A recent report by the Bank's Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) entitled Public Sector Reform: What Works and Why? offers interesting insights into the recent work on governance at the Bank. The report notes that about one-sixth of Bank support in lending and advisory services now goes into public sector reform, although it makes the argument that most of this actually goes to reform of financial management.
One interpretation is that perhaps this is not really governance reform or anti-corruption, and that with this large focus on financial reform the Bank is really not getting to the root of the problem. So, how to get there? There are many intriguing parts of the report that highlight the intersection between communication and public sector reform or governance programs.
One section (XV) highlights three main factors that contribute to success. These include "being realistic about what is politically and institutionally feasible;" "recognizing that enhancing technology in not enough, that the most crucial and difficult part is changing behavior and organizational culture." The third factor is about doing the basics first. Clearly these first two success factors have communication at their core. Certainly using communication as a political risk assessment tool can greatly help us understand what is politically feasible and communication is of course most important in changing behavior and organizational culture.
The report goes on to state: "Only when a country has both strong political will and an adequate judiciary system should primary emphasis be on support to anti-corruption laws and commissions. Given that reducing corruption will be a long-term effort, the Bank should emphasize two things: building country systems that reduce the opportunities for corruption and making information public in ways that stimulate popular demand for more efficient and less corrupt service delivery." This makes the case that at least half of the Bank's governance and anti-corruption works should be communication based!
Other elements of the evaluation talk about "lack of political commitment to reform or a discontinuity over the implementation period," and "the Bank and other donors can have expectations that are too short term which inevitably set the reforms up for failure," and "as with civil service reform, reducing corruption involves deeper and more politically challenging change."
The most interesting reference is on pages 61-62: "Indirect or direct approaches for different levels of corruption. Many of the previously mentioned reforms to PFM, civil service (recruitment and pay reform) and tax administration are important indirect ways to reduce bureaucratic corruption by reducing opportunities and incentives for corrupt acts. Increasing transparency and access to information in all parts of the public sector also help reduce state capture by supplying information that the media, civil society and the broader political processes can use to demand accountability and uncorrupt behavior from political leaders. Support for these measures has been the most important way to date that the Bank has advanced the anti-corruption effort."
The report goes on to state: “Evidence suggest that corruption can be substantially reduced only when the supply side reforms are complimented by systematic efforts to increase citizens' capability to monitor and challenge abuses of the system and to inform the citizens about their rights and entitlements. Breaking the culture of secrecy that pervades the government functioning and empowering people to demand public accountability are important components in such an effort," (p. 64).
The current Bank project approach and many of the other development agency approaches in the governance area have over emphasized administrative (or supply side) reform to laws, regulations or structures – mostly legal and financial – to enforce accountability or fight corruption in the public sector. Yet, in most countries where donors want to introduce these governance programs the institutions where this reform is to take place are usually the weakest and most corrupt.
What the evaluation seems to support and have strong evidence of is the need for a complementary approach that takes the users of public services as the starting point. Rather than attempting to increase service providers’ accountability to policy makers alone, the idea is to also engage citizens at the bottom of the public service delivery chain by providing them with easy access to information on the workings of public programs intended for their benefit. In this way citizens would be empowered to demand certain standards and monitor and challenge abuses by officials with whom they interact.
This goes beyond demand side or social accountability into a more fully fledged process where communication is the content side of a governance or anti-corruption program. As the report points out this is the most effective way to advance the anti-corruption effort.
Yet, people running Bank operations rarely seem to accept this premise – that communication is an important content side of governance and anti-corruption work and should form an integral component of any governance intervention. Instead, the focus continues to be on the policy, administrative, or organizational aspects of governance reforms. The IEG report clearly states that perhaps this perspective needs to change if the Bank wants to engage in and deliver more effective anti-corruption or governance programs!
This is a lesson that all donors or supporters of governance reforms should take into account and build into their support programs. It is not only ensuring that communication is in all projects, but that it actually forms a core part of any governance reform intervention as a sector equal to whatever other sectoral interventions there might be.