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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: September 2015

8 - From critical mess to critical mass: some tentative policy conclusions


“The most practical thing in the world is a good theory.”

Hermann von Helmholtz

Current state of play

The Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, U4, concluded its 2011 evidence review by stating that “most anticorruption initiatives in developing countries fail” (Heeks and Mathisen 2012). In the same year, the World Bank evaluation team made a similarly laconic acknowledgment in its evaluation of good governance programs: “The evaluation's desk reviews and case studies showed that the Bank's record in helping to achieve countrywide governance improvements was limited” (World Bank 2011). European donors (the Swedish International Development Corporation; NORAD; the UK's Department for International Development; the Danish Development Corporation) also sponsored a joint evaluation of their anticorruption projects, which checked on selected countries such as Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zambia, to conclude that: “Although donors have helped to strengthen country institutions and systems in support of [anticorruption] in all five countries, these intermediate results have not translated into reduced levels of corruption at national levels” (ITAD 2011). Thinly veiled in this assessment is the recognition of the huge ambition of international donors to have an impact on national governance. Another evaluation indicated that there is no country to point to as a successful example of the deployment of the international anticorruption toolkit – in addition to having no statistical evidence to substantiate the impact of anticorruption tools (Mungiu-Pippidi et al. 2011). By and large, the evaluations piling up after the first fifteen years of anticorruption work showed great expectations and humble results.

Yet, how could donor-sponsored good governance deliver satisfactory results to such ambitious goals? If the theory and evidence presented in this book seem convincing, most of the anticorruption industry could only have walked into what the U4 authors call a design-reality gap (Heeks and Mathisen 2012). Most anticorruption approaches by Western donors (the so-called zero-tolerance approach, for instance) presume that ethical universalism is a default state of governance, so corruption must be a deviation from it.