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Corruption - A scourge to be combated but not an inevitable one

Mongolian Anti-Corruption Campaign - The writing on the blue background reads: “Fight corruption decisively!”The damaging effects of corruption on poverty reduction are well known: fraudulent investment, misappropriation of public funds for private ends, petty corruption that acts like a tax with no redistribution, impunity that strains the credibility of the legal system and hence of the entire State apparatus. To drive this scourge back, the SDC takes action both at the level of the State and of the general public.

Key facts

It was only 15 years ago that the international community openly acknowledged the problem of corruption and began seeking solutions to it. Before that, corruption was a general taboo, even for international development agencies.

The World Bank estimates the cost of corruption at 1,000 billion dollars (USD), whereas development aid totals roughly 100 billion USD.

No country is immune to corruption, but it has particularly harmful effects in developing countries where there is often an acute discrepancy between the State's critical economic predicament and the abundance of natural resources. In such situations, the poor are helpless hostages who are hit especially hard because they have no negotiating power and no resources to offset the lack of infrastructure and public services caused by corruption.

A targeted attack on two fronts
To address this scourge effectively, two levels have to be distinguished in the fight against corruption. On the one hand, it can be tackled directly by means of penal reform, anti-corruption agencies and protection of whistle-blowers. On the other hand, it can be regarded rather as a symptom of bad governance and tackled indirectly, at the level of root causes, by promoting access to information, judicial reform, reform of the civil service, citizen-government "reporting" mechanisms and procurement contracts.

The SDC focus: Emphasis on indirect, more effective measures

The SDC gives priority to combining measures at governmental level, through institutional reforms, and activities involving civil society, such as awareness-raising, participative approaches, social audits and investigative journalism. In the SDC's experience, indirect measures have a greater impact. Governance reforms aimed at a more transparent and more effective State apparatus have the indirect but sustainable effect of reducing the level of corruption. The lessons learnt confirm the findings published by the World Bank which show that financing an anti-corruption agency often does not achieve the expected result and that it is better to bring pressure to bear on framework conditions.

Civil society, an important counterweight
The choice of action model depends on the specific context of the country concerned, i.e. government demand and motivation on the ground, the level of democratization the country has already attained, the existence and dynamism of civil society, to name but a few factors. Ideally, action should be taken not just at government level but also with civil society which represents an important – and even essential – counterweight in a country's democratic interplay. Consequently, in its partner countries, the SDC supports the work done by local NGOs on advocacy, awareness-raising and asking questions of the government. In many countries, like Burkina Faso, Pakistan or Nepal, there are citizen groups with the self-appointed task of monitoring the actions of their respective governments and proposing reform. The SDC supports them in this work with its potential risks. Progress is slow, but the governments in these countries now know to expect lively questioning from these quarters.

A support programme for investigative journalism
In other environments, the media need some help to obtain wider reporting and investigation powers. The SDC has therefore launched a programme in support of investigative journalism which has already got off the ground in Tanzania.

ICAR or the return of stolen funds
Misappropriation of funds is a major problem in developing countries. Not long ago, the SDC joined forces with other fund donors to create an International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR), which offers advice and assistance to countries whose funds were stolen and deposited in financial centres.

Fund donor agencies have a part to play in this process, by helping developing countries with training courses and assistance to trace, confiscate and repatriate the proceeds from corruption, money laundering and related crimes.

Report Corruption, Misappropriation, Misuse, and Losses

Theme contact: René Holenstein

Additional Information and Documents

  • Fighting Corruption
    SDC Strategy 2006
    Download (PDF, 1073 KB) [de]   [en]   [fr]   [es]  
  • Anti Corruption Posters from Mongolia
    Download (PDF, 860 KB) [en]  
  • Challenging Common Assumptions on Corruption and Democratisation
    Key Recommendations and Guiding Principles
    Download (PDF, 801 KB) [en]  

External Links
Articles and Press releases