The UK Aid Impact Commission’s Review of DFID Anticorruption Programs Is Dreadful

Last week, the United Kingdom’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) released its report on the UK Department for International Development (DFID)’s efforts to fight corruption in poor countries. The report, which got a fair amount of press attention (see here, here, here, and here), was harshly critical of DFID. But the report itself has already been criticized in return, by a wide range of anticorruption experts. Heather Marquette, the director of the Developmental Leadership Program at the University of Birmingham, described the ICAI report as “simplistic,” “a mess,” and a “wasted opportunity” that “fails to understand the nature of corruption.” Mick Moore, head of the International Centre for Tax and Development at the Institute for Development Studies, said that the report was “disingenuous[]” and “oversimplif[ied],” and that it “threatens to push British aid policy in the wrong direction.” Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, called the report a “wasted opportunity” that “has failed to significantly add to our evidence base,” largely because “ICAI’s attitude to what counts as evidence is so inconsistent between what it asks of DFID and what it accepts for itself.”

Harsh words. Are they justified? After reading the ICAI report myself, I regret to say the answer is yes. Though there are some useful observations scattered throughout the ICAI report, taken as a whole the report is just dreadful. Despite a few helpful suggestions on relatively minor points, neither the report’s condemnatory tone nor its primary recommendations are backed up with adequate evidence or cogent reasoning. It is, in most respects, a cautionary example of how incompetent execution can undermine a worthwhile project. Continue reading

More on Corruption and Growth, and the Importance of Checking Linked Material

In my post last week, I went after a bunch of recent blog commentary that asserted there wasn’t much evidence that corruption mattered for development (and that also asserted the allegedly disproportionate focus on corruption was a “fetish” of self-satisfied Western countries). My emphasis in that post was on presenting the evidence that corruption is indeed a serious problem, one that citizens in developing countries care about. But I didn’t say much directly in response to the evidence that the targets of my screed (Christopher Blattman, Michael Dowdle, Jason Hickel) had offered for the claim that corruption’s not all it’s cracked up to be as a development problem. Of the posts I went after, Blattman’s made the most effort to ground the corruption’s-not-so-important claim in academic research. So I think his most detailed post on the subject deserves closer scrutiny than I gave it in my original polemic. (By the way, Blattman also included an interesting direct response to my post here; my reply is in his comments section.)

After reviewing Blattman’s post and the research he cites (and links to) in support of his argument that there’s little evidence that corruption matters very much for economic growth, my conclusions are largely unchanged.  Indeed, I think that the academic papers on which Blattman relies tend to undermine his point more than they support it.

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