Supporting parliaments to combat corruption

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Supporting parliaments to combat corruption

January 10th, 2020

Corruption is detrimental to development. As awareness of this fact has grown, strategies to fight corruption have become a priority in international development and policy circles. But there is no one size fits all approach to combating corruption and attempts to do so must be context specific. Indeed, the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report in 2014 called for more country-specific corruption analysis and strategies.  

Tackling corruption where it is endemic takes a long time and a concerted effort. DFID’s anti-corruption country strategies, which used to cover three years, now have a five-year timeframe. A House of Commons inquiry on DFID’s anti-corruption work recommended a timescale of ten years. 

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) works in many countries with high levels of corruption. As WFD aims at more adaptive programming, we need to use a framework on working politically to combat corruption. Within such a framework, those relevant to our programming with a stake in the fight against corruption are parliaments, civil society, political parties, and independent oversight institutions.  

Building the capability of oversight institutions such as parliamentary committees, an Office of the Auditor General, and civil society organisations is vital.  

Parliaments can develop four focused work streams  to reduce corruption.  

  1. Parliaments can enact legislation to regulate campaign and party financing (the “cost of politics”), tackle corruption and money laundering, ensure the protection of whistle blowers, and enhance transparency. Parliaments can conduct corruption proofing of significant bills, as a new preventive tool 
  2. Parliaments can establish codes of conduct and ethics to guide their members on their conduct, to explain the appropriate legislative behaviour and to establish sanctions for breaches of the code. For instance, the reports of the Council of Europe’s Group of Countries Against Corruption (GRECO) provide useful country-specific guidance. Parliaments can set up ethics committees to clarify ethical dilemmas and to administer the code’s implementation. As the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) have highlighted in the context of the UK, parliaments need a transparent system on their own finances, including MP’s remuneration. 
  3. Parliaments can contribute to curbing corruption by effectively performing their oversight role, as highlighted by prof. Rick Stapenhurst, Rasheed Draman and Anthony Staddon. By holding the government to account for its actions and policies and its budget and expenditures, parliaments are the cornerstone of any system of accountability. Parliaments can evaluate the implementation and impact of anti-corruption, anti-bribery and integrity legislation through Post-Legislative Scrutiny 
  4. Parliaments can establish a functioning relationship with independent oversight institutions which have a role in anti-corruption efforts, such as Supreme Audit Institutions, Human Rights Commissions or Ombudsperson Institutions, Civil Service Commissions and Anti-Corruption Agencies. As indicated in the relevant WFD publication, an effective relationship between parliament and independent oversight institutions has (at least) five dimensions: shaping the legal framework on the mandate of the institution, ensuring merit-based and timely appointments in the leadership of the institution, following up on annual and other reports of the institution, ensuring a sufficient budget for the independent functioning of the institution, and contributing to public information and support for its work.

CSOs play a substantial role in an effective approach to combatting corruption. For instance, through a more structured engagement with parliaments by providing information and evidence and exercising a critical watch-dog role on the implementation of the four above-mentioned sets of actions 

However, anti-corruption interventions are likely to be effective only if accompanied by an overall political approach which goes beyond capacity building and technical knowledge. The political approach needs to look at incentives and pressure points to nurture a shift towards more accountability and will require thinking about indirect strategies.  

Politicians and other stakeholders who are engaged in corruption won’t change behaviour because they’ve seen the light, but because they feel the heat. As US diplomat George P. Kent stated colourfully: You can’t fight corruption without pissing off corrupt people. 

DFID’s former senior policy advisor on anti-corruption, Phil Mason, developed a new policy framework for WFD’s anti-corruption programming. It takes stock of the theoretical and empirical approaches on how to diagnose and fight corruption and promote integrity. It puts forward political economy analysis (PEA) tools and strategies to win the support of the bulk of key leaders who can help overcome the inevitable opposition of vested interests. It discusses how ‘technical’ solutionslike as asset declarations for MPscan be more effective when aligned with political incentives, such as CSO or media exposure that changes politicians’ calculations on transparency, thus maximizing the effect of ‘formal’ control mechanisms.  

In the forthcoming two blog posts, Phil Mason will elaborate on the new approach to parliament’s role in anti-corruption. 

Franklin De Vrieze is Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s senior governance adviser.

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