According to Transparency International, a global anti-corruption coalition, sixty-eight percent of the world countries has a serious corruption problem and this includes half of G20. More than six billion people live in countries with serious corruption issues. The Corruption Perceptions Index is a global indicator of public sector corruption, providing an annual level of corruption by ranking countries. The characteristics of the countries which score well are countries with liberal open democracies with an independent judiciary and a free press. At the same time, corruption can be defined from several different perspectives.
In Nepal, customary homebirths pose significant risks to health; approximately six women die per day in childbirth. To combat this, the Nepalese government created a program that provides women a small monetary incentive should they give birth in a hospital. In one district, local officials reported a list of fake mothers to the government and kept the money for themselves. A local whistleblower reached out to Transparency International, which publicized the story to the media. Fearing a public scandal, the officials returned the money to the state, which was reallocated to the expectant mothers. The issue prompted both the Nepalese government and local actors to maintain heightened awareness of public sector corruption.
In this conversation, we seek to discuss tactics for illuminating issues of and advancing the cause for good governance, protection for whistle-blowers, and the necessary tools for developing successful advocacy efforts. We additionally shared successful examples of combating corruption.
The role of civil society in combating corruption
One respondent said that the most successful anticorruption efforts have commitment from political leaders as well as public support. Global evidence has shown that civil society has played an active role in promoting participatory government and holding government accountable. NGOs are often viewed as the institutions least affected by corruption by citizens according to Global Corruption Barometer. The respondent also suggested that civil societies, in partnership with government and private sector actors, should work on raising awareness not only to combat corruption, but to build integrity. The impact of civil society on strengthening democracy, reducing corruption and increasing state responsiveness is increasingly recognized. Exemplary examples that show a strong partnership between civil society and government can be found from projects like Integrity Watch in Afghanistan and books like Curtailing Corruption: People Power for Accountability and Justice (a must read for all anti-corruption practitioners – according to the respondent). Some of the other respondents provided further evidence of the importance of the engagement of citizens in partnership with government. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an organization in India, has organized public hearings to expose acts of corruption, which allows citizens to publicly challenge officials the difference between certain promises and the reality.
Civil society can be empowered by people, who are able to accelerate the process of the civil society legislation. One respondent suggested three main dynamics of people power in the corruption context: disrupting, applying and engaging. Nowadays, digital resistance is an easy way to recruit support from citizens. For example, in Brazil, the movement against Electoral Corruption Coalition collected 1.6 million signatures to introduce the Ficha Limpa legislation to the Brazilian Congress, which prohibits candidates from taking office if they have been convicted of corruption crimes. One respondent added some other valuable ways to leveraging citizen power for demanding accountability and combatting corruption.
Besides exposing corruption in the first place, tracing the money flow is another effective way. Plenty of institutions and individuals participate in a “shadow” financial system that helps hide, move and launder illicit financial flows. Panama Papers, the largest single data leak, uncovered a world of illicit finance, law firms taking on suspect clients and shadowy shell companies across countries. A recommendation made by one respondent was that civil society should monitor the public spending, private and public sector interactions and transactions. Organizations such as Global Witness are seeking to expose the architecture of such financial schemes.
However, civil society also faces a number of obstacles in combating corruption. It is undeniable that potential conflict may exist between civil societies and governments. There has been a disturbing trend of governments seeking to limit the freedoms of NGOs that focus on anticorruption movements. One article published by United Nations News Center states that almost half the world’s states have implemented controls that affect tens of thousands of organizations across the globe. To combat the trend, Open Government Partnership uses a collaborative approach to make governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens, which has grown from 8 countries to the current 75 participating countries. Another problem is civil society’s limited access to information. Open Contracting Partnership has done a great job on improving access to information laws in countries so that governments can be held accountable.
