1. Myth #6: Donors can “ringfence” projects in highly corrupt countries and sectors

With the possible exception of some humanitarian aid projects, the notion that the aid community can insulate projects from an overall corrupt environment in a country is not borne out by the evidence. The data suggest that when a systemic approach to governance, civil liberties, the rule of law, and control of corruption is absent, the likelihood of an aid-funded project being successful is significantly reduced.

  1. Myth #7: Fight corruption by fighting corruption

A fallacy promoted by some in the field of anti-corruption, and at times also by the international community, is that one “fights corruption by fighting corruption”—through yet another anticorruption campaign, the creation of more “commissions” and ethics agencies, and the incessant drafting of new laws, decrees, and codes of conduct. Overall, such initiatives appear to have little impact and are often politically expedient ways of reacting to pressures to do something about corruption, substituting for the need for fundamental and systemic governance reforms.

  1. Myth # 8: The culprit is the public sector in developing countries

A common fallacy is focusing solely on the public sector’s failings. The reality is much more complex since powerful private interests often exert undue influence in shaping public policy, institutions, and state legislation. In extreme cases, “oligarchs” capture state institutions. And many multinational corporations still bribe abroad, undermining public governance in emerging economies. There are also weaknesses in the nongovernmental sector. Further, traditional public sector management interventions have not worked because they have focused on technocratic “fixes,” often done through technical assistance importing hardware, organizational templates, and experts from rich countries.

  1. Myth #9: There is little countries can do to improve governance

Given the long list of interventions that have not worked and the role often ascribed to historical and cultural factors in explaining governance, it is easy to fall into the pessimist camp. That would be a mistake. First, historical and cultural factors are far from deterministic—witness, for instance, the diverging paths in the governance of neighboring countries in the Southern Cone of Latin America, the Korean peninsula, the transition economies of Eastern Europe, and Southern Africa. Second, some strategies offer particular promises. The coupling of progress on improving voice and participation— including through freedom of expression and women’s rights—with transparency reforms can be particularly effective.

  1. Myth #10: There is not much the IFIs can do

Some development experts are skeptical about the ability of IFIs and donors to help countries improve their governance—either because of a conviction that “the ‘macro’ matters more,” a mistaken belief in historical “determinism,” or a view that the interventions needed to improve governance are politically sensitive and thus complex for outsiders to encourage. Indeed, some areas fall outside the mandate of IFIs, such as promoting fair multiparty elections. But initiatives to encourage transparency, freedom of information and an independent media, participatory anticorruption programs led by the country, and gender equality—all of which have been underemphasized so far in the fight against corruption—may well be within the ability of IFIs and donors to do something about. Such initiatives, complemented by supporting targeted reform of highly vulnerable institutions (which often include procurement, tax, customs, or the judiciary), offer much promise.


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