Anticorruption agencies: are they effective for reducing corruption risks?

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Anticorruption agencies: are they effective for reducing corruption risks?   Anticorruption agencies: are they effective for reducing corruption risks?

As the COVID19 pandemic rages and governments struggle to respond to the economic crisis and ensure fair access to vaccines, the front pages of many newspapers have featured more and more corruption scandals. In such situations, a quick policy response often relies on the use of Anticorruption Agencies (ACAs) as a way to prevent, investigate and prosecute corruption. However, these entities  have a mixed record in these areas.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003 gave global recognition to the idea, through articles 6 and 26, of an  anti-corruption body or bodies to both prevent and combat corruption.  The importance of such bodies was reinforced at the eighth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the UNCAC held in Abu Dhabi in 2019: ‘the prevention of and the fight against all forms of corruption require a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, consistent with the UNCAC and the domestic legal frameworks of States parties, including by implementing chapter II and article 36 of the Convention’.

Article 6 proposes a body that prevents corruption through participation, transparency, and accountability, while Article 36 focuses on combating corruption through law enforcement. For many countries, the prevailing wisdom saw specialized ACAs as the optimal mean to address corruption by taking on roles and responsibilities under both articles. However, this has often over-burdened ACAs in terms of focus and priorities and has created confusion with other existing bodies that may have equal or complementary functions. Almost two decades since the introduction of UNCAC, ACAs are struggling to show a clear and significant impact in fighting corruption and are generally not regarded as the most effective policy tool available .

The renewed focus on integrity and corruption brought by the COVID-19 pandemic provides the opportunity to review whether the prevailing model of a stand-alone multi-functional ACA is an effective one, or whether existing institutions can also support anticorruption efforts and the implementation of the UNCAC.  Our chapter for Enhancing Government Effectiveness and Transparency The Fight Against Corruption  begins tackling this issue by asking countries to focus on the corruption problems such bodies were set up to address.  The main message that emerged from our work is that Article 6 is a whole-country responsibility. Furthermore, law enforcement arenas do not necessarily need to be a standalone ACA under Article 36.

Our analysis identifies a set of specific questions that help define the roles and responsibilities of ACAs. These questions focus on the definition of the corruption problem, whether an ACA is the appropriate (or only) response, and whether the definition informs the institutional design of the ACA.  They also focus on the existing institutional and operating environments and how the ACA fits within such an environment. This set of questions allows countries to decide whether they want (or need) an ACA, what they want an ACA to do, and by default what they don’t want it to do and what they want other institutions to do.

We give three examples to illustrate the different country responses we observe. In the United Kingdom, law enforcement is generally responsible for corruption, with specific corruption problems assigned to specific units. In Lithuania, the ACA has maintained with some difficulty the primacy of its “law enforcement” role.  In Bhutan,  the ACA has strong enforcement and prevention roles but these have caused issues with the existing institutional environment.  These examples show that, when considering the establishment of an ACA, governments need to complete a risk- or threat-based review of the existing anti-corruption arrangements before deciding if an ACA is needed and for reviewing existing ACAs within the existing institutional and operating environment to ensure a more holistic designation that supports both the ACA and the wider anticorruption efforts.

Anticorruption is everyone business and not just the responsibility of Anticorruption Agencies, particularly in the current climate. 


Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a series that helps unpack our new  global report, Enhancing Government Effectiveness and Transparency: The Fight Against Corruption.


Alan Doig

Visiting Professor, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, England

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