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Corruption and Anti-corruption

Time (GMT +00) 12:30 14:00


John Githongo, former Permanent Secretary for Governance & Ethics in the Government of Kenya and currently Senior Associate Member, St Anthony's College, University of Oxford.


Bryane Michael, University of Oxford


Simon Maxwell, Director, ODI

Simon Maxwell began by saying corruption has recently become very visible on the political agenda. He cited Hilary Benn's speech on aid architecture in which he said Wolfowitz's zero-tolerance stance on corruption should be balanced with a willingness to build countries' problem-solving capacity.

John Githongo began by thanking ODI for the invitation. There were 3 parts to his presentation:

  1. Context setting on multi-party politics and the corruption issue;

  2. The anti corruption strategies implemented in Africa since the end of the 1980s;

  3. The lessons learned from anti-corruption strategies.

First, 33 countries in Africa adopted multi-party politics in the 1990s. In 22 of these, the old party won the elections which shows the patronage systems' strength. The other 11 countries voted out the old regime, but of these 11, civil strife occurred in five within two years of the elections. Corruption emerged as a key issue on the global agenda in the mid 1990s. The IMF began to suspend assistance on the grounds of poor governance.

The second part of Githongo's presentation focused on the elements of the anti-corruption strategies put in place from the mid 1990s. He said that these are now being challenged. The elements include:

  1. Political will - the strategy must be implemented from the top;

  2. Implementation of broad institutional reform;

  3. Legislative reform. This is to facilitate institutional reform. It includes defining corruption, setting up anti-corruption agencies, defining conflict of interest and legislation which can freeze and recover illegally acquired assets;

  4. A recognition by the government of the role of civil society and a free media as mobilisers of public opinion on corruption;

  5. Understanding the role of private sector which sees bribes as just another tax.

  6. Dealing with transitional justice in countries where a new administration is taking power without overwhelming current institutions;

  7. A range of regional and international instruments from the UN, OECD, African Union and NEPAD.

The third part of the presentation dealt with the lessons learnt. As an introduction, Githongo pointed out that Transparency International started in 1993; there has been a decade of efforts on corruption. He asked if there is an excessive focus on corruption, pointing out that there are many other problems countries face. He added that countries can achieve high economic growth even with high levels of corruption.

He also said the issue of corruption and anti-corruption has become politicised in Africa. Githongo said he thinks this has happened because of the heterogeneous and unequal societies in Africa. The perception that the government is corrupt easily takes hold, creates a crisis and is difficult to change. However, he pointed out the confusion between incompetence and corruption is common.

Githongo outlined the following lessons:

  1. National security and procurement is the last refuge of the corrupt because of the secrecy in this area. The grand corruption exists here. The service sector in the west is crucial in ending this type of corruption because of where the siphoned off money ends up.

  2. A need for more discussion of the crisis in political party finance. A few powerful financiers have a presence in many countries. The question of who pays for democracy has not been answered. He asked where countries should get the resources to finance elections; if corruption finances democracy; if politicians are trapped in a situation where they must raise funds and do so by, for example, accepting funds from companies in the extractive industries. He noted that African parties must have corruption on their agenda if they want a chance at winning.

  3. A need to tackle the root problem of the failure of the prosecuting authorities to deal with the corrupt. Anti-corruption initiatives emerged as a response to this failure but do not tackle the root cause.

  4. Restitution is more important than prosecution in the anti-corruption fight. This would be a stronger disincentive to being corrupt.

  5. There are major challenges for development partners. Should they continue to give aid in a corrupt environment? Githongo pointed out that partners need to be versatile as the administrations they work with can change with elections every 5 years. There are many more stakeholders now that in the past that can influence opinion at country and global level.

Maxwell asked Githongo if he thinks there has been too much emphasis on corruption. Githongo replied that he doesn't but that how corruption is dealt with should change because it is central to development in unequal societies.

Bryane Michael spoke about his experience working on anti-corruption programmes for the World Bank. He distinguished two types: the hardline liberalisation programmes and the civil society strengthening programmes which are popular with NGOs and Transparency International. The World Bank undertook second type in Uganda in 1997. It was underfunded and agreed actions were not carried out. Incentive compatibility and structural challenges were not taken into account.

He said corruption and patronage are inseparable in the administration. Corruption sucks resources into the administration and patronage makes the administration function.

A possible solution is to work on political parties, via civil society and bilateral funders, to make anti-corruption attractive to political parties because having it in their manifesto will get them elected. In addition, creating an anti-corruption industry makes it more profitable to work on anti-corruption efforts than to take bribes. A priority for Sub-Saharan Africa is macroeconomic reform in public administration.

Maxwell posed the following questions for the discussion: Why does corruption happen? Because of incentives, underfunding or is it innate? Does corruption matter? What should be done about it? Points covered in the discussion included the following:

  • Are donors in a trap? The drive for results leads to larger projects in which donors compromise on corruption to achieve results. What does this mean for conditionality?

  • Is the zero tolerance approach to corruption too extreme? The evidence from East Asia is that fast growth can occur alongside some corruption.

  • Corruption is innate. The system creates expectations that people in positions of authority will be corrupt. Githongo replied that tolerance of corruption is declining. Michael replied that the impact of corruption is more important than the definition.

  • The anti corruption initiatives and agencies are just political tools.

  • There are different types of corruption which entail different incentives. Githongo agreed and outlined 3 types: petty, grand and looting. Petty corruption is morally ambiguous. Is it justified if it makes democracy work? Grand corruption occurs in public procurement processes and revenue collection. Looting is politically driven corruption, used to bribe opponents and pay for political campaigns or on procurement processes where no goods or services are delivered at all and the resources go offshore. It undermines public confidence in institutions. Crucially the person most likely to get caught and punished is the one involved in petty corruption. Michael added that budgetary support from donors feeds corruption.

  • The development agencies' focus on getting results must lead to less corruption and more efficiency. Should the approach be to require minimum standards before agencies get involved or to work with any country that is willing to reduce corruption? Githongo replied it is important for development partners to have a bottom line on corruption, established on a case by case basis, but which creates accountability in politics. Michael responded there have to be penalties for corruption.

  • Donors should talk politics more seriously in countries. What do donors do if anti-
    corruption commissions are politically adopted? Should diplomats speak out? Githongo replied it depends what the people on the street want. The media and access to the Internet are changing people's ways of thinking about corruption and tolerance is declining.

  • What is money being used for in elections? What does this tell us about election processes? Githongo replied only about 25% goes on the campaign. The rest goes into the pockets of individual leaders. Patronage is widespread, especially on an ethnic basis. In Kenya, generalised spending doesn't necessarily gain a candidate votes but the same amount of money given to the right people will bring in votes.

  • The philosophical question of whether people are inherently good or evil influences the approach to solving corruption.

  • Should politics be a part of the multilaterals' mandate?

  • Corruption in education in Mozambique. There is a difference between teachers being bribed to give classes or to pass students.

  • Impunity is not taken seriously enough. Githongo responded that he is confident this issue will start to get taken more seriously.
    -What does it feel like to be involved in this anti-corruption crusade? Githongo humorously replied that it has its ups and downs. He said Kenyans are very clear in their thinking about corruption.


The seventh meeting in the '(Re)building Developmental States: From Theory to Practice' series focussed on corruption and anti-corruption.