5 Sep 2017

Getting out of the corruption quagmire

Corruption is systemic in many countries, reforms are inefficient and donors are getting impatient. Are anti-corruption interventions effective at all? - Working with anti-corruption, it is easy to fall into a quagmire of despair, but there are many success stories. We tend to get the impression that all government officials and bureaucrats are crooks, but there are reform willing public officials everywhere. We need to target them, says Saul Mullard.

Saul Mullard recently started working as a senior advisor at CMI’s U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre. He comes to CMI with a background from the Strømme Foundation where he worked with integrating anti-corruption into mainstream development programmes and from having spent many years in field research in South Asia , where he frequently had to deal with corruption in practice.

-When corruption is systemic, it is difficult to curb. Fragile states like Afghanistan and South Sudan do not have a strong enough state nor civil society to properly and efficiently engage, says Mullard.

What works in anti-corruption?
The role of civil society and people’s engagement has been a research interest for Mullard, and he will continue to focus on this as leader of the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre’s ‘People’s engagement and civil society’ theme.

-There is undoubtedly a great potential in civil society as an actor in tackling corruption, but there are still important questions we need an answer to if we are to make sure that engaging civil society actors in anti-corruption work is going to be effective. What is it that makes ordinary citizens take on the task as activists? What kind of incentives work for them? It could be about personal gain, but it could also be a matter of people seeing themselves as responsible citizens, says Mullard.

He argues that a deep contextual analysis is a prerequisite for succeeding in anti-corruption work. NGOs and donors need to make more use of multidisciplinary teams with anthropologists and social scientists, and they have to include people on a local level.

-Being from the country in question is no guarantee of contextual knowledge. A consultant or researcher based in a capital city may know very little about the local conditions (including localized social relations, values and norms) poor people have to deal with in more remote or diverse areas, says Mullard.

He also stresses the importance of studying the incentives that can make powerholders want to engage in anti-corruption work. Spending time and effort identifying reform willing stakeholders in governments or crucial actors on a local and regional level may be worthwhile.

-A key question for policymakers has to be how they can shape different types of interventions based on which incentives will work for different groups, he says.

Tackling the corruption chain
For Mullard, tackling corruption is about tackling the entire chain, from the poor people at the bottom who are involved in corrupt practices because it is a matter of necessity and sustenance, to the economic and political elite on the top who fill their pockets. Working at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre and CMI provides exactly this opportunity for tackling the entire chain of corruption, according to Mullard.

- If I as a researcher or practitioner only look at one specific sector in isolation, I will get nowhere. We need to think innovatively about anti-corruption, and a multidisciplinary working environment makes this easier. The U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre and CMI represent a wealth of experience and knowledge, and allow for real multidisciplinary thought to occur. This helps us to see corruption as a whole as opposed to something that happens in isolated sectors. And seeing corruption as a whole is what helps us develop effective strategies, says Mullard.


Welcome to the U4 Anti-Corruption Centre and CMI, Saul!