you reviewed. In your first bullet point, you criticize these strategies for pinning too many hopes on civil society, suggesting that there is evidence against the effectiveness of such strategies. Yet in your fifth bullet point, you criticize these strategies for their failure to focus on “supporting committed individuals, or communities of committed individuals who [are] working against corruption.” I generally think of (anticorruption) civil society organizations as “groups of committed individuals who are working against corruption,” and vice versa. I take it you don’t? I confess I’m confused here. How can it simultaneously be true that “committed individuals are known to be one of the key drivers of positive change against corruption,” and that there is “evidence against [the] effectiveness” of civil society in fighting corruption?

    It would be nice to get a bit more elaboration on your second point, about the “extensive literature on how to effect change in large organizations,” which the anticorruption community needs to embrace and apply. I can get behind that statement in the abstract… but it does seem very abstract. What does this literature say that would be useful? Is it really as conclusive and helpful as you suggest? I’m not an expert, but I’ve dipped into a little of this stuff, and much of it seems pretty non-rigorous and flabby.

    You motivate the post in part by saying that almost all the existing analyses of anticorruption strategies focus on process (“things like stakeholder engagement, the drafting process, the need for realism, cost-benefit analysis, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, etc.”), and criticize them for not focusing on _substance_. But I can’t help but notice that most (though admittedly not all) of your observations and criticisms _also_ focus on these process issues, not on substance. Of your six criticisms at the end, #2, 3, and 7 are all clearly and exclusively about process; #1 is semi-substantive, but also seems very much in the spirit of the existing analyses you criticize (in the “need for realism” vein). #4 is also somewhere between substance and process, since it’s not really about the substance of the proposals but about the fact that the proposals aren’t tailored to individual sectors. Perhaps it’s not quite as easy to shift from process to substance when critiquing these sorts of documents? After all, to critique the substance, one would need to know a lot about the specific country context and about the efficacy of specific anticorruption tools.

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