Fighting corruption through Open Government Initiatives

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Some anti-corruption efforts aim directly at the problem itself, while others take a more indirect route, seeking to create an environment in which graft and fraud are less likely to proliferate. Open government initiatives tend to fall in the latter camp. Open government consists of public sector transparency, citizen participation in the workings of government, accountability of public officials and institutions, and government responsiveness to citizens’ needs and demands. These components are ideally blended together in a whole-of-government approach that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Building a stronger relationship between government and citizens can increase levels of trust and social capital, improve policymaking, and increase oversight of the use of public resources. Because of shifting norms of behavior and/or an increasing likelihood of sanction for illegal activity, corruption may decrease alongside an improvement in the effectiveness of public spending.  

A chapter on “Open and Inclusive Government” in the World Bank’s recently published report on corruption pulls together existing research and country experiences to sketch out the connections between open government methodologies and anti-corruption aims. The chapter looks at three common entry points for reformers: 

  • increasing citizens’ access to information via legislation or transparency initiatives, so that they can be part of policymaking and oversight of government activities; 
  • improving fiscal transparency, which is treated as a separate category of “information” given its centrality to anti-corruption efforts; and 
  • facilitating citizen engagement and social accountability as a means to promoting government responsiveness.

There is an increasing evidence that suggests that openness can make a difference in reducing corruption when other enabling factors are present , such as political will, a free and independent media, a robust civil society, and effective accountability and sanctioning mechanisms. Whether a certain reform or program succeeds in helping to lower corruption is entirely dependent on the context.

It takes time for the fruits of such approaches to ripen. In Ethiopia, a social accountability program empowers communities to hold public service providers, such as schools and healthcare centers, more accountable for service quality. Citizen trust in government was low at the outset of the program (a pilot from 2006-2009), and given the country’s recent political history there was little or no precedent at the time for feedback on service delivery to percolate upward from the grassroots level. Citizens were afraid to report problems they had faced. But by the time the third phase of the program began in 2019, trust had increased considerably, and people had begun to feel more comfortable speaking up.

While corruption was not the target of the Ethiopia program, it may have had some impact, albeit at a small scale. According to Lucia Nass, one of the program’s leaders, “there is a lot of petty corruption, which is especially difficult for poor people… [the program] helped citizens understand what services are supposed to be free and what services need to be paid, and how much they cost. With greater transparency and accountability, corruption becomes more difficult.”

The program also boosted awareness of the role that woreda (local district) councils play in overseeing service delivery, potentially leading to improved oversight of the councils themselves. And, there has been increased participation in parent teacher association meetings at the primary school level, perhaps indicating the kind of rising civic engagement that could curb opportunities for corruption.

While none of these positive effects is guaranteed, neither does corruption occur in a vacuum—it is a feature of a complex ecosystem of incentives and opportunities. By changing that ecosystem, reformers may be able to improve outcomes.

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.

Join the Conversation

Romain Guéléo NDOUBA
October 22, 2020

World Bank is an institution which is struggling against corruption. Corruption is one factor which encourages poverty in the World.

Dionísio Raimundo Graciano
October 22, 2020

Gostei bastante da a informação, espero que possa receber mais, razão porque a minha areia intervenção e analise de politica publicas, advocacia, empoderamento da mulher rural e conservação da biodiversidade assim como promoção de iniciativas de transparência em todos os sector

Dr. Abubakar Muhammad Moki
October 22, 2020

It is argued every one is corrupt. The difference being the levels of corruption. I need clarification on this. Thanks

David Harold Chester
October 22, 2020

One of the greatest encouragements for corruption are those who get something for nothing or the so called free-lunch. Once a single person gets something for nothing, everyone else (who are basically ethical thinking persons) wants to join in as if the right for exploitation is general. In your article about fighting corruption there is nothing written about what is the greatest encouraging one of these forms which is the gathering of too much rent from tenants. A property usually consists of both land and buildings and the hire of a building is justly accompanied by the fee paid for it. But land is a different story since its value is due to the density of the surrounding community and the amount of infrastructure that has been built.

