“We can only achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if every nation has strong, transparent and inclusive institutions, based on the rule of law and supported by the public.” – UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.
One of the greatest factors that threatens to undermine social and economic development is corruption.
International Anti-Corruption Day
Corruption is never far from the headlines. And it is a crime from which no country is immune. In recent months, Saudi Arabia has launched a major anti-corruption drive, resulting in hundreds of detainments and the appropriation of billions of dollars of funds; in Malta, three men have recently been charged with the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia; and, around the world, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimate that in developing countries, monies lost to corruption equate to 10 times what the same countries receive in official development assistance.
To highlight these factors, the United Nations has designated 9 December as International Anti-Corruption Day.
Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme
A team lead by Professor Mushtaq Khan, Professor of Economics at SOAS University of London and supported by Dr Antonio Andreoni, Senior Lecturer in Economics at SOAS and Dr Pallavi Roy, Lecturer in International Economics at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS, has been awarded a £6 million contract by the Department for International Development (DFID) to lead research on tackling corruption in developing countries.
Dr Roy outlines the role and scope of the programme:
How was the Anti-Corruption Evidence programme first established?
“DFID anti-corruption programmes, like those of other international development partners, have been closely aligned with the attempt to achieve ‘good governance’ in developing countries through top-down system-wide reforms. These reforms aimed to improve the rule of law and increase accountability and transparency across government. Academic research pointed out the limited achievements of these reforms, and in 2012 DFID commissioned its own review. The review concluded that the evidence suggested that only two types of interventions were effective—public finance management reforms and support for supreme audit institutions—and even here the evidence was mixed. It further concluded that more ‘operationally relevant’ research was required to help build evidence of what worked and what was needed, and especially to understand corruption in the private sector and to understand interdependencies between different anti-corruption interventions.
“The ACE programme was a result of these findings and it attempts to build an evidence base that actually informs the types of anti-corruption measures that would work in specific contexts. The ACE programme has a grants component managed by the British Academy and a research consortium led by SOAS to build this evidence base.”
Can you describe the aims of the programme?
“The SOAS-ACE component operates with a large number of research partners in three countries, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Tanzania and we plan to generate high-quality research that will identify context-specific and policy-relevant anti-corruption strategies that in turn will lead to better functioning economies and more transparent societies in our three focus countries. The touchstone of our research is to identify feasible and high-impact interventions as we now know that ‘big-bang’ reforms are unlikely to succeed in the contexts of most developing country polities. Our research supports incremental sectoral anti-corruption reforms, because we believe that by making a large number of productive sectors work better we will create the conditions for broad and effective social support for rule of law reforms and greater transparency in governance.”
And how does this translate into day-to-day work?
“At a day to day level we translate the framework into actionable elements. We first develop a working hypothesis about how some types of corruption operate within a particular sector, say the power generation sector in Bangladesh, and why we think some combination of measures could achieve a mitigation of specific corruption problems and achieve more productive outcomes. We do this by speaking to a broad swathe of stakeholders in the sector and in broader society and by going through past research on the sector. We then carry out our own research, which includes collecting evidence to validate or modify our hypothesis.”
“Finally, we take the results of the research to governments and development partners like DFID and the World Bank and demonstrate why their development programmes should be informed by our findings.”
“The distinctive part of the SOAS-ACE research is that we do not rely entirely on enforcement to achieve anti-corruption. We believe that viable solutions need to be designed so that productive stakeholders in the sector including businesses can be productive and profitable at the same time without violating the relevant rules by engaging in corruption.”
Why has the focus of the programme been on Bangladesh, Nigeria and Tanzania?
“These three countries receive very high levels of support from DFID. Both the Tanzanian and Nigerian governments have been elected on strong anti-corruption mandates and Bangladesh faces governance challenges if it is to sustain high growth and provide jobs for its large population. Within these countries, we have selected sectors like power generation, labour-intensive manufacturing and skills development that are priority areas in a wide range of countries.”
Identifying evidence of corruption sounds like potentially dangerous work. What range of responses do you receive?
“Our programme is not about identifying acts of corruption to prosecute or blame individuals.”
“We want to understand the systemic factors that induce individuals and businesses who would not otherwise have been corrupt to engage in corruption.”
“By finding solutions that can allow productive businesses and individuals to make a profitable living without engaging in corruption, we aim to attack the ‘culture’ of toleration for many types of corruption that pervades many countries. The responses we have received so far across both the private and public sector is that if incentives can be changed in a manner that makes being productive more advantageous, the organizations that still engage in corrupt practices could be effectively targeted. This type of anti-corruption directly supports development outcomes. This is not an aim that people would normally oppose! Clearly, we are not addressing all types of corruption immediately, for instance the predatory corruption that involves powerful mafias engaging in extortion. It is important to understand that if we try to tackle all types of corruption at the same time and with the same policy instruments, we may fail to achieve anything. To be effective we have to find practical and implementable solutions for types of corruption that can be addressed to achieve immediate improvements in development outcomes.”
How will your research produce practical change?
“Our research takes as its starting point the political settlements of our countries so that we do not end up suggesting policy changes that have little chance of being implemented. We aim to identify opportunities for policy changes that improve development outcomes by reducing damaging types of corruption, and which will be supported by powerful players within sectors. The design of the research means we have a much better chance of getting our suggestions translated into meaningful incremental policy changes. The extent to which that happens will, of course, depend on the response of development partners and governments. We are, however, very optimistic because there is a great desire on all sides to show achievable results on anti-corruption and achieve better development outcomes.”
What is the ultimate goal?
“Across developing countries, achieving better development outcomes is a very high priority. Our anti-corruption measures promise improved developmental outcomes across sectors. The ultimate goal is to achieve enough incremental changes over time and across sectors to sustain inclusive growth and create a growing number of productive organizations who will be able to effectively support ambitious rule of law reforms.”
Want to learn more?
The Department of Economics at SOAS offer both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Development Economics.
BSc Development Economics offers students a thorough grounding in economic theory, analysis and policy, while studying the economics of a wide range of developing and emerging countries.
Students on the MSc Development Economics programme will complete courses on macroeconomics, microeconomics, econometrics and growth and development, plus have the chance to take a range of modules to study the economics of specific regions.
Find out more
- Check out Economics programmes at SOAS
- Discover more about the work of the Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme
- Find out more about ACE on the programme’s website