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Steps Towards an Anticorruption Strategy

Though the typology of corruption presented above provides a framework for tailoring individual anticorruption strategies to the particular pattern of corruption in different contexts, there are a number of cross-cutting principles that can be essential in operationalizing an effective strategy. They provide an operational framework for gaining a foothold to begin anticorruption work, building credibility behind an anticorruption strategy, and enhancing the sustainability of that strategy over time.


Common strategic challenges

The first challenge that all transition countries face in launching an anticorruption strategy is credible leadership. A serious anticorruption program cannot be imposed from the outside, but requires committed leadership from within, ideally from the highest levels of the state. Yet it is precisely the credibility of the state that is undermined by pervasive corruption, creating a potential vicious circle in which entry points for an anticorruption strategy are hard to find. Where presidents or prime ministers are unwilling to take up the challenge, leadership in strategic areas can come from a determined minister with the clout and resources to launch reforms in his or her area of responsibility or from a regional executive committed to change in a particular locality.  Building a demand for reform amongst the general public through diagnostic survey work (see below) can be an effective way of convincing the political leadership that serious anticorruption efforts will win them popular support.

The second challenge is finding an appropriate entry point for anticorruption work. Given the magnitude of the tasks faced in most of these countries, it is critical to begin at a point where the goals are feasible and tangible results can be realized within a time frame that builds support for further reforms. Small gains can provide essential levers to sway public and official opinion. Entry points should be chosen to tackle high profile problems that respond to public opinion or business dissatisfaction.

The third challenge is to develop a detailed diagnosis of the nature and extent of corruption in the particular country. Experience has already shown that domestic surveys of households, firms, and public officials can be a powerful tool in any anticorruption strategy. The purpose of such an exercise is to gain essential information about the nature of the corruption beyond the general categories analyzed in this report and to identify possible entry points (see below) into effective anticorruption work. The process of implementing surveys, running workshops, and developing a dialogue within civil society on the nature of the problem can play a major role in galvanizing support for an anticorruption strategy and building constituencies at various levels of the system.

Assessment of the political cultureii is the fourth challenge, in order to evaluate incentives and disincentives for change that will condition the feasibility of particular instruments of reform and the way they can realistically be sequenced in a particular country. Political culture relates to the way authority is exercised, and the extent to which power is narrowly concentrated or, alternatively, is disseminated across different institutions. It is also manifest in the way accountability mechanisms operate, whether through clientelism, such that the official feels accountable to a political patron or senior family member, or according to explicit rules. A further important component of political culture relates to the degree of trust that people feel in their institutions and in each other. Trust is also an important determinant of social capital and the capacity of communities to coordinate their efforts and act as effective participants in an anticorruption strategy.

The final challenge is maximizing leverage beyond the entry point. This depends on framing reforms to appeal to the incentives influencing important actors. Efforts should be made to design “win-win” anticorruption strategies that promote the interests and reputations of major politicians and businesspeople while delivering positive externalities such as enhancing economic growth, strengthening governance, or reducing poverty and inequality.


There is no simple formula for the proper sequencing of anticorruption reforms. Sequencing should be developed in response to the particular constraints identified in each country. Nevertheless, proper sequencing should be designed to enhance the credibility of leadership and to ensure early tangible results to strengthen the constituency for reform along the way.

In some countries, the credibility of an anticorruption strategy may rest on the capacity of the political leadership to make an initial, highly visible, and substantive change at a high level. This acts as an indicator of commitment at the top as well as a signal for those at lower levels that their behavior must change. In other countries, efforts to tackle state capture head-on at an early stage might be impossible or even dangerous for those involved. The only possible entry points, and the only potential early wins, may be in a particular sector, such as education, which is unlikely to invoke the wrath of powerful economic interests. Yet even in these cases, measures to tackle state capture and strengthen accountability cannot be postponed too long or their absence could ultimately undermine the credibility of both the strategy and its leadership.

