What To Do About Corruption

 Strategic Insights and Bipartisan Policy Solutions

 50 YEARS (1960) | Charting Our Future


OCT 15, 2010 

By Farha Tahir

Lauren recently posted about corruption in post-conflict contexts, providing some insight as to what constitutes corruption as well as some potential solutions to the problem. We’re going to take the discussion one step further to look at what specific policies can be implemented, what they require, and their potential shortcomings.

To review, corruption is essentially the abuse of power for private gain. While it takes several forms, a few stick out when looking at public sector corruption: patronage, legalistic conflict of interest, bureaucratic conflict of interest, theft, nepotism, and inconsistency with intended use. Among the challenges of corruption in societies is that it tends to result in lower growth (Mauro 1997).

And, while there’s no one solution to the problem of corruption, it is clear that enforcement matters. Regardless of how pervasive corruption may be, a clear anticorruption strategy can (and often does) change behavior (Fisman and Miguel 2006). The challenge, though, is to identify what types of enforcement mechanisms best constrain the specific types of corruption previously discussed. And, as with most areas of policy creation, context matters. Essentially, anticorruption policies should threaten officials just enough for them to recognize what they can lose by participating in corrupt behavior (Johnston 2005).

The solutions below are not appropriate for every context (particularly those that lack the political will to counter corruption), and must be amended based on a particular country’s socio-political reality.

Partial Amnesty

  • In the short-term, a system of partial amnesty purges the political sphere of corrupt actors. However, this strategy must be assertive and done with the clear statement that it is a one-time-only rule.
  • Partial amnesty reduces costs and creates instant victories. Rather than spending six months investigating cases, that time is spent prosecuting corrupt officials. It may, however, be a difficult sell to the broader population. As such, any explanation of the policy must include that it is a means of identification of the types of corrupt behavior that currently exist in order to develop effective long-term strategies to counter it.


Judicial Review

  • People are more likely to be corrupt when they lack mitigating circumstances or can argue against their actions being a clear violation of law.
  • A strong judiciary is a bedrock for a sound anticorruption strategy. This requires implementing a rigorous evaluation of the system, running background checks on current or potential judges, and reviewing case decisions and the system of judicial appointment.
  • While this certainly links to the goal of information collection and the determination of types of corruption present in the system, it does have its challenges. It will be a difficult political feat to suggest a complete review of judicial system, regardless of how important, largely due to the financial burden that comes with hiring staff and gaining access to review all the necessary information.

 Anti-Corruption Agency

  • The ideal anti-corruption agency would be structured to mirror the US Federal Reserve Bank: separate from the political system, but also accountable to it. The organization should be built not with political appointees, but anticorruption experts (staffed from outside the political sphere) who recognize the policy implications of corruption in a holistic sense. It should be granted the freedom to craft policies and initiatives, and recommend them to the legislature. It should also have the freedom to conduct investigations against those suspected of engaging in corrupt practices, and prosecute those against whom it finds evidentiary support.

 Performance Review

  • Instituting an annual performance review of all government agencies is a critical way of ensuring that work is being done, and done well, and promoting government transparency and accountability within the public sector. Conducting such reviews will identify red flags regarding corruption before they have drastic effects.
  • In order for this to be a feasible policy alternative, an administration would need to create a separate agency tasked simply with performance measurement and management, who will be completely independent, objective, and expert-driven.
  • What separates this alternative from an anticorruption agency is that it has a broader scope and mandate, reviewing all types of government agencies, and reviewing them not only for corruption-related matters, but to ensure they are functioning well as an agency in its own right.
  •  Though this would have a more significant cost associated with its creation and effective function, it would also tackle the root of the problem. While it would require some tweaking to be made politically-feasible (particularly to agency bureaucrats), it would provide a sustainable response to corruption.
CSIS Center for Strategic and International Studies
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