By Fredrik Galtung, President
The Independent Commission on Aid Impact has conducted an assessment of DFID’s anti-corruption work from a pro-poor perspective. There have been numerous evaluations of anti-corruption efforts in recent years, but this is the first that I’m aware of that looks at the issue explicitly from the viewpoint of the poor.
DFID has historically been one of the international development partners that has taken governance generally and anti-corruption specifically most seriously. Few others donors have had as much influence on international aid policy and on the complex web of international norms - such as the UN Convention Against Corruption - as DFID has. DFID has supported dozens of NGOS, anti-corruption agencies, judicial reform projects, auditors general, media projects, and other oversight efforts over the years. Many other donors still treat development as if the challenge is primarily monetary or technical. DFID was a pioneer in recognising the central role of governance to make development work.
To the extent that DFID recognises that “Corruption is a fundamental issue that afflicts the everyday lives of the very poorest and thwarts global efforts to lift countries out of poverty” - what has DFID achieved? That is the question the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI) is asking.
ICAI identifies a number of shortcomings and assesses DFID’s efforts to advance anti-corruption from a pro-poor perspective with a rating of Amer-Red meaning that the performance is “relatively poor” and requires “significant improvements.” Among the most damning findings is that police stations meant to serve as models of exemplary conduct were “as bad as - if not worse than - other police stations” when it came to corruption.
As might be expected, the British media has responded negatively to the findings, from a fairly matter-of-fact reporting in The Guardian to a stinging piece full of misrepresentations in The Daily Mail (which is even worse when you take in over 1,000 readers comments). The British government has ring-fenced aid at a time when many other budgets are cut back. The UK Independence Party calls for the aid budget to be cut by 85%. There is never a good timing for such a report but, quite honestly, it would be difficult to come up with a much worse time.
The response of some journalists - and clearly many members of the public - is that these findings are an invitation to cut back aid very significantly. If even anti-corruption projects can sometimes be corrupted, what hope is there of aid doing any good? That reaction - while understandable - would be a grave mistake. Yes, some aid is wasted. And, yes, more could be done to improve the impact of aid. But millions of people are better off as a result of development assistance and anyone who cares can read other ICAI reports that demonstrate that this is the case. It just happens to be that corruption is an especially difficult beast to tame. Corruption is mentioned in the Torah, the Bible and the Quran. So it’s been around for an awfully long time. It’s naive to think that we can eliminate it. But we can do better.
ICAI has made five recommendations, which are entirely sensible:
Recommendation 1: DFID, in conjunction with the FCO and other UK Government departments, should articulate and implement a detailed plan setting out the level of ambition, commitment and positioning of the UK with respect to tackling corruption in its priority countries, including as experienced by the poor.
OUR VIEW: This debate should engage other development partners, especially those the UK works closely with, like Norway, Sweden, Germany, Australia and the World Bank. But prior consultations should also involve development NGOs and above all key stakeholders from developing countries. An open consultation with partners both in and out of government across the countries the UK works most closely with will generate many constructive ideas and suggestions. But the process needs to be open and it must indeed recognise that anti-corruption requires a top-to-bottom rethink if it is to reach and benefit the poor.
Recommendation 2: DFID should develop standalone anti-corruption country strategies and, in addition to its current activities, programming that explicitly tackles corruption and that extends over a 10- to 15-year time horizon with short-, medium- and long-term goals for reducing corruption, particularly with respect to the poor.
OUR VIEW: Support to anti-corruption only represents a small fraction of the UK’s development assistance. By one estimate it is 0.22% of DFID’s overall budget. When corruption foments revolutions and undermines development across so many countries there is a very strong case to make that this is far too little - not too much. But these resources need to be spent better. Anti-corruption requires interventions that are longer-term.
Recommendation 3: DFID should include in its expanded anti-corruption portfolio many more programmes which specifically target the everyday corruption experienced by the poor and educate the population about the ill effects of corruption.
OUR VIEW: That has been a long-standing weakness. The best of anti-corruption learning has not been systematically integrated in programming. It cannot function well as a standalone effort in countries with weak institutions. It will produce far more impact when it is well integrated in and with other efforts.
Recommendation 4: DFID should gather and publish targeted and dynamic feedback from the stakeholders of its anti-corruption work, including the intended beneficiaries, to allow DFID to ‘spot check’ and correct its existing programmes and to inform new programming.
OUR VIEW: A focus on results can be captured by the “fix-rate” for example. The use of the fix-rate would have instilled a culture of learning and would have given evidence to both DFID and country stakeholders at a much earlier stage an indication of what is working and what isn’t. It is not too late to do this.
Recommendation 5: DFID should create an internal embedded centre of excellence explicitly to focus on anti-corruption and to gather evidence of effectiveness, disseminate lessons learned and cultivate expertise that will drive anti-corruption efforts globally.
OUR VIEW: That’s a reasonable proposal, but it will only have real value if it is implemented and done after the above four recommendations are already well on track. On its own such a centre risks being “academic” (with apologies to our academic friends) and detached from insights, learning and priorities on the ground.