At the same time, the credibility of some civil society organizations is perceived as fundamentally corrupt. Therefore, these organizations must reform themselves to gain the public’s trust. Fighting corruption takes demanding time and resources. Resource constraints such as lack of financial and human resources make some organizations become willing participants in a corrupt system. Besides, outside donor funding can sometimes be seen as funding to destabilize a country, which would make the organization be a target of governments. One solution is to implement new and creative forms of organized civil society, such as hybrid organizations. For example, Accountability Lab and Rhize work as “co-creator” with regular citizen to promote their transparency and credibility. Furthermore, new approaches for donors to interact with civil society organizations are proposed in resources like Aid to Civil Society: A movement Mindset.
Whistleblowing is the report by an employee or former employee of illegal, fraudulent or unethical activities by an employer. As an employee and former employee, whistleblowers have insider knowledge, which is important for the detection and prevention of fraud and corruption. “Tips” were the most common fraud detection method, according to the Association of Fraud Examiners in its Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse: 2016 Global Fraud Study.
However, the crucial role that whistleblowers play has not been widely recognized; they are often regarded as “snitches” and are being called derogatory names. Recognition of their crucial role is necessary for a robust protection for whistleblowers. One respondent emphasized the importance of whistle-blowers as an invaluable resource in combatting corruption. The Guardian shows that in South Africa, corporate crime identified by whistleblowing halved between 2007 and 2013, suggesting potential leakers may be deterred by the fear of detection.
Therefore, it is necessary to have a defined framework which stipulates the various steps needed to be taken. This ranges from simple steps to access the information in a safe manner to more involved processes for removal and relocation. It is important to have an exit option for a whistle-blower when the disclosed facts cannot be proved. For example, AfriLeaks, which aims to provide a secure channel to connect whistleblowers with investigative journalists, uses inbuilt encryption to help transfer information confidentially and keep leakers location secret. One of the world’s leading scholars in whistleblowing also highlighted the use of backfire to maximize the efficiency of whistleblowers.
Government should be responsible for placing a legislative and implementation framework, which enables monitoring by civil society. On its own part, civil society must use its collective platform to provide voice for the most vulnerable whistle-blowers. The private sector should have in place strong policies and practices, including incentives, in order to protect of whistle-blowers. At the same time, malicious complaints with no factual basis must be discouraged.
Community Integrity Building Guide
U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center
Publications on whistleblowing and suppression of dissent by Brian Martin
The Whistleblower’s Handbook: How to be an Effective Resister
Social Accountability: What Does the Evidence Really Say?
Connecting the Dots: Civil Society Policy Monitoring and Advocacy Strategies
Research Briefing: Getting Strategic:Vertically Integrated Approaches
Curtailing Corruption: People Power for Accountability and Justice
Word Bank: Most Common Red Flags
Tactical Example shared:
Why Should a Bridge be Built three Times in Afghanistan?
Building a campaign for the right to information and accountability
Open Contracting Partnership Examples
- How a volunteer project led to nation-wide procurement reform in Ukraine
- Bring governments and civil society closer together
- A new generation of action promises to open up government contracting in Africa
- How Budeshi can help Nigeria track public services and tackle corruption using open data
- Montreal: greater transparency of city contracts through open data & visualization
Open Contracting and Procurement In Slovakia
Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer
Mexico Wins: Anti-Corruption Reform Approved
Lessons from Civil Resistance for the Battle Against Financial Corruption
Look in-depth at all the contracts by an entity such as a public hospital in Chile
Highlight red flags in public procurement in Kosovo
Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA)
Community based monitoring work in Kenya, Palestine and Kyrgyzstan
The relationship between the CSO and citizens by Hussein Khalid
Panama Papers: a special investigation
Civil Society and Anti-Corruption Struggle in Nigeria
Anti-Corruption Struggles & Latin America’s New Wave of People Power
A billboard in Gulu, Uganda, reminds citizens to say no to corruption.
© 2015 Mark Brennan, MIT CITE, Courtesy of Photoshare