Fighting corruption by recognizing integrity

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda
Mark Buntaine
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This is one in a series of blogs authored by researchers supported by the Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence (GI-ACE) programme. The overarching objective of the GI-ACE programme is to support world-class multidisciplinary research to inform the development of more effective policies and interventions that will help reduce corruption in developing countries and address its negative impact on people’s lives.

To achieve this objective, GI-ACE produces new and operationally relevant evidence on tackling corruption, with a focus on ensuring that the research outputs support more effective, evidence-based anti-corruption initiatives by the Department for International Development (DFID) and other practitioner partners in DFID-priority countries and beyond.

Supported research focuses on innovative and practice-oriented projects, covering three priority areas: (1)Addressing the international architecture that supports corrupt exchanges; (2) Promoting integrity systems in the public and private sectors; and (3) Tackling corruption at subnational and sectoral levels.

Learn more about Buntaine’s GI-ACE research project…

Mark Buntaine, Brigham Daniels, Paul Bukuluki

In most of the world, anti-corruption strategies are based on detecting and punishing corrupt acts, for example:

Yet, the evidence that these strategies are effective at curbing corruption is still limited, at least in general ways across diverse contexts. More evidence about actionable strategies that are both fitted to context and provide general lessons is needed.

In our GI-ACE project, we are testing a fundamentally different approach to anti-corruption — recognizing officials for properly managing public funds. While many businesses offer “employee of the month” awards, this kind of strategy has not taken root widely as a way to reinforce expectations about the management of public funds. One of the most significant exceptions is the Integrity Idol project, which aims to reinforce integrity among both local officials and the public. Yet, the lack of a broader reach of this kind of strategy is surprising because even symbolic recognition can be a powerful motivator of behavior.

We are specifically working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to improve the administration of revenue sharing at Bwindi National Park. To ensure that local residents benefit from living near the national park, part of tourists’ gate fees are set aside for community development. Yet audits have often found that local governments do not administer these funds in ways that ensure local residents benefit from them. In previous years, we have worked with the park to empower residents to participate in planning and report on problems that arise during procurement and implementation, but the results of these efforts have been limited.

In our current project, we have pivoted to a different approach to controlling corruption. In particular, our team trained the village committees responsible for administering revenue-sharing funds on the steps that they should take to avoid corruption when managing projects, such as requesting multiple bids from contractors, evaluating the experience and competence of contractors, and tracking milestones required to approve payments to contractors. For half of the committees, we worked with UWA to promise non-monetary recognition for completing this work successfully. Village committees that reduce the risks of corruption by completing these tasks will be recognized by a permanent sign at the entrance to their village and radio announcements recognizing committee members.

Recognizing officials who complete their jobs with integrity might work as an approach to anti-corruption for a few reasons. First, recognition can be a powerful motivator of behavior for psychological reasons. Officials may feel good about acting in ways that are consistent with social expectations and their own values. Second, recognition may provide instrumental value to local officials, who can leverage it to secure promotions or additional resources. Third, providing recognition for integrity in public management might change what citizens expect of their leaders over time and how they act to hold leaders accountable.

The other main advantage of this approach is that it is comparatively inexpensive and might be widely applied in a variety of context-appropriate ways. While detecting and punishing corruption requires a complex set of administrative and judicial institutions, it may be possible to reinforce good administration of public funds by recognizing officials who adhere to good practices. Over time, this might also be an effective strategy to change the expectations of citizens about the performance of their governments. 

We are excited about generating evidence that can be broadly useful for governments looking to build a culture of integrity among officials.

Mark Buntaine
Mark Buntaine
Associate Professor — Environmental Institutions and Governance, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mark Buntaine‘s research investigates the sources of effective environmental policy in developing countries, with an emphasis on the governance practices that lead to effective management of the environment. Buntaine leads a range of international projects that deal with the allocation practices of aid donors, the participation of citizens in environmental policy-making, the relationship between public and private financing of environmental technologies, the processes that lead to effective government reform, and the evaluation of environmental projects, among other interests.

Brigham Daniels is a Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University. He has expertise in environmental law, property law, and natural resources law. 

Paul Bukuluki is a migration and health researcher and Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. His expertise is in social policies that promote political and social development.

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