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How to eliminate corruption in cities

Tackling corruptions and perceptions lack of transparency are key to cities attracting external investment.



Tackling corruptions and perceptions f lack of transparency are key to cities attracting external investment. There are multiple definitions of corruption. Ronald MacLean-Abaroa, former Mayor of La Paz, Bolivia, and world renowned expert on fighting corruption articulates, however, that “most broadly, corruption means the misuse of office for personal gain.”


Corruption can take a variety of forms and although corrupt acts sometimes may result in a net social benefit, it commonly leads to inefficiency, injustice, and inequity. Corrupt acts differ in type, as well as extent. While in some cases individual officials, or small groups, may undertake acts of corruption, in a bid to strengthen personal power or wealth, corruption can also become systematic. When corruption reaches this stage, it is debilitating to the health and performance of cities.


Unfortunately, this is a state in which many world cities currently find themselves, both in the developed and developing world, where the impact can be more acute as property rights, the rule of law, and incentives to invest are all undermined.

What can cities do to eliminate corruption?

Robert Klitgaard, Ronald MacLean-Abaroa and H. Lindsey Parris, authors of Corrupt Cities: A Practical Guide to Cure and Prevention, emphasise the need to follow an all encompassing three step process in eliminating corruption in cities.


  1. 1. Diagnosis of the types of corruption and their extent.


An honest diagnosis and acknowledgement of the inherent corruption problem must be the first step for cities. Through a series of workshops, systematic anonymous surveys of employees and clients, and “vulnerability assessments”, cities must expend time and energy getting to the root cause of the problem and gaining a full understanding of the level and type of corruption within a city. Without such an understanding, cities waste time and resources and will ultimately develop ineffective anti-corruption strategies.


  1. 2. Design a strategy focussing on systems.


Before an effective strategy can be implemented, cities must develop the capacity to solve the corruption problem. This is a wide ranging process, but ultimately lays the foundations for an effective implementation strategy. By selecting the right agents, setting inherently motivational rewards and penalties, collecting detailed information about results, restructuring the principal-agent-client relationship as a means of enhancing accountability, and ultimately raising the moral costs of corruption, it is possible to bring about a step change in corporate culture.

  1. 3. Develop an implementation strategy.


When developing an implementation strategy, a city’s actions and efforts must be coordinated. By “picking low hanging fruit”, and fixing relatively easy to solve problems first, momentum in the right direction is created. Furthermore, by aligning with favourable forces and breaking the culture of impunity by targeting some of the seemingly untouchable individuals, a positive perception of meaningful change can be created, which can be promoted further through a variety of media channels. Cities must also seek to not only strengthen institutional capacity through supply-side measures, but also must change systems of information and incentives.


The ultimate goal, aside from overcoming the corruption problem, should also be to consider how an anti-corruption campaign can galvanise broader and deeper positive changes in municipal government.

Indeed, as Ronald MacLean-Abaroa et al conclude, “fighting corruption in the right ways can become a lever to achieve much broader ends, not only financial survival, but remaking the relationship between citizen and local government.”


Image: Flickr-Arthur Chapman



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