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How Do We Solve a Problem Like Corruption?

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Joy Saunders from Integrity Action talks about how anti-corruption initiatives where citizens working together with government and corporations to build integrity have a higher success rate in terms of systematically designing out corruption.



Around USD $1 trillion a year, that’s the amount of money that is (conservatively) estimated to be lost each year due to corruption, fraud and mismanagement (BMZ, 2011). That’s an incomprehensible number, but it’s clear that this huge sum of money, if used effectively, could have a transformational impact on the world’s economy, but especially for the poor. In fact, USD $1 trillion is equivalent to the last 60 years development-related aid that has been transferred from rich countries to Africa (Moyo, 2009) – think about all the schools, free access to health care and clean drinking water that could be made available not only in Africa but globally from Armenia to the USA, if corruption was halved, or even eradicated!


We know that global corruption impacts poor people the most (Ki-Moon, 2009) (Corruption Watch, 2014). History teaches us that corruption is not just a case of public officials abusing their positions of power for private gain, but business managers, heads of families, religious leaders, the list goes on and on, have taken opportunities to abuse the power given to them for private gain (Pope, 2000). So how do we solve a problem like corruption?


Reviewing the rise of the anti-corruption movement, there is a clear business case supporting reform, various international standards implemented and enforced as well as more recently pro-integrity, citizen driven initiatives designed to combat corruption. So what does history tell us about the anti-corruption movement? What is working in the global fight against corruption? Well firstly, it tells us that corruption by its very nature is complex, multi-faceted and evolves quickly, so it’s a tough challenge to embark on. But one of the trends we see is that the most successful anti-corruption efforts have commitment from not only the politicians but also the general public. Anti-corruption initiatives where citizens, people like you and me, work together in partnership with government and corporations and take some responsibility for building integrity have a higher success rate in terms of systematically designing out corruption.


There is considerable global evidence on the active role organised citizens have played in reducing corruption and increasing the transparency, accountability and responsiveness of governments. (Spurk, 2010) (Chêne, 2012) (Beyerle, 2014). Integrity Action, the organisation I run, has been working on these issues for the last eleven years. We can demonstrate that our method has delivered improved public services in 50% of cases benefiting more than 5 million people in developing and fragile countries. The lesson Integrity Action has learnt is that stakeholder engagement in of itself is not enough, change happens when that turns into collective responsibility. To give you a short example,


Improving waste collection in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.


The remote glacial city of Naryn has led the way in the past four years in showing how an integrity-building approach can bring sweeping reform to local services. The council’s rubbish collection enterprise was failing to meet citizen’s needs meaning that streets were filled with rubbish, residents did not know when garbage collection would happen and citizens did not pay taxes. With Integrity Action’s help the city has completely overhauled its procedures, with the announcement that 126 collection points will be visited on the same two days each week. All residents can access this information through large maps that are displayed in the supplier’s offices. Additionally, more than 250 rubbish containers have been installed around the city, and twice as many trucks are now deployed. Integrity Action contributed to stamping out the illegal dumping of rubbish in public areas, and brought rubbish removal services for the first-time to one of the most deprived estates in the city.


This happened, because of the hard work of a Joint Working Group (JWG) which brought together local government officers, elected members, residents and community-based organisations – so that they could discuss issues and work together to identify and implement appropriate solutions. A promise by the Mayor that tax revenue would be used for citizen’s benefit and a subsequent media campaign led to a massive increase in the number of residents paying municipal taxes – which gave the supplier the income needed to install the 250 bins across the city, and deploy more trucks. Bilimbek Jakiev, a member of the JWG, says, “Through the campaign of the Coordination Council, the rate collection has increased from 118,000 Kyrgyzstani Som in 2008 [£1,600] to 1.9 million Som today [£26,000]. The community is now a lot cleaner, and the rubbish is collected regularly, and that is all down to the improvement in rate collection which only came about because of this project.” (Galtung, 2013).


What this case studies hopes to show is the benefit of collective action. In Kyrgyzstan, the government officials were not able to act to their fullest extent because citizens were not fulfilling their component of the social contract. For example by not paying municipal taxes it prevented the authorities, or power holders from dealing with problems including corrupt practices. When citizens questioned whether taxes would be used appropriately or siphoned off, the Mayor had to give a personal confirmation that taxes would be used for public services. Citizens were then willing to pay their taxes knowing that the money would go directly to improve vital public services. The Mayor also had an increased incentive to follow through on his commitment as the community had mobilised joint multi-stakeholder working groups who were monitoring services to keep him accountable. We saw a reduction in corruption but also an increase in service delivery.


We see time after time that anti-corruption initiatives where citizens work collaboratively with government and private sector actors have a higher success rate in terms of systematically designing out corruption and building integrity. Therefore I believe, a strong partnership and sense of collective responsibility between civil society and government is vital to win the fight against corruption.


A longer paper on this subject was originally written and published in French within the 2015 Chroniques de la Gouvernance – Tous responsables. Copies can be obtained from Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer, 38, rue Saint-Sabin 75011 Paris – France. Télephone: 33 (0)1 48 06 48 86. Website:


The full paper can also be found in English:

Many thanks to Joy from Integrity Action for her contribution.  Find more about Integrity Action be sure to visit their website, or follow them on Twitter at @Act4Integrity. Follow Joy at @Integrity_Joy


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Beyerle, S (2014). Curtailing Corruption: People power for accountability and Justice. USA: Lynne Rienner Publishers

BMZ. (2011). Retrieved from BMZ:

Chêne, M. (2012). Impact of Community Monitoring on Corruption. . Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resources Centre.

Corruption Watch. (2014, April 23). Retrieved from Corruption Watch:

Galtung, F. (2013). The Fix-Rate: A key metric for Transparency and Accountability. London: Integrity Action.

Ki-Moon, B. (2009). UN Secretary General.

Moyo, D. (2009, March 21). Why Foreign Aid is hurting Africa. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal:

Pope, J. (2000). Confronting corruption: The elements of a National Integrity System. London: Transparency International.

Spurk, C. (2010). Understanding Civil Society. In Civil Society & Peacebuilding: A Critical Assessment. . Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.