Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman’s Keynote Speech on USAID Anti-Corruption Evidence and Learning Week

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Monday, January 10, 2022

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, everyone. It’s an honor to be here virtually with you all to kick off USAID’s first-ever Anti-Corruption Evidence and Learning Week. Welcome to our USAID colleagues from Washington and across our Missions; U.S. government interagency colleagues; implementing partners, esteemed academics and think tank experts; and those of you representing crucial allies in the fight against corruption—civil society actors, private sector partners, and everyone in between.

As you just heard in the previous session, the United States is serious about tackling corruption. With the release of the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, the Biden-Harris Administration has put corrupt actors and kleptocrats around the world on notice.

USAID is meeting the Administration’s call and taking concrete steps to strengthen and elevate our anti-corruption programming, and integrate these considerations throughout our work. And after months of hard work, USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force announced a suite of bold anti-corruption programs at last month’s Summit for Democracy, which are designed to provide new approaches to addressing the age-old problem of corruption — a problem that impacts all of our development sectors and undermines all of our development objectives, and which Administrator Samantha Power has called “development in reverse.”

But corruption isn’t just an abstract, far away issue carried out by wealthy elites. It has real impacts on the everyday lives of citizens around the world. From entrepreneurs trying to sell their goods at a marketplace to parents trying to obtain the best education possible for their children, corruption negatively affects the very populations our assistance is intended to help.

To effectively tackle these challenges, we need to understand the menace we’re facing. Not just where the opportunities may be, but where the constraints lie and where there are active disruptors. We need to know the players, the networks, and their incentives.

This is why it is so important to have conversations like the ones you’ll be having over this coming week … about what is and isn’t effective in addressing corruption—and why corruption is often referred to as a “wicked problem.” It is complex and involves many actors that interact and evolve over time. So how do we learn, adapt, and refine our programming to keep up with the ways in which corrupt actors are themselves learning, adapting, and refining their methods? And critically, what does the evidence tell us about the effectiveness of anti-corruption programming?

We can answer some of these questions,but collecting data on corruption is notoriously difficult and rarely keeps pace with the speed of corrupt actors.

A defining characteristic of corruption is that the actors attempt to conceal their acts so as not to get caught. We need to really dig in and understand where the gaps are. Which is why I am so excited that USAID’s Center for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance is pioneering the use of Evidence Gap Maps through the DRG Learning, Evidence, and Analysis Platform, allowing us to better understand where certain types of evidence exist within the anti-corruption space, and highlight where additional data are needed.

Corruption weakens trust in governments, which undermines democracy and threatens the aim of sustainable, inclusive, and locally-led development. Corruption is also a key driver of frustration with government, leading in some cases to apathy, in other cases to civic movements that upend the political order.

Because of this, we need to develop long-term approaches to tackling corruption and shift our conceptions on how we observe and measure success. This is even more critical as we work with our interagency partners to implement the U.S. Strategy to Counter Corruption.

At USAID, we are commissioning research on a range of anti-corruption issues. As you’ll learn about later today, our new Agency-wide learning agenda is tackling the perennial issue of how to support anti-corruption reform when there is limited commitment by the government.

And we’re focusing our efforts on two distinct points. First, what norms drive, facilitate, and perpetuate corruption? And second, how can social and behavioral change approaches be integrated into long-term anti-corruption programming? Through our research, we can better understand how linkages between anti-corruption actors are built or deepened, what social norms and group expectations permit corrupt behavior, and how corruption networks may be weakened or disrupted through the use of social cues or penalties.

Finally, the Agency has commissioned research to understand how we can more effectively confront corruption enabled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be clear, anti-corruption is not new to USAID. For decades, our programs have been working to bolster the Agency’s capacity to support champions and reformers across the public sector, private sector, and civil society who work to detect, investigate, and expose corrupt actors and dismantle the systems that abet them.

Around the world, and in countries such as Mexico, the Philippines and Guyana, we have supported the development and passage of key anti-corruption laws on bribery, beneficial ownership, anti money-laundering, and whistleblowing. We have worked to strengthen national anti-corruption systems and frameworks and enhance the effectiveness of institutions that oversee public spending and investment. In countries such as the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, and Indonesia, our programs have helped create or enhance specialized anti-corruption courts; improved the capacity of prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and investigators to detect, investigate, and prosecute financial crime; and strengthened intergovernmental coordination in fighting corruption.

And this has been paired around the world — from Nepal to Liberia to Peru — with significant investments in empowering local civil and media society actors and coalitions. One only need look to the Pandora Papers to know the importance of USAID’s long-time support to coalitions such as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP, and the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas.

With over three decades of experience in anti-corruption programming, USAID has long made anti-corruption work a critical piece of its mission. What is new is that with the creation of the USAID Anti-Corruption Task Force in June 2021, USAID is prioritizing corruption with the urgency and resolve and leadership that it requires and is taking concrete steps to position the Agency to “meet the moment” created by the U.S Strategy on Countering Corruption. USAID understands that corruption is a core constraint to our development mission across all sectors.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, we have long witnessed the ways in which corruption fundamentally undermines democracy and development progress across all sectors.

Enhancing our understanding of how to deliver impactful, evidence-driven interventions is critical and USAID stands ready to elevate, integrate, and rejuvenate our anti-corruption approaches through robust evidence and learning. I invite you to join us.

Last updated: January 10, 2022

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