DFID Says Transparency, ATI Medium Corruption Solutions

6 March 2015

A 110-page British government report evaluating the causes of corruption, and possible solutions, rates access to information as having “medium” value in fighting corruption, linked to one of two “large” impact factors — social accountability mechanisms.

The summary section states: “Transparency and ATI emerge as important for the exercise of other rights, improving service delivery and constraining corruption.”

The new report rates social accountability mechanisms and decentralization as having the most proven success as “anti-corruption interventions.”

Transparency and ATI are among four interventions in the “medium” category, along with public expenditure tracking, organized civil society and anti-corruption agencies. The “small” impact column includes six factors (see summary chart, figure 12, page 78).

Importance of Social Accountability

“There is a large body of evidence that indicates, overall, that social accountability mechanisms can have an impact on levels of corruption,” according to the report. It continues:

This is highly conditioned on the context within which they are implemented. Critical conditions include a focus on issues relevant to the targeted population; targeting of relatively homogenous populations; populations that are empowered and have the capacity to hold institutions accountable and withstand elite capture; synergies and coalitions between different actors; alignment between social accountability and other reforms and monitoring mechanisms; credible sanctions; and functional and responsive state institutions.

Social accountability mechanisms include a broad range of mechanisms: participatory budgeting; public expenditure tracking surveys; citizen monitoring of service delivery; information dissemination; and public complaints mechanisms, among others.

“There is a medium-sized body of evidence showing transparency and ATI is important to the effectiveness of the broader range of social accountability mechanisms, while the direct impact on corruption is contested,” DFID found. It continues:

Transparency and ATI are, however, not sufficient unless the information is meaningful to users, there are stakeholders who are empowered to make use of the information and there are credible sanctions when evidence of corruption is uncovered. There is a small body of evidence that indicates the media has a critical role to play in reducing corruption and that it plays a role in the effectiveness of other social accountability mechanisms.

Partial Text of Report

Reprinted below is the specific section on transparency and ATI (pages 70-72 ) from the larger report by the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development:“Why Corruption Matters: Understanding causes and effects, and how to address them.” It is referred to as an “Evidence Paper on Corruption.” (Report contains a bibliography with full names of referenced authors and reports.)

Transparency and access to information

Transparency, and, linked to this, ATI, is generally expected to have a positive impact on corruption control. As noted in the previous sections, transparency and ATI are also seen as one of the pillars for enabling the successful implementation of social accountability mechanisms. A review of the evidence by McGee and Gaventa (2010 [S; SR]) concludes transparency initiatives can have positive outcomes on institutional responsiveness, corruption, citizen engagement, empowerment, budget utilisation and delivery of services. Nevertheless, they remain cautious about generalising findings.

ATI legislation has been introduced widely in developing countries in recent years (Ackerman and Sandoval-Ballesteros, 2006 [S; OR]). Observational research finds only modest gains from ATI laws. Islam (2006 [P; OBS, statistical analysis) and Tavares (2007 [P; OBS, statistical analysis]) observe a positive correlation between the existence of ATI legislation and reduced corruption. By contrast, Relly’s (2012 [P; OBS, OLS regression]) cross-country study of 150 countries finds ATI legislation alone has no impact on corruption. These research findings may result from ATI legislation being a relatively recent introduction to many countries. As a result, it will take time for evidence to emerge.

Some country-level evidence is emerging from studies based on experimental methodologies of the potential positive impact of ATI, however. For example, Peisakhin and Pinto (2010 [P; QEX, field experiment]), through a randomised field experiment in New Delhi, demonstrate that using India’s ATI law is almost as effective as bribery in helping slum dwellers obtain ration cards. The experiment showed that, while most applications to obtain ration cards were ignored, individuals who filed enquiries either about the status of their application or about processing times were consistently successful. This effect may owe less to penalties prescribed by the law than to civil servants’ fear that blemishes on their record may be detrimental to career prospects. Further studies demonstrate information campaigns have effectively contributed to constraining the capture of public funds in the education sector in Uganda and Madagascar (Francken et al., 2009 [P; OBS, case study]; Reinikka and Svensson, 2003a [P; EXP, RCT]). The relative impact achieved through the release of information through different media (TV, newspaper, radio) depends on population characteristics (e.g. literacy). Hubbard (2007 [TC]) argues concurrent reforms (i.e. reforms not relating to social accountability) in Uganda’s education and fiscal systems were also important.

The evidence relating to the impact of information disclosure (specifically information relating to an incumbent’s corrupt practices) on election outcomes is mixed. Anecdotal evidence shows corruption scandals lead to “throwing the rascals out” (Stapenhurst, 2000 [P; OBS, statistical analysis]). Djankov et al. (2010 [P; QEX; regression analysis]), analysing data from 175 countries, show a correlation between public financial and conflict disclosure for members of parliament and lower levels of corruption. Pereira et al. (2009 [P; OBS, statistical analysis]) use panel data for Brazilian municipalities where mayoral re-election was introduced. They find significant evidence that elections are an effective mechanism for controlling corruption, but only when horizontal accountability institutions are functional, and where information on incumbents’ corruption is disclosed during election years. Ferraz and Finan (2008 [P; QEX, dataset analysis]), using a dataset on corruption constructed from audit reports, compare the electoral outcomes of municipalities audited before or after the 2004 elections. They show the release of the audit outcomes had a significant impact on incumbents’ electoral performance. These effects were more pronounced in municipalities where local radio was present to disseminate the information.

On the other hand, a field experiment in 12 Mexican municipalities (Chong et al., 2011 [P; EXP, field experiment]) showed the dissemination of information about incumbents’ corruption led to reduced support for the incumbent but also to reduced support for the challenger and lower voter turnout. Furthermore, exposing corruption may fail to oust corrupt politicians in societies with deep ethnic divisions (Gthnji and Holmquist, 2012 [TC]).

In summary

There is a medium-sized body of evidence on the effectiveness of transparency and ATI. This includes some primary, experimental studies but is based mainly on secondary research and observational studies making use of statistical analyses. The evidence shows transparency and ATI is important to the effectiveness of the broader range of social accountability mechanisms, although evidence of the direct impact on corruption is inconsistent. The impact of information

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