The need for effective, honest state institutions is widely accepted and understood, and international and domestic policy-makers have tried a variety of ways to build state capacity and combat corruption around the world.  This video summarizes the main types of reforms and highlights a few success stories from around the world.

Anti-corruption reforms

Anti-corruption reforms can be as broad as promoting political oversight of a bureaucracy (by parliament and civil society) and educating the public (not so much teaching people corruption is bad, but how they can report having to pay a bribe).

Often, though, they refer to a narrower set of actions, including legal reform, training and transparency initiatives.

Legal reforms start with revising countries laws to ban corrupt practices.  Nepotism, for example, is not illegal in every country, and many countries need legislation to protect whistleblowers who report corrupt activity.  While passing new laws is an important first step, the bigger challenge tends to be enforcing those laws – creating agencies to make sure that sure that senior officials who engage in corrupt activities are prosecuted and convicted.

Anti-corruption also involves bureaucratic reforms.  Bureaucracies create job descriptions and formal promotion processes in order to avoid favoritism for members of certain political parties or proteges of “big men.” Poorly paid bureaucrats in developing countries also often receive job skills training to better do their jobs.  This is where a focus on capacity building comes in – bureaucrats are training in strategic planning and cost-benefit analysis, for example.

Finally, many anti-corruption initiatives focus on transparency in government, requiring public officials to declare how much money they have in their bank accounts and what corporate boards they are members of, promoting competitive procurement processes (this is the process by which government agencies buy everything from office supplies to construction contracts) so that contracts don’t go to insiders, and promoting e-government to allow citizens to avoid paying bribes for basic services.


A relative success story in fighting corruption is Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which was created in 2002 to investigate and prosecute corruption in that country.  Under strong leadership from the head of this organization, it has developed an international reputation for targeting senior officials involved in corruption – and had a 100% conviction rate in its first 13 years.  Indonesia’s Corruption Perception Index score improved from being ranked 122 in the world in 2003 to 88 in 2015.  Success is largely credited to the early leaders of the commission, who were well-respected figures in the country and focused on building a professional and skilled organization.

A new trend in anti-corruption reform is asset recovery.  This involves tracking down the assets of corrupt officials in global financial markets, seizing them under international law or the law of the country the assets are located in, and returning these assets to their countries.  Officials in highly corrupt states don’t usually keep their money in the local bank or even as cash under the bed – they transfer their income from bribes and other corrupt activities to offshore bank accounts (and if the bribe came from a multinational firm, it can be deposited directly) and buy property in other countries.  Some of the offshore accounts are in countries with strict financial privacy laws (like the Cayman Islands), but many open accounts (usually through a relative) in the UK or United States in order to take advantage of the stability of the pound and dollar.  Forensic accountants scour financial records to look for evidence of the transfers and lawyers file suit in the US and UK to seize illegally obtained money.