What can civil society organizations contribute to the work of Anti-Corruption Authorities?

That is the question PTF Advisor Dr. Hady Fink considered during his presentation “Engaging Civil Society in the Fight Against Corruption” during the 14th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa, Accra, Ghana, May 6-11, 2024.

Anti-corruption agencies (ACAs) should exist to serve the people

Dr. Roger Koranteng, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s head of public sector governance, indicated the cost of corruption in stark terms: “While we tend to think of corruption in purely monetary terms, the truth is, it costs us the quality of our lives—our human and national development.” Research indicates that corruption disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable, who are least able to cope with its consequences.  Because corruption has such negative impacts on the lives of people, civil society is a major constituent of ACAs, a stakeholder in their work, and the primary beneficiary of their success.  As such, it should be actively engaged, but in most countries civil society is a valuable resource that is underutilized. ACAs working alone cannot successfully counter widespread and multi-faceted corruption: they need to work in collaboration with other state and non-state actors, especially civil society. The challenge is how to do this effectively.  CSOs, acting on behalf of citizens, can facilitate outreach and collaboration, convene multi-stakeholder activities, and generally function as an interface between ACAs and the public they serve and in whose interests they act.

The first question is “What do CSOs bring to the collaboration and how can they support ACAs?”  

CSOs have assets, including expertise, experience, networks, and often research capacity.  At the national level, they canhave input into ACA strategies, policies and programs, endorse their work, provide knowledge and channel information, and engage in advocacy.  But it is at the local level that they can perhaps be of the greatest assistance.  Often, people outside of the capital city do not know much about ACAs, what they do, or the results they have achieved.  It is the daily life of ordinary people that is most affected by corruption, and it is precisely at that level that CSOs are able to intervene on behalf of civil society. Because CSOs work with and represent different interest groups they can access communities that ACAs find hard to reach, facilitate two-way information flows and key messages, and raise local-level awareness of ACA work.  CSOs often live and work close to target groups and are regarded as local members of the community and trusted interlocuters.  That can help build public confidence in ACAs and their work.  CSOs’ local knowledge and relationships enable them to uncover evidence of corruption and channel information to ACAs for action.  Over time, collaboration with CSOs can help build positive public perceptions of ACAs and broaden their base of support.

Third-party monitoring by CSOs can assist ACAs

CSOs can also make a key contribution to the work of ACAs by promoting and supporting accountability and transparency through independent third-party monitoring that verifies activities, programs and results.  PTF has worked with CSOs on third-party monitoring in health, education and public procurement in a variety of countries.  This independent monitoring adds value by uncovering problems—including corruption—bringing information into the public domain, and promoting solutions by involving communities.  By collaborating with CSOs engaged in third-party monitoring, ACAs can augment their access to information and understanding of the situation on the ground.  CSOS can help provide the evidence base ACAs need to address corruption and in so doing support increased transparency and accountability, which is a core ACA function.

Engaging with CSOs is not without risk 

There are many CSOs with varying capacity, interests, and affiliations, and not all are really representative of the people.  ACAs have to exercise due diligence before engaging with them and check that the information received is accurate.  ACAs cannot control CSOs, which at times will be critical of their efforts.  For their part, CSOs also have to retain their independence, objectivity and integrity.  But the benefits of engagement outweigh the risks.  CSOs can be important allies in the fight against corruption, and ACAs and CSOs can enter into mutually beneficial arrangements without losing their autonomy.  By working together and capitalizing on the strengths that they each bring they can empower people to stand up against corruption, take action, demand greater accountability and transparency of government, and support positive change.  An informed and empowered citizenry is the greatest antidote to corruption and voice for improved governance.

ACAs and CSOs are recognizing the value of collaboration

Other speakers at the conference also recognized the importance of engaging with CSOs to build strong coalitions against corruption, help ACAs fulfill their multiple mandates, and maximize use of limited resources.  Several of PTF’s CSO partners have collaborated with ACAs on specific issues and to advocate against corruption. PTF is ready to support both ACAs and CSOs with training on issues such as public procurement and third-party monitoring in sectors like health, education, climate and infrastructure.

In its more than 20 years of operation, and over 250 joint interventions with CSOs across the globe, PTF has a trove of information about outcomes of projects intended to fight corruption, mismanagement, and lack of social accountability. The outcomes of these interventions vary between highly successful to quite unsuccessful, and this has provided precious lessons and principles of what would or could most likely work best. One of those principles is that the active involvement of civil society and CSOs is indispensable to the fight against corruption.  Throughout the years PTF and its CSO colleagues have upheld the idea that “partnership and collaboration work better than accusations and working against each other” to successfully address the underlying questions of corruption.