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  Global Views
Methods to Identify Corruption
Special Contribution
By Ram Kumar Phuyal
Children in Uganda

Corruption may be one of the biggest threats to attempts to cutting poverty in the world's most deprived nations and it is a very complex job to identify properly. To find out what is going on requires an investigatory approach similar to that of a doctor diagnosing a patient's illness. Just as the doctor combines clinical observation with series of test results, the corruption investigator must use multiple peaces of evidence, derived from numbers of sources of information. In this regards, corruption is a joint composition of various variables of the society. Thus, investment in about one quarter of World Bank development programs may be at risk. The study of the corruption will not be meaningful unless one can have the empirical fact and figures with the contents.

Background of the Study:

To have a better knowledge of Corruption, one is likely to have a firmer grasp of what occurs in a government agency — and in its interactions with the public — if one can compare different sources and kinds of information. Thus far, the information available to USAID has been inadequate to address corruption challenges. Much use has been made of a few broad indices that purport to describe the general degree of corruption in a country, such as:

: The World Bank Institute's Control of Corruption indicator (one of the key criteria for eligibility for Millennium Challenge Account funding)

: Freedom House's Nations in Transit Control of Corruption scores

: Country rankings based on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index

While all of these indices provide background information about the state of corruption and integrity in a country, they provide little actionable data about specific sectors or government agencies. In addition to these broad indices, there are a few focused assessment tools, but these tend to be based on a relatively small number of interviews, chosen from those officials or other individuals known to (and generally friendly to) USAID, as well as other informally acquired information. This approach is likely to yield information that is incomplete, biased, and geographically limited to the national capital.

These tools build on, complement, and overcome the programming limitations of information derived from broad indices. They are closely tied to the Transparency-Accountability-Prevention-Enforcement-Education (TAPEE) framework for assessing corruption and strengthening the anticorruption environment developed in USAir's Europe and Eurasia Bureau. Together, the methodology developed through the EECOR project and the TAPEE framework should enable Missions to carry out programs that build integrity and reduce corruption in particular sectors, institutions, or government agencies.

Use of the tools should lead to more rigorous, coherent, and effective integration of anticorruption interventions across USAir's economic growth, democracy and governance, and social transition portfolios — as well as within sectors such as energy, agriculture, health, and education.


A qualitative approach of Methodology uses three steps to collect increasingly precise information here. It can be used to guide programming decisions and determine where to allocate scarce resources (i.e., which government agency to focus on). It can also help Missions confront the dual challenges of grand and administrative corruption, deploy resources more strategically, increase the effectiveness of programs in other sectors, and build anticorruption knowledge.

The well-known macro indices of corruption — notably, the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and Bribery Index (BI), the World Bank Institute (WBI) Control of Corruption indicator, and the Freedom House Nations in Transit Control of Corruption score — give broad indications of the general level of corruption in a country, relative to other countries. While such information tells one very little about the level of corruption in specific institutions (and less about the forms, mechanisms, and causes of such corruption), it is useful in that it can suggest the prevalence of administrative or systemic corruption. This provides a warning signal to a USAID Mission approaching the task of assessing corruption in a specific government agency, and implies a need to question interviewees about the connection between "local" corruption and broader socio-political forces.

For some sectors, there is available data that indicates the prevalence of corruption. This is especially true for the business environment, where World Bank and other data provide indicators of the frequency, cost, and seriousness of corruption (relative to other obstacles to business). The WBI governance indicators, aside from the Control of Corruption indicator, give some information on government integrity factors. Because each of these indicators is a weighted average of more detailed indices, some of the latter may be worth investigating.

Similarly, reports on economic, political, and social conditions — published by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and regional development banks, as well as commercial sources like the Economist Intelligence Unit — often provide valuable background information. Occasionally, a scholarly article may deal with the agency or area to be investigated. In this respect, it is useful to contact local experts (scholars, journalists, businessmen) to see whether any local work has been done on the subject.

This first step can be carried out by the Mission itself, but it may also be part of the work plan of the firm contracted to carry out the expert evaluations.

After existing sources of information have been thoroughly reviewed and a target agency selected, an expert firm should be contracted to help the Mission develop a fuller understanding of the agency's administrative structures and how they work in practice. To do this, the firm will visit the country, examine its laws, rules, and procedures, and design and conduct interviews with key stakeholders, including clients, officials, and observers from civil society and the donor community. The interviews are carefully structured to enable a systematic comparison of answers given by interviewees with different experiences and viewpoints.

The processes of reviewing documentation and carrying out structured interviews can be supplemented with focus group discussions, the analysis of relevant data (like price information), forensic audits, and "mystery shopping" (i.e., having anonymous local employees of the assessment team test agency procedures).


Local counterparts are invaluable and should be involved at every stage of the expert evaluations.

While the expert evaluations give indications of the targeted agency's corruption vulnerabilities, corrupt practices, and integrity strengths and weaknesses, quantitative surveys provide objective confirmation. More importantly, quantitative surveys provide a baseline of that program.

Designers can use to monitor program effectiveness (and, if necessary, make crucial mid-point corrections) and evaluate final outcomes. Again, one is on firmer ground if expert evaluation findings can be compared to survey results. Another advantage of a survey is that it can systematically cover an entire country — and potentially uncover substantial regional differences. The only disadvantage is time and cost, which may exceed the Mission's resources.

Surveys can identify and document specific types, mechanisms, frequency, and costs of corruption to clients. Surveys of agency clients are likely to be more informative than those of officials. Officials, however, are better informed than clients about how the factors operate (or don't operate) within their agency. While surveying both clients and officials is ideal, experience shows that clients are more reliable interviewees — they are less "reticent" than officials. If resources are scarce, it is best to only survey clients and rely on a follow-up round of expert evaluations to assess the agency's vulnerabilities.

Finally, programs must incorporate monitoring and evaluation criteria. This helps programmers make mid-course corrections, as well as improve the design of future interventions. Benchmarks can, of course, be qualitative — passing a law, computerizing operations, setting up a government body — but quantitative criteria, when correctly specified, can be more credible to the political leadership of donor countries. This attempt will be an additional effort to predict an ultimate way out of the study of the corruption level in the nations.

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Mr. Ram Kumar Phuyal, who is currently a Nepalese Ph.D. scholar in Econometrics at Chonnam National University, S. Korea, serves as a special columnist for The Seoul Times. Mr. Phuyal specializes in writing on economic policy. He earned his master's degree from Tribhuvan University in Nepal.






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