Each case study tells a set of stories that illustrate how combating corruption works in practice, which may offer insight on some of the larger issues across the globe.

Focusing on 10 countries—Georgia, Ukraine, Costa Rica, Nepal, Bolivia, Croatia, Indonesia, Pakistan, United States and Brazil—the case studies aim to identify ideas that do and don’t work and share them with the wider anti-corruption and policy communities.

'Curbing Corruption: Ideas That Work' was launched at the Legatum Institute on Thursday, 17 September 2015 (Details)

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INTRODUCTION

Corruption is a hot topic. Do a quick Google search of recent political protests around the globe, and you’ll find that angry citizens have been taking to the streets in places as diverse as Brazil, Nepal, Greece, Indonesia, Iraq and the Philippines. Anti-corruption campaigners have become nationally famous in countries ranging from Russia to India. Americans worry about the corrosive effects of money in politics, while the British prime minister David Cameron has promised to address the impact of dirty money on the international financial centre of London.

Our aim in commissioning these case studies of successful anti-corruption initiatives is twofold. First, we hope to bring the advantages of storytelling to a topic that is all too often characterised by well-meaning abstractions. Second, we believe that corruption in its myriad forms is a problem that can be solved. By encouraging a lively debate about interventions that have had positive effects, we hope to reinforce the message that practical solutions can be found.

Of course this is a broad subject. ‘Corruption’ is a term that covers a multitude of problems, ranging from petty bribery to high-level influence-peddling. How one defines corruption depends to a dramatic degree on where one stands. One person’s tax shelter is another person’s crony capitalism. Some of us may condemn the nepotism of a politician while eagerly using our professional contacts to help our own relatives. Bankers from New York might sneer at the trivial bribery of officials in an African airport while happily exploiting their own financial power to influence congressional legislation. Some social scientists argue that corruption’s destructive role is grossly exaggerated—though the anger and zeal of demonstrators on the streets suggests otherwise.

Given that corruption comes in so many forms, quantifying its extent and consequences is a challenge. This, coupled with the political sensitivity of the topic, generates a powerful temptation to address it with generalities. Politicians thunder about plagues of malfeasance while proving oddly reluctant to pass legislation. Journalists latch eagerly on to juicy tales of individual wrongdoing while rarely taking the time to probe into complex networks of influence. Development experts preach the need for ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ while all too often shying away from the grubby details of the situations that confront them.

We hope that the case studies collected here will stimulate a different kind of discussion—one that draws on implemented policies, lived experience and specific details.

Such solutions will probably never produce a magical panacea that can be applied in every situation. But we do believe that the cases we examine here can, ultimately, point the way to successful policies.

Christian Caryl, Managing Editor, Democracy Lab

Curbing Corruption: Ideas That Work

This project forms part of the Legatum Institute's Transitions Forum, a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.