Guest Post: An Exercise in Underachievement–The UK’s Half-Hearted Half-Measures To Exclude Corrupt Bidders from Public Procurement

GAB is delighted to welcome back Susan Hawley, policy director of Corruption Watch, to contribute today’s guest post:

A year ago, in May 2016, the UK government gathered 43 nations around the world together at the London Anti-Corruption Summit to show their commitment to fighting corruption. The resulting declaration made a number of bold promises. One of the most important—though not one that grabbed a lot of headlines—was the announcement that corrupt bidders should not be allowed to bid for government contracts, and the associated pledge by the declaration’s signatories that they would commit to ensuring that information about final convictions would be made available to procurement bodies across borders. Seventeen signatories went further, making specific commitments to exclude corrupt bidders, while six countries pledged to establish a centralized database of convicted companies as a way of ensuring procurement bodies could access relevant information. (Three other countries committed to exploring that possibility.)

The London Anti-Corruption Summit was right to be ambitious about focus on this issue in its declaration. Research shows that the risk of losing business opportunities such as through debarment from public contracts ranks has a powerful deterrent effect—equal to that associated with individual executives facing imprisonment, and much greater than one-off penalties such as fines. Yet debarment of corrupt companies for public contracting is quite rare. The OECD Foreign Bribery report found that while 57% of the 427 foreign bribery cases it looked at spanning 15 years involved bribes to obtain government procurement contracts, only two resulted in debarment. Even the US which has a relatively advanced debarment regime and which debars or suspends around 5000 entities a year from public procurement, appears to debar very few for foreign bribery and corruption. And the UK does not appear to have ever excluded a company from public procurement, despite laws in place since 2006 that require companies convicted of corruption and other serious crimes to be excluded from public contracts.

Did the London Anti-Corruption Summit mark significant turning point in the UK’s approach to this issue? Having persuaded 43 countries to sign a declaration that included a commitment to exclude corrupt bidders, did the UK have its own bold new vision to implement that commitment domestically? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Continue reading

Guest Post: The U4 Proxy Challenge and the Search for New Corruption Indicators

Osmund Grøholt, a research assistant at the Chr. Michelsen Institute and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, contributes the following guest post:

One of the major challenges that the development community faces in promoting effective anticorruption reform efforts is the difficulty of measuring progress. This challenge has become all the more pressing in light of the explicit inclusion of anticorruption targets as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, many of the most widely-used national-level corruption perception indexes, such as the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index and the Worldwide Governance Indicators control-of-corruption index, are not suitable proxies for measuring anticorruption reform effectiveness.

To help address this challenge, the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre is announcing its second “Proxy Challenge Competition.” The Proxy Challenge Competition invites researchers and practitioners to submit proposals for indicators that can help show the direction of change and the progress of reform efforts, rather than measuring the quantity or volume of corruption per se. Ideally, the proxy indicators should be reliable, intuitive, accessible, and cost-effective.

The proposed proxies will be evaluated by a panel of experienced anticorruption practitioners and academics, and the individuals who submit the two best submissions will be invited to present their proposed proxies at a special session at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Panama (Dec. 1st-4th, 2016), with travel, hotel, and conference registration expenses covered. In addition, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) will work with the proposal authors to test the relevance and the validity of the proposed indicators, including financial support for a policy paper on the proposed proxy indicators and, if appropriate, developing a plan for testing the proxy indicator for actual reporting in selected countries.

Proposals of no more than 700 words should be submitted to proxychallenge@u4.no by September 1st, 2016. The submissions should:

  • Clearly define the proposed proxy indicator, and explain why and how this indicator reflects changes in corrupt behavior;
  • Explain how the indicator can be combined with other indicators to obtain a better measurement of overall anticorruption progress, including how the proxy indicator would be useful for different agents (e.g., aid agencies, governments, civil society) for purposes of monitoring and reporting;
  • Comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the proxy indicator, including how they differ with shifting national contexts.
  • Present ideas for how to test the validity of the proxy indicator.

More information on the Proxy Challenge Competition, including a complete list of requirements, can be found here. Additional background reading, including material from the first Proxy Challenge Competition (held in 2013-2014) can be found here and here.

We look forward to your submissions!

Lessons from a Pathbreaking DfID Anticorruption Project in Tanzania

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. Continue reading

Guest Post: The British Academy/DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme

Paul M. Heywood, the Sir Francis Hill Professor of European Politics at the University of Nottingman, contributes the following guest post:

In a recent post, Matthew recommended a speech by Robert Barrington, Executive Director of Transparency International UK, on the relationship between academics and advocates in the fight against corruption. I was very pleased to read the post, as Robert had given the speech at my invitation during the inaugural meeting of research projects funded under an exciting new initiative being jointly run by the British Academy and the Department for International Development (DFID). The Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) Programme, which I serve in the capacity of Academic Leader, is designed explicitly to address the interface between researchers and practitioners, with a fundamental focus on what actually works when it comes to fighting corruption.

Prompted in part by a highly critical report of DFID’s anticorruption approach by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) – itself reproached for poor use of evidence (including on this blog) – and in part by its own commissioned evidence papers into corruption (here and here), DFID has partnered with the British Academy to launch a £3.6m programme aimed at helping us understand better exactly how and why specific interventions succeed or fail in particular contexts. Some may wonder why we need yet more research on corruption; indeed, that is precisely the question I was recently asked by Jeremy Lefroy MP when giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development inquiry into tackling corruption overseas: “I would have thought there was plenty of evidence around. In what way do you think the evidence base needs to be strengthened, or is this just creating extra work for people who look at these things?”

The question is a reasonable one, especially given the exponential rise in the number of books and articles on corruption published over the last quarter century (as reflected in Matthew’s ever-expanding bibliography on the topic). There are many answers that could be given, but one key factor is that much of the existing research on corruption has simply been too generic to produce specific recommendations on which policymakers can act. Although it is widely recognized that corruption is not just one thing, such recognition has often not been translated into research design. Notably, many large-n studies have used an undifferentiated concept of corruption to serve as either a dependent or independent variable, seeking to explain a host of specific failings across a very wide canvas. Where there have been attempts to disaggregate corruption, these have often proposed bipartite, rather than graded, classifications (grand/petty, political/bureaucratic, need/greed, and so forth). In practice, corruption is a much more complex phenomenon than such dichotomous approaches can conceivably capture. Four observations follow from this: Continue reading

Upcoming UK Parliamentary Hearing on the ICAI Criticisms of DFID — Opportunity to Comment

Last week, I discussed the brewing controversy over the most recent report from the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), which sharply criticized the UK Department for International Development (DFID) approach to anticorruption in its aid programs. In addition to noting some of the critical commentary the report has already received, I added some criticisms of my own. It turns out that the report itself, and possibly also the critical commentary, has prompted the UK House of Commons’ International Development Committee to schedule a hearing on December 10. In connection with that hearing, the Committee has invited any interested party to submit written statements or evidence on the issues raised by the ICAI report; the online form for submitting comments is here, and the deadline for written submissions is November 28 (two weeks from today).

Although obviously of greatest interest to those in the UK or in countries that receive substantial DFID aid, the controversy and questions surrounding the ICAI report raise larger questions about the approach to anticorruption in development assistance, as well as questions about methodology and measurement. I hope that many GAB readers with interest in these matters will read the ICAI report and submit comments to the Parliamentary Committee. There is an opportunity here to raise some of these crucial issues in a much more public and prominent forum than is typical.

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