CIPE’s Rapid Reaction Anti-Corruption Project was recently highlighted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Abigail Bellows. To read the full article titled “Ten Ways Washington Can Combat Global Corruption,” please visit the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s website.
Ten Ways Washington Can Combat Global Corruption
In 2018, public anger and legal action over corruption have toppled political leaders in Malaysia, Peru, Slovakia, South Africa, and other countries. This is an acceleration of a documented trend: more than 10 percent of nations around the world have experienced corruption-fueled political change in the last five years. And these cases of peaceful transition represent the best-case scenario; elsewhere, corruption has fueled terrorist recruitment and sparked violent insurgencies.
In addition to rocking geopolitical foundations, corruption-linked instability threatens the integrity and durability of U.S. alliances, increasing the burdens placed on the U.S. military. International corruption also cuts to the heart of U.S. economic interests—thwarting the competitiveness of U.S. corporations as bids are diverted to the highest briber. Overall, the World Bank estimates $1.5 trillion in bribes are paid every year, squandering business capital and stymying development. Russia and China have weaponized corruption in several weak states to gain influence, win deals, and undermine sovereignty. And across Latin America, corrupted officials are more likely to turn a blind eye at the border, enabling the trafficking of illicit drugs, weapons, and migrants toward the United States. The December 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) references these dynamics.
Yet, in practice, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has broken little new ground when it comes to fighting corruption. Here are ten ideas for doing more that could be implemented immediately. The first half are new external initiatives that would serve as legacy achievements of appointees at the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), though career officials could also pursue them. The second half are internal actions that the State Department or USAID could pursue that—while not flashy or high-profile—would yield a substantial impact and could be executed by energetic working-level staff. The extent to which these officers remain creative, persistent, and proactive on anticorruption—using the NSS as a form of top cover—will be decisive.
1. Launch a Rapid Response Fund
Political will is essential for anticorruption reform and infamously difficult to create from the outside—as years of nation-building can attest. As a result, donors must anticipate and quickly capitalize on homegrown openings when they emerge. USAID’s analysis of 300 past anticorruption programs established the importance of focusing on such ripe opportunities.
Upswings in political will often occur in the wake of a corruption scandal that results in a change of government. Yet public outrage tends to be short-lived. According to research by Carnegie senior fellow Rachel Kleinfeld, a new reform-oriented administration has to act quickly to take advantage of momentum before opponents can regroup. As political will fades, public disillusionment deepens, eroding state legitimacy further.
The U.S. government can help break that cycle by establishing a dedicated tranche of flexible funding to boost support for local reformers trying to quickly deliver on reform promises. Doing so would address three gaps in current U.S. anticorruption programming: it is small in size ($115 million annually) and thus not proportional to U.S. interests; it lacks geographic flexibility, with most funds allocated to country accounts; and it lacks temporal flexibility, with programming typically planned two years in advance. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has the statutory authorities and culture to address the latter two factors, but the office focuses on conflict settings rather than openings for governance reform.
Such an initiative could be funded through normal appropriations—ideally earmarked for this purpose—or a cost-sharing arrangement with the private sector or the World Bank (see proposal 3 below). The State Department should be in the lead—as diplomats are frontline sensors of changes in political will—and work collaboratively with Central Intelligence Agency forecasters and USAID programming experts.
Allocations from this new initiative, which could be called the Governance Opportunities Fund, could be disbursed through a range of structures:
- a consortium of preselected grantees, modeled on the Fundamental Freedoms Fund;
- a quarterly grant competition across embassies—an expanded version of the Fiscal Transparency Innovation Fund; or
- a standing funding pool that ambassadors could tap into to assist local anticorruption efforts—comparable to USAID’s Disaster Assistance Authority, from which ambassadors can quickly access up to $50,000 for emergencies.
This fund would complement the Center for International Private Enterprise’s nascent Rapid-Reaction Anti-Corruption Project, which will deploy international experts to countries experiencing political openings for reform. These experts will produce recommendations for international donors, but those recommendations will go unmet without a corresponding capacity to quickly mobilize resources in the U.S. government and elsewhere. If windows of opportunity are targeted, progress that might otherwise take generations to achieve can be spurred.