Ten Tips: How to think about corruption when working with national and local actors

by James Cohen · September 21st, 2011.

The following guest blog post has been provided by colleague Nicholas Seymour, Advisor Africa at Transparency International's Defence and Security Programme:

Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme (TI-DSP) has been working for the past seven years with defence and security forces, assisting them proactively to address and tackle corruption. Our experience is that nations, militaries and security forces are remarkably open to discussing corruption once you have made it clear that your objectives are to improve the capability of the organisation, not to damage it, and to focus on constructive measures not punishment. Here ten top tips from our experience:

  1. Make it clear in all your conversations that whilst corruption is a damaging, dangerous phenomenon, your presence and purpose is about developing constructive solutions in this particular context.
  2. Tell people that corruption is a systemic issue, not a personal one. It thus has to be tackled by changing behaviours, processes and controls across the whole system.  Doing this in a preventive way is more powerful and long lasting than through prosecutions.
  3. Find a few senior influential people who will give the message that tackling corruption is a central part of the reform process and that they fully support it.  In particular, you want them to say or make it clear that it is permissible for their staff to talk openly about the topic.  Taking ownership of the anti-corruption effort is crucial.
  4. Take it slowly, and talk to a lot to people without any action plan.  It takes time for people to realise that it is a systemic problem, that it is not about punishment, and that it is only rarely about procurement fraud.
  5. Allow people to have their own views of what corruption is.  It is a multi-component word, and everyone will give different weights to different elements, including some that will not be on your radar.
  6. Nonetheless, carry with you a template typology that shows on one page the different sorts of corruption activity that you can encounter in defence and security environments (see TI-DSP, “Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence and Security: 20 Practical Reforms”, p. 10).  This page is very self-explanatory and gets people interested and talking very easily. Convene small groups to talk about the subject and identify priority, practical areas for reform.
  7. Be humble when your national and local colleagues talk about corruption in ‘the west’.  It is plentiful, and nowhere more than in relations between developed country support for developing countries in aid and conflict environments.  You too are part of a frequently corrupt system.
  8. Don’t let the ‘myth’ that corruption cannot be tackled pass without challenge.  There are lots of countries that have made big progress in talking corruption, starting with Singapore, and going through countries like Malaysia and Georgia.  Post conflict countries like Colombia, Serbia, Liberia and Rwanda similarly have made huge progress, even if the present situation is far from satisfactory.
  9. Reform in the military and Defence Ministry can act as a beacon for reforms across the rest of government.  It is both realistic and inspiring for defence to be in the lead on such reforms.
  10. Be positive!  It’s a serious subject, but people hugely welcome a sense that this is a soluble problem, and to hear of cases where measures have helped improve the situation elsewhere.
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