Building momentum from the top-down and the bottom-up – the National Integrity System way…

Suzanne Mulcahy, Research Coordinator for National Integrity Systems Assessments at Transparency International, discusses the impact this tool can have on societies.


The recent publication of the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index has put the spotlight on corruption risks in countries around the globe. Raising awareness about corruption is crucial – but the next step is to pinpoint the real problems and build momentum and political will for change.

TI France's launches the "virus" campaign. Click for full image.

TI’s National Integrity Systems approach tries to do just this – during a thorough evaluation of the anti-corruption system in a country, stakeholders from all sectors are engaged on the issue of corruption and how best to fight it in a given context. How does this engagement happen and does it always work?

The National Integrity System (NIS) approach builds in a number of ways for anti-corruption actors to get involved – be they civil society activists, policymakers or businesspeople. When an NIS assessment gets underway in a country, a multi-stakeholder advisory group is formed to oversee and contribute to the assessment of the state of those institutions tasked with preventing and fighting corruption and to help shape priorities for reform. Once a draft report is produced, a broader group of stakeholders is brought together in a National Integrity Workshop to discuss the draft findings and prioritise recommendations for reform.

Recently the Czech Republic launched their NIS assessment , which was preceeded by a vibrant national integrity workshop in which the deputy Prime Minister and a number of other high-level policymakers actively participated. This high level engagement is a good sign. Given that the report rates the government’s executive branch and public prosecutors as the weakest institutions in the system, getting them on board is all the more important. Indeed, TI Czech Republic hope to use this as a platform to start a process of change based on the evidence produced in their detailed and comprehensive report.

We should not be fooled into thinking that building political will on the sensitive issue of corruption is  always straighforward or simple. In Georgia, the present government considers itself a corruption-fighter par excellence, at least when it comes to rooting out petty corruption in the public sector. The government takes any opportunity to draw media and public attention to its improved ratings in corruption rankings.

When it came to the Georgian NIS assessment , the government also became heavily involved through the advisory group. On the surface this seems like a positive thing but TI Georgia had to perform a careful dance between keeping the government engaged and avoiding being coopted by the state. In the end, the NIS assessment should remain independent and this is sometimes put at risk when those being assessed are brought inside the circle to validate the findings. TI Georgia have so far managed to perform this dance and have not been afraid to point out that despite the progress, there are serious shortcomings to the government’s approach to fighting corruption. The report warns that the concentration of power at the top-tiers of the executive is worrying and that the weak system of checks and balances creates ample room for abuse.

The NIS can also be used to mobilise citizens around corruption issues. TI France launched its NIS assessment on anti-corruption day and is making sure the findings inform citizens who are gearing up to vote in the presidential election in 2012. To this end TI France has started a campaign to get presidential candidates to sign a pledge or ‘vaccinate’ themselves against the corruption viruses revealed by the NIS assessment. These ‘viruses’ include opaque lobbying, lack of clear conflict of interest provisions for politicans at all levels and lenient rules regarding elected officials found guilty of corruption offenses running again for office.

The presumed front-runners in the race – Sarkozy, Hollande and Bayrou – have yet to sign the anti-corruption pledge. Meanwhile, through this virus campaign, TI France is busy making sure that citizens are aware of what those they vote for stand for when it comes to corruption and integrity.

Right now there are over 30 National Integrity System assessments ongoing worldwide using this process of engagement to build momentum for change. It is already clear that the engagement process plays itself out differently in every country. The overall political climate, international pressures, party dynamics, and short-term factors such as timing vis-à-vis the election calendar or the personnel involved in the assessment all play a role. However, in almost each country there is evidence to suggest that the engagement process contributes to at least some small advances in the anti-corruption system. Watch this space for more news on where and how these advances take place…

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