David Harold Chester
October 22, 2020

Socially Just Taxation--Its 17 Effects On: Government, Land Owners, Community and Ethics

A wise and sensible government would recognize that the problem of poverty and unjust social conditions derives from the lack of opportunities to work, earn and sensibly reside. It can be solved by the introduction of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing almost everyone else who does not own it. Such a tax system was discussed about 140 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist. In his 1879 classic book “Progress and Poverty”, George proposed a single tax on land values without any other kinds of taxes (on earnings, purchases, capital gains, developed property not including its sites, gambling, etc.). Land value taxation (LVT) has 17 features that benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for the employment of big tax departments, landlords and bankers, all of which or whom do nothing productive—where the last two exploit the rights for land monopolization, the ill effects which are encouraged and supported by legislation through the government.

17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

Four Aspects for Better Government:
1. LVT, adds to the national income as do other taxation systems, but it should replace them.
2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for any other kind of production or capital goods related tax. It is more efficient and tax avoidance becomes impossible. Sites of land are visible to all and their ownership is public knowledge, due to the introduction and use of land-value maps with tables of sites (parcels), with formal numbering and definitions of them.
3. Consumers will pay less for their purchases, due to lower production costs (see below) and no purchase tax. This means there is more satisfaction with the better management of our national and local affairs, which are seen to be on a fairer basis, without favoring the wealthy.
4. The speculation in its selling price and the withholding of unused land is mostly eliminated, see item 7, and the national economy stabilizes. It no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:
5. LVT is progressive–owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax. Urban sites provide the most productivity and should be charged the greatest resulting tax. Comparatively, rural sites have less productivity and associated value. As a result they are farmed for production in an appropriate way and at a lower cost.
6. The land owner pays LVT regardless of how the site is used, but according to its potential for use. Nearly all of the existing ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT. This results in the land eventually having less sales-value but it retains a significant rental-value, even when it is unused.
7. LVT stops speculation in land prices because the withholding of land from proper use will no longer be worthwhile. It costs the land owner the same, regardless of its actual use, or when this opportunity is lost by the withholding of the site from access for production, residence, etc.
8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, because more of them become available and the competition for the access rights to them becomes less fierce. Their rental values grow over a longer term due to the increase in the local infrastructure, which is a required aspect during the greater resulting site development.
9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that become available, from item 7 above.
10. Speculators and monopolists in real-estate will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-shares, etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below, items 12 and 13).

Three Aspects Regarding Improved Communities:
11. With LVT, there is an incentive to better use the land for production, commerce and residence, rather than it being left idle. Communities become more efficient in communications, introduce less sprawl and improve their living standards.
12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses. They initially pay less ground-rent and production costs will fall, goods supply will grow and unemployment will decrease.
13. Previous investment money is withdrawn from land and instead is placed in the shares of companies and used for purchasing durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology, greater productive efficiency and cheaper goods, too.

Four Aspects About Ethics and Social Justice:
14. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is seen as socially unjust. It reduces the progress of the nation (due to the need for a big tax collection “army”) and certainly redistributes where the money goes. The rent and added sales-values of land due to its monopolization and non-use, are generated without any exertion on the part of the land owner or by the banks. LVT replaces this national extortion by gathering the surplus rental income–LVT being a natural system of national income-gathering.
15. The previous degree of bribery and corruption, for gaining privileged information about proposed land developments, will cease. This previously was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank balances).
16. The improved use of the more central land sites of cities reduces the environmental damage and pollution due to a) unused sites being dumping-grounds and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use when traveling between home and workplace.
17. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way–to provide more jobs because their production costs are reduced. Then un-taxed earnings will correspond more closely to the value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly and fully introduced as a single tax, it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.