Throughout the region, the first impulse in anticorruption work is often to crack down on offenders without trying to tackle the more fundamental causes of corruption. Although effective enforcement must be part of any credible strategy, enforcement alone is unlikely to constitute a successful strategy. In many countries, judicial and law enforcement institutions remain part of the problem, not the source of the solution. Prosecutions can be shelved. Judicial decisions can be bought or indefinitely delayed. Police may be working for private security forces rather than the public interest. In such cases, the enforcement approach could become an instrument for repression or political victimization. Sequencing should be designed to begin to tackle the incentives and institutions that favor corruption and to educate and raise awareness of the social costs of corruption. The ultimate goal is to shift towards increased reliance on shared norms and values, instead of inadequate enforcement measures.


The sustainability of an anticorruption strategy depends in any context on three key dimensions. First, it requires a critical mass of mutually reinforcing reforms that ultimately builds into a comprehensive program. Isolated islands of integrity can provide an entry point and a valuable demonstration effect but may only survive a short time before being swamped by corruption at other levels. In order to be mutually reinforcing, the strategy must also be balanced. This suggests a mix of corruption prevention and enforcement measures combined with substantial public involvement and education to strengthen the constituencies for reform.

Second, sustainability requires the eventual development of a broad coalition in support of the strategy. Though gaining entry to anticorruption work might require an initially narrow approach, any strategy that relies only on high-level leadership will be vulnerable to the many uncertainties of the political process. The strategic commitment to gain entry must be broadened to incorporate key state institutions and organizations within civil society. Small- and medium-sized enterprises, professional societies, trade associations, and labor unions can all serve as important partners in an anticorruption strategy. The development of a broad coalition will reduce the vulnerability of anticorruption strategies to leadership changes and ensure that politicians ignore the corruption issues at their peril.

Where civil society remains severely repressed or is emerging only slowly, a combination of fear and/or lack of familiarity with civic involvement may inhibit popular participation in an anticorruption strategy. The strategy will need to include a component that can accelerate its emergence by canvassing client groups, promoting collective action, giving voice to the poor, and setting up monitoring of government services at both national and sub-national levels. External donors can play a role in funding and supporting mechanisms of voice but should ensure that they do not dominate or pre-empt the development of authentic and autonomous participation, sustainably based in the community.

Finally, sustainability requires the resources and expertise to see often complicated reforms through to completion over the long haul as well as deliver the credible early results noted above. This implies a mix of short-term measures and adequately funded medium-term programs that can dig deeper into the underlying causes of corruption and build institutions that can resist it. Well-intentioned reforms that are not realistically backed with sufficient resources and expertise will backfire. Governments must assign budget resources as well as competent administrators to these programs. Civil society can only do so much on its own. Business associations and NGOs can help

identify priorities and can monitor results, but they cannot deploy the political will and resources of the state that ultimately are needed to reform the state and create the framework for transparent and competitive markets.


Designing, sequencing, and sustaining an anticorruption program pose tremendous challenges but not impossible ones.  Lessons of history and international experience suggest that countries have succeeded in addressing what had once appeared to be an intractable problem of endemic corruption.  As described in Box 6.1, the United States and the United Kingdom successfully reformed their public sectors in the nineteenth century. A number of countries in Latin America have successfully undertaken initial reforms, which could grow into more comprehensive programs. Evidence suggeststhat corruption has declined in countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore that have undertaken comprehensive and well-targeted reforms. These success stories demonstrate that progress comes slowly, not as a result of noisy anticorruption campaigns, but because of sustained commitment on the part of political leaders and pressure from society.

i This is largely taken from World Bank. 2000. Anticorruption in Transition. A Contribution to the Policy Debate. Washington, D.C., pp. 74-78.

ii This section draws on Philp (2000a and 2000b), Elster, Offe, and Preuss (1998), Holmes and Roszkowski (eds, 1997)), and World Bank Report, Making Transition Work for Everyone (2000).

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