NGOs Combating Corruption: Theory & Practice

The Interchange, Uriah Butler Highway

Corruption, in its many guises, is a global phenomenon to be contended with in the context of commerce, politics and day to day life. And in some countries, according to Transparency International (TI), it has become deeply embedded in the very fabric of society. The international community consisting of lending institutions such as the World Bank and inter-governmental institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have sought to combat the problem of corruption through a variety of mechanisms ranging from tying loans to conditions that require the borrower (donee) state to adopt better governance mechanisms and pass anti- corruption laws to international treaties and soft law. Of the treaties, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, 2005 (UNCAC) and the OECD Convention against the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, 1997 (Anti-Bribery Convention) are the most well-known, and of the soft law instruments the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises 2000 (OECD Guidelines) which focus on reducing corruption from the supply side by recommending that companies do not engage in corrupt practices when engaging in business transactions. Besides states and businesses, NGOs and civil society are also seen as central to the gargantuan task of fighting corruption. The UNCAC, the only international anti-corruption convention, in its Art 13(1) states that:

Each State Party shall take appropriate measures, within its means and in accordance with fundamental principles of its domestic law, to promote the active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations, in the prevention of and the fight against corruption and to raise public awareness regarding the existence, causes and gravity of and the threat posed by corruption.

Regional anti-corruption conventions are also not far behind. For instance, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating (AUCPCC) in a similar vein in its Art 12 provides that States Parties work with civil society at large to popularise the AUCPCC, ensure and provide for the participation of civil society in the monitoring process and consult civil society in the Convention’s implementation.

This expectation of NGOs in the global anti-corruption effort is understandable since their successes in key areas such as environment , healthcare, and human rights through the use of various strategies including grassroots organization, robust advocacy and active lobbying are well known. The strategies that NGOs adopt vary, dependant on the causes promoted and the local conditions, and range from the confrontational to the collaborative. Collaboration, conducted through interactions, dialogues and partnerships, seems to be a widely adopted technique in moving companies to include within their business plans corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and issues related to sustainable development. The move towards collaboration is a recent development and may be a consequence of the UNGC which sees a future in partnership between companies, NGOs and international institutions. Whilst the anti-corruption conventions expect NGOs to play an important role in combating corruption there are as yet no surveys, to our knowledge, on the strategies adopted by the various NGOs in respect of the anti-corruption drive or the nature of their interaction with other stakeholders such as the public, businesses and the state and their contribution to policy-making and the drafting of codes of conduct. In order to address this gap the authors used a postal questionnaire to provide, as part of a larger project on corruption in international business, an insight into the ways in which NGOs operate, both with respect to their strategies and stakeholder engagement and their views on the various anti-corruption regulatory approaches.

This article, the main aim of which is to provide the findings of the survey, consists of three sections. Section I briefly discusses the conceptual differences between civil society and NGOs, the different forms of NGOs and the roles envisaged for them in relation to anti-corruption by the various anti-corruption toolkits in order to provide a backdrop for the survey. Section II provides the survey results Section III concludes with a discussion and suggestions for future research.

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