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Corruption Prevention: Strategic Challenges, Tactical Solutions

Good ideas for reducing corruption abound. But even the best innovations sometimes fail to have impact. Implementation is often the sticking point.

Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Societies program is working with the British Academy and the Department for International Development to help overcome barriers to anti-corruption reforms in three important policy areas.

Land tenure security is a critical concern everywhere. Ineffective land registries imperil the success of policies ranging from investment to credit access and forest protection. Even when a registry works well, inability to identify legitimate claims can promote unfairness and generate other problems. Although new technologies, incremental tenure systems, and new management structures can enhance security pushback is common. Limited staff, training, difficult geography, and pressure from those who benefit from dysfunction are some of the many strategic challenges that often block improvement.

Certification schemes for managing and protecting natural resources pose another kind of challenge. When resource prices are high and the point of extraction is difficult to monitor, bad things can happen. Sensitive forests may disappear overnight. Revenues that poorly paid workers thought they would receive may flow to those who want to buy arms. Certification schemes aim to diminish such problems by eliminating the market for commodities that are produced illegally. Successful schemes require major commodity buyers to purchase only legally extracted or harvested goods that meet specified production standards and to show proof of provenance. Certification schemes require the capacity to monitor or track goods, identify responsible agents or landholders, and impede the sale of commodities that lack the requisite documentation. Ultimately success depends on the ability of private companies to solve a collective action problem.

Our third focus is on national anti-corruption strategies. Countries that sign the United Nations Convention against corruption are obliged to develop and implement anti-corruption strategies. Asset declaration, capacity to freeze assets, repeal of immunities, and administrative reforms are common elements. Many plans are little more than pieces of paper, however. Successful implementation rests on feasibility, having a stable leadership team, mustering the political clout to command coordination across institutions, and engaging the public to support enforcement.

In the coming months, the ISS program will chronicle the work of reform leaders in each of these three areas in several different countries. The aim is to draw insights from the experiences of these public servants, to distinguish between what works and what doesn’t, and to share guidance about incentive design and implementation strategy across countries and with a rising generation of leaders.