Integrity and Anti-Corruption

One of the most satisfying aspects of working through and with CSOs, in comparison to working with Government agencies (looking back at the first in this section, “Civil Society”) is that there is less likely to be corrupt behaviour amongst CSOs. As many have remarked, corruption is endemic in many countries, not all of them in the South, and it is dispiriting and demotivating for those interested in fighting poverty to become aware how much of the resources intended for the poor from governments and foreign aid agencies is stolen.

This is not to suggest that all CSOs are clean: where CSOs work in countries where corruption is the norm, it would be surprising if there were no corrupt CSOs, but my experience is that there are many fewer corrupt CSOs than there are corrupt government departments. Donors to CSOs are, however, very conscious of this danger, and introduce ever more stringent due diligence procedures to try and guard against corrupt CSOs.

The word “corruption” has become so widely used as a term of political science that people have forgotten or ignored the real meaning of the word, and its real impact in work with the poor. What we are talking about is “stealing”, and harming poor people in order for richer and more powerful people to benefit. A very worrying aspect of this is the “legalizing of corruption” particularly in the North where there are rules to control and restrain corruption, but these are either full of loopholes (which are happily used by the rich and powerful) or are simply not enforced. A further problem is that for many people corruption is a stick with which to hit other people, but the real purpose of the stick is to get to a situation where the fruits of ocrruption can be enjoyed by them.

De-humanizing and “conceptualising” the reality of corruption leads us away from the important point that corrupt behaviour depends on a decision by an individual to choose corrupt behaviour over other behaviour. Not enough attention is paid to this: factors that can influence an individual to choose corrupt behaviour are:

  1. he/she does not think that corruption will be particularly harmful to anyone
  2. he/she feels it is condoned by society, and that therefore it is acceptable
  3. he/she feels that it is not particularly risky, and that therefore the possible benefit is worth the risk


There are huge amounts of hypocrisy and double speak in the world of anti-corruption whereby government officials decry its prevalence, and enjoin citizens to prevent it, while they benefit greatly form it.

To my mind efforts to persuade the population to fight and reduce corruption should target efforts to:

  1. make clear the harmful effects that corruption has on individual people, particularly the poor
  2. make clear the harmful effects that corruption has on government efforts to help poor people
  3. make very clear how corruption actually works (in many cases corrupt behaviour is an “open secret” to those on the inside, but the subject of speculation and rumour to those on the outside.
  4. make clear that a corrupt act is a personal decision, made in the knowledge that other behaviour is possible.


Few anti-corruption agencies take ths approach. I have been able to work with some that do:

  • firstly the Centre for Global Integrity from the USA which has devised a very fine methodology for looking at de iure and d facto elements of corruption, and the marvellous series of jounrlaists accounts of corruption called “The Corruption notebooks” (
  • secondly the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia, which has suported the Anti Corruption Commission to take steps that put into the shade anti-corrupton agencies of other countries (www.
  • and thirdly Integrity Action (previously called TIRI) which has pressed the point consistently that building Integrity (which comprises Accountability, Competence, Ethical Behaviour, and action against corruption is the best way to fight corruption ( I worked with Integrity Action when I was in the Aga Khan Foundation, and they produced Cartoon workbooks that helped people to appreciate the ethical dilemmas involved in corruption, and a series of DVDs about corruption for teenagers, structured around sport.


Some documents that I have found to be very valuable have been:

The Corruption Notebooks – Centre for Global Integrity 2006 onwards annually

The Anti-Corruption Handbook – World Bank – East Asia and Pacfic Region. 2002

USAID Handbook for Fighting Corruption 1998

Global Corruption – money, power, and ethics, and the modern World – Laurence Cockcroft 2012 (particularly Chapter 4 – Victims of Corruption)

The Fix-Rate – A Key Metric for Transparency and Accountability – Integrity Action Working Paper 2. 2013

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