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Rethinking anti-corruption strategy: matching policies to context – a book review

Written by Guest on Monday, 20 January 2014

What ‘really works’ in fighting corruption? Laurence Cockroft reviews Professor Dan Hough, Director of the Sussex Centre for Anti-Corruption’s book ‘Corruption, Anti-corruption and Governance’.

What ‘really works’ in fighting corruption? Laurence Cockroft reviews Professor Dan Hough, Director of the Sussex Centre for Anti-Corruption’s book ‘Corruption, Anti-corruption and Governance’.

I’ve been reading a new book, Corruption Anti-Corruption and Goverance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) by Prof. Dan Hough, Director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex. Hough tries to answer the question: under what conditions do which kinds of anti corruption strategy work? His approach is based on a recognition that strategies have to vary according to national contexts and that what might work where corruption levels are high will probably not work where corruption levels are at a medium or low level. The origin of the question and the approach lie in a recognition that the international anti corruption agenda at least as perceived and driven by western analysts, donors and activists has tended to apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Initially focusing on a belief that economic liberalisation would minimise corruption the agenda moved on to a focus on ‘governance’ and has only gradually come to recognise the need for policies tailored to each national context. The book argues that even this approach has a long way to go.

Hough’s analysis is based on  three pairs of  ‘comparable countries’: Kenya and Bangladesh, Poland and South Korea and Germany and the UK. These are stimulating choices reflecting ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ levels of corruption. The national contexts around 2000 are defined by the World Governance Indicators (WGIs) of the World Bank Institute. The analysis then goes on to examine how the six countries, paired by these indicators, have fared in addressing corruption with particular reference both to changes in the WGI and to TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). These country choices are good because there are indeed significant differences within the pairs. Bangladesh (notwithstanding the current electoral crisis) has made significant strides in combating corruption at a time when Kenya made no significant progress measured by the ‘Controlling Corruption’ criterion on the WGI. Both South Korea and Poland made significant progress while Germany and the UK reversed their relative positions on the same basis.

While this approach is based on a heavy use of indices that can never be objectively accurate, Hough argues that they are robust enough to ask the question: what aspects of ‘strategy’ drove these changes? In the course of answering this he presents a varied and interesting set of facts and near-facts as an explanation. Highlights amongst the first pair include a good discussion of the role of the military backed regime in Bangladesh in 2007-8, a very positive account of the role of Transparency International Bangladesh and the failure of the various incarnations of anti corruption agencies in Kenya. Amongst the second pair they include the lasting impact of reforms led by President Kim Dae-Jung in South Korea between 1998 and 2003 and  the partially successful politicisation in Poland of anti-corruption by the Law and Justice Party (Psi) prior to taking power from 2005-7 (with mixed results). Amongst the third pair they include a good discussion of why Germany is still a laggard in relation to UNCAC, though a very effective prosecutor of corporate corruption, and why the UK is a latter day convert to both ‘hard’ and soft’ law but is perceived to have declining standards.

Whilst all this is good material it does not manage to ascribe progress where it has been made, to ‘strategy’ as opposed to ad hoc interventions or indeed to imperceptible changes in the cultural and ethical climate. Hough has found it difficult to draw the hard conclusions which he set out to identify: his final message is that there is a need for constant change in anti corruption agendas, adapted to country circumstances. I enjoyed the book and I admire the approach, but I am concerned that such a well considered analysis still does not allow us to explain ‘what really works’ in fighting corruption.


Laurence Cockcroft is a development economist who has worked for governments, international organizations, and private- and public-sector entities. He is a founding member of Transparency International and was formerly chairman of its UK chapter. Laurence is also the author of ‘Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World’.



Read 25186 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47


The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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