For Foreign Aid and Fighting Corruption, Less Is More

The US government learned many hard lessons from its military occupation of Iraq. With respect to corruption in security and reconstruction projects, one of the clearest lessons—emphasized by the 2013 final report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), among others—was that smaller, short-term projects were more effective, and less susceptible to massive and debilitating corruption, than big, long-term projects. Indeed, a month after publication of the SIGIR report, Paul Cooksey, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, testified to Congress that large amounts of money should not be injected into an unstable region without enough well-trained, experienced personnel to oversee it. The better strategy, he argued, was to use small projects that could be more tightly managed. For example, one battalion commander in Iraq mentioned that greenhouse and drip irrigation projects—which allowed farmers to use water more efficiently and grow vegetables year-round—were small enough to be easily monitored to completion. This may not be as grandiose as building massive infrastructure, but it can still have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Yet despite the clarity and consistency of this message, it has not been heeded in Afghanistan. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Innovative or Ineffective?: Performance-Based Lending as an Anticorruption Tool

The Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) new focus on fighting corruption and building institutions has generated quite a stir (including on this blog – see here, here, here, and here). But the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – a U.S. agency responsible for disbursement of assistance geared toward international development targets – has long been acting against corruption through its effort to achieve the SDG precursors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Institution-building does not appear among the substantive aims of the eight MDGs. Rather, the MCC made anticorruption central to its work by introducing corruption indices into its process for competitive selection of aid recipients. In brief, the MCC Board of Directors chooses aid-eligible countries by evaluating and scoring candidates countries’ “policy performance” on a number of measures. Crucially, in order to qualify for aid, countries must score above average for their income group on the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) “Control of Corruption” score. The indicator is therefore known as the “hard hurdle.” The Board also assesses corruption trends in its analysis of a country’s ability to reduce poverty and generate economic growth, which, with policy performance, comprises the overall evaluation.

This strategy is known as performance-based lending, and the MCC has employed it to award over $10 billion in grants to nearly 40 countries over the past 12 years. Is the MCC approach a good one? Many critics say no. I say yes. Although it is a strategy that is still evolving, performance-based lending—including the corruption control “hard hurdle”—is not only innovative and effective, but important.

Continue reading

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

Community-Level Aid and Corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

As Rick has discussed in a previous post, one common strategy adopted by donors seeking to engage in development and humanitarian work in countries with corrupt governments is to try to bypass national institutions. Instead, they direct their efforts towards the local level, engaging with communities, local leaders, and smaller-scale NGOs. Theoretically, this approach means the money passes through fewer hands, and there are therefore fewer opportunities for some of it to be skimmed off. Furthermore, donors may believe that local institutions are less corrupt or more easily subjected to (or more responsive to) monitoring by donors or other overseers. Donors may also opt for a local-oriented approach for reasons not related to corruption, like supporting projects that are more responsive to people’s actual needs, furthering community empowerment, and building institutions.

However, recent evidence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) indicates that a local-oriented approach has its corruption-related drawbacks. Resources channeled through national political figures may have the potential to be stolen or misdirected for personal gain, but community-driven development programs are also vulnerable to elite capture. In fact, broader research has indicated that members of community development organizations—the very people with whom donors are partnering in hopes of side-stepping corruption—are more likely to pay bribes than non-members.  Furthermore, even when donor programs succeed in creating infrastructure, they tend to fail to improve local governance, accountability, or capacity.

Still, given the pervasive corruption in national governments (in the DRC and elsewhere), and the way those in power benefit from avoiding any meaningful action against corruption, the impulse towards local-side aid is understandable. What, then, are donors to do? Though it’s impossible to guarantee positive results, there are some steps that foreign governments and NGOs can take to mitigate the risk of the money targeted locally from being illicitly diverted:

Continue reading

Guest Post: Development Aid–A Blind Spot for EU Anticorruption Efforts

GAB is pleased to welcome back Jesper Johnsøn, Senior Advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, who, along with his colleagues Nils Taxell and Thor Olav Iversen, contributes the following guest post:

A new study from the European Parliament entitled Cost of Corruption in Developing Countries – How Effectively is Aid Being Spent? shows that, despite an impressive track record of ambitious anticorruption reforms in countries working toward European Union membership, the EU’s overall anticorruption strategy marginalizes efforts to address corruption through development aid. The EU could spend aid more effectively, the report concludes, if it prioritized corruption control in developing countries. The analysis in the report suggests several measures that the EU should adopt to reduce corruption in its development aid programs:

Continue reading

Big Data and Anticorruption: A Great Fit

There is no shortage of buzz about Big Data in the anticorruption world. It’s everywhere — from public efforts like Transparency International’s public procurement analysis to cutting-edge private-sector FCPA compliance programs implemented by Ernst & Young. TI has blogged about Big Data and corruption, with titles like “Can Big Data Solve the World’s Problems, Including Corruption?” and “The Potential of Fighting Corruption Through Data Mining.” Ernst & Young’s conclusion is more definite: “Anti-Corruption Compliance Now Requires Big Data Analytics.”

