Corruption-defined as the abuse of authority for private gain-can be a tremendous barrier to economic development and is among the leading causes of state failure. To deal with this global scourge, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has initiated a new anti-corruption strategy.
The primary target for the strategy is corruption at the highest governmental levels-known as grand corruption-a particularly pernicious form of power abuse that is largely resistant to reform attempts at the local level. According to USAID’s anticorruption strategy report, grand corruption may be less immediately visible than corruption among mid-level public officials. But grand corruption is often more devastating to development because it diverts state institutions, as well as financial and natural resources, in order to meet private and elite goals. Additionally, law enforcement’s attempts to eliminate local power abuse are often crippled by corruption at the highest level.
Fighting grand corruption is a difficult and often dangerous process, requiring a long-term commitment to multiple approaches. Strategies outlined by USAID in its report include promoting independent political candidates, improving citizen oversight of military budgets, supporting independent media, and promoting ad hoc independent monitoring of large procurement awards.
The report also notes that “countries with the largest stores of natural reserves are typically the poorest and most corrupt.”
As part of the new strategy, USAID will support merit-based public-sector employment practices in the countries it works with, as well as encourage “red tape analyses” to help developing nations rid themselves of the bureaucratic barriers that often boggle free enterprise.
Finally, the agency will incorporate anticorruption goals across all fields of its work. USAID energy consultants, for example, might establish initiatives to improve the authority and independence of regulatory commissions; environmental aid workers might push for community involvement in environmental management; health workers might introduce cost-based accounting systems and put together teams to track and account for hospital assets such as equipment and medications.
Curbing official power abuse in many developing nations won’t occur overnight, the report recognizes, but, without stronger anticorruption efforts from key international organizations, the goals of development have no chance succeeding. -Patrick Tucker
Source: USAID Anti-corruption Strategy, 2005. 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20523. Web site http://www.usaid.gov.
Originally published in THE FUTURIST, January-February 2006