Politically Informed Approaches to Anti-Corruption

Corruption across the extractives value chain has been a widespread and enduring challenge.  Indeed, according to Transparency International, extractive industries are among the most corruption prone business sectors worldwide. Attempting to address the governance problems that enable, and are exacerbated by, corruption had been a central concern animating the work of those working to improve the governance of extractive industries.

Anti-corruption efforts in extractive industries and beyond have largely focused on promoting greater transparency, accountability, and participation (TAP), strengthening regulatory frameworks, building institutions, or advocating for norms and standards related to these. However, practitioners and academics increasingly recognize that the field’s work on anti-corruption has yielded limited results, often failing to achieve substantive progress toward actually reducing corruption. Instead, marginal changes (e.g., increases in transparency) have been produced in the operating environment and occasional successes have been achieved in detecting and/or prosecuting corrupt acts without meaningfully improving outcomes systemwide. 

There are no doubt multiple factors contributing to the perceived shortcomings of anti-corruption efforts, as well as various hypotheses about how to advance more effective anti-corruption work moving forward. Some experts focus on a need for better technical guidance and institutional resources for identifying, measuring, and combating corruption. Others see improved technological tools as critical to improving the performance of existing approaches to anti-corruption (e.g., by making corruption easier to detect and exposing corrupt acts to a wider audience). Alongside the above, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests there are factors other than formal institutions, technical acumen, and capacity that determine outcomes of TAP initiatives in anti-corruption—namely politics, power, incentives and political systemic dynamics. All of the preceding economic and political factors have a major influence on the actions and choices key actors make when shaping the trajectory and fate of anti-corruption reforms. Yet, considerations about the interests and incentives of influential stakeholders—and the extent to which they might propel or block different strategies—have rarely been systematically factored into the design and implementation of anti-corruption programs. 

If improving the impact of anti-corruption approaches is a priority, then technocratic and normative approaches must be complemented by work that squarely and systematically engages with political concerns. To begin the process of doing this at a field level, CCSI collaborated with the Anti-Corruption Evidence programs hosted by Global Integrity (GI-ACE) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS-ACE). With each, CCSI co-convened a day-long meeting to explore what more politically informed approaches to anti-corruption efforts might entail:

  • “Advancing Anti-Corruption in the Extractive Industries through a Political Economy Lens,” in Washington DC, December 5, 2019, co-hosted with GI-ACE
  • “From Principles to Action: Putting Political Economy to Work for More Effective Anti-Corruption Approaches in the Extractives Sector,” in London, January 28, 2020, co-hosted with SOAS-ACE

The fifty or so influential practitioners and academics who participated across the two meetings came from international and national NGOs, international financial institutions, private foundations, media, think tanks, private sector, and government, covering a range of geographies. In both cases, the focus of the discussions was on developing and exploring practical ideas for more politically informed approaches to anti-corruption in the extractive industries, heavily grounded in the experiences and needs of participants.