In previous posts, contributors to this blog have written about how the anticorruption community was excited about social media-style apps (“crowdsourcing”) in anticorruption efforts. Apps like iPaidABribe allow citizens to report their encounters with corrupt officials, generating a fertile data set for anticorruption activists. Big Data is a related effort: activists can mine huge amounts of data for patterns that reveal corrupt activity, making it a powerful tool for transparency. However, as the name suggests, Big Data requires massive amounts of data in order to be useful.The anticorruption community should throw its weight behind proposals to open up data sets for Big Data analysis. As with crowdsourced anticorruption efforts, the excitement surrounding Big Data could quickly turn into disappointment unless this tool can be integrated into the broader anticorruption effort. Continue reading

Guest Post: Evaluations Can Reduce Corruption Costs–If You Let Them!

Jesper Johnsøn, a Senior Adviser at the the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre who leads the Centre’s “evaluation and measurement” theme, contributes the following guest post:

In development policy jargon, a “program evaluation” is a systematic and objective assessment of an ongoing or completed project or policy, including its design, implementation, and results. Very few aid agencies have incorporated corruption considerations into their standard program evaluations–despite the fact that these same agencies have focused heavily on corruption measurement (as a separate endeavor) since the mid-1990s. This is a mistake: A good evaluation should include consideration of corruption, given that program success can be threatened by waste, leakage, and outright theft of resources, and also that evaluations can be useful tools for corruption risk management, accountability, and learning about how to build better anticorruption mechanisms. Part of the explanation for the failure to integrate corruption considerations into program evaluation may be the difficulty of rigorously measuring corruption levels and impact, yet as I have argued elsewhere, this difficulty should not be used as an excuse for not evaluating anticorruption efforts systematically.

Aid organizations can and should incorporate corruption issues into their standard evaluation policies. But not all program evaluators are anticorruption experts, and so the anticorruption community needs to provide more guidance on how to integrate anticorruption analysis into program evaluation. This is one of the things we are trying to do at U4. Based on our work, and helpful discussions with other experts, here are some suggestions for how this can be achieved: Continue reading

Is Going Local the Answer? OxFam America’s New Report: “To Fight Corruption, Localize Aid”

In a new report on U.S. foreign assistance, To Fight Corruption, Localize Aid, OxFam America urges radical changes in the way the United States helps developing nations combat corruption.  Providing funds to strengthen anticorruption agencies, write new laws, and other traditional “top-down, donor-driven methods of fighting corruption” have had little impact on corruption the American member of the international Oxfam confederation asserts.  U.S. aid should thus be redirected to “locally driven approaches” to fighting corruption.  By this the report means U.S. assistance would go directly to “local change agents” so that they could “tackle institutional challenges, including corruption, in their towns, cities, and countries.”

The rhetoric of a community-based, “bottom up” approach to fighting corruption has an appealing ring, and the report showcases successful efforts to combat corruption at the local level in Guatemala, Liberia, and the Philippines to support its claims.  But a closer reading of these stories, and of the report itself, shows that the rhetoric outstrips the reality.

Continue reading

New DfID Report: Few Donor-Supported Anticorruption Policies Effective

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development released a new report February 25 summarizing the learning on corruption in developing nations and how to combat it.  Why Corruption Matters: Understanding Causes, Effects and How to Address Them was commissioned to help donor agency staff who advise on anticorruption policies and to assist in the design of programs to control corruption.  As its title advertises, the report examines three issues: the causes of corruption; its costs, both financial and non-financial; and what measures reduce it.  Those searching for what developing nations can do to fight corruption will turn immediately to chapter 5, “Anticorruption Measures,” which evaluates a variety of different efforts to control corruption from ratifying UNCAC to reforming customs and tax agencies to conducting public expenditure tracking surveys.

Readers looking for new steps developing countries can take to control corruption or confirmation that the standard approaches are working will be disappointed.  Few interventions have had any effect, and with one exception, the evidence showing these have had an impact is thin.

Continue reading