Fighting corruption: Adapting ‘best practices’ or ensuring a ‘best fit’ to local contexts
20 Mar 2015 by Anne Marie Sloth Carlsen, Director, USPC and Ahjung Lee, Programme and Policy Officer, USPC
At UNDP’s Seoul Policy Centre for Global Development Partnerships, we often get to hear: “Korea developed so fast. I want to know how this happened, so that I can help my country too”. Policy makers and practitioners in developing countries find Korea’s case particularly interesting because of its rapid economic and social development despite governance challenges such as corruption.
At the 2015 Seoul Debates, participants honestly wanted to take practical and immediate solutions home, and found Korea’s innovative tools particularly attractive. Besides the integrity assessment of Korea’s anti-corruption body - conducted by over 600 public organizations in Korea, and now applied in several countries including Bhutan - there was also the electronic subcontract payment system for transparent public infrastructure projects of the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
Other countries also shared their experiences, among them Uganda and Columbia. Uganda’s Inspector General of Government shared how her country had exceeded its target of prosecuting 50 cases of corruption per year, and stressed the importance of working with all stakeholders both within and beyond the country. Our colleagues from UNDP Colombia shared a transparency assessment tool that helps political parties manage the integrity of political processes.
Yet we deliberately avoided the ‘best practices approach,’ or ready-made solutions that can be transplanted into other contexts. The assumption was that, owing to different political, socio-economic and legal contexts, there is no universal model of successful anti-corruption policies.
Our candid discussions at the Seoul Debates revealed that ‘what works’ should be analyzed and understood via a careful consideration of the political, economic, and cultural contexts. The shared feeling was that exemplary policies and tools need to be referenced and adapted as a ‘best fit’ for specific contexts. For instance, implementing Korea’s integrity assessment would require not only sufficient budget but also enabling laws and infrastructure. Tools would also need to be adapted to fit particular social and cultural conditions. So participants of our meeting expressed strong interest in more focused knowledge exchange with Korea, with UNDP as a knowledge broker, so as to localize and adapt these innovative practices back home.
Sharing experiences and identifying good practices from other countries must lead to follow-up analysis, dialogue and dynamic collaboration between the parties. Policies and tools would need to be ‘reinvented,’ not transplanted, in order to address the particular needs and circumstances of the destination.
The Debates demonstrated the usefulness and the rich potential of triangular development cooperation involving Korea, UNDP, and developing countries. Ultimately, it affirms the strategic role that we, at UNDP, can play as ‘development translator’ in this two-way exchange and reinvention of development solutions.