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Practical action to prevent bribery in humanitarian aid

Aid and corruption are often linked in the minds of the public and in media headlines. However, in my experience, the practical steps needed by NGOs to prevent bribery are much less likely to grab everyone’s attention.

There has been excellent guidance produced by Transparency international (TI) on Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Operations. This is a great resource for when you hit trouble, but for me what each humanitarian worker needs is their own personal version of a seven point action plan, roughly based on the Anti-bribery Principles and Guidance for NGOs, which Mango developed with TI and a range of
other NGOs.

A suggested seven-point personal Anti-bribery Action Plan

1. High level commitment

What are you and your NGO doing to clearly and publicly communicate your zero-tolerance approach to corruption? Highlight your approach on your website, tender documents, contracts, shipping forms...

2. Risk assessment

Are you clear about the three to four biggest corruption risks that affect your job and what you need to do to avoid them? Make sure you prioritise your efforts to reduce the risks that would have the worst consequences for your program and your reputation. 

Good planning and looking for alternatives can usually dramatically reduce risks. For example, in Haiti, NGOs leased vehicles locally, rather than exposing themselves to long delays and bribery risks in bringing them through customs.

3. Anti-bribery procedures

Humanitarian workers don’t like long procedure documents. So make sure you and your colleagues know the two or three things you have to do to reduce local bribery risks and make sure this is regularly discussed in meetings - not just left in a file.

4. Due diligence assessment of partners and suppliers

Asking about corruption risks from the beginning will build the quality and trust in your relationships. If the response is “corruption doesn’t exist” – that is probably a warning sign.

5. Dissemination and communication

Have you been trained in how to resist or avoid the most common forms of bribery that you will come across? Role-plays are a fun and practical way to learn.

6. Monitoring and evaluation

How do you and your managers know if the anti-bribery strategy is working? Are near misses being openly discussed in staff meetings?

7. Collective action

How are you working with other NGOs to challenge local bribery hotspots? Are you willing to challenge other NGOs in coordination meetings regarding their poor practice? If other NGOs are offering bribes, this creates demand for more bribes and is likely to slow your work down if you resist bribery. But by working together and linking up with donors and government, bribery can be prevented and delays can be reduced.

Finally, if there is one thing I have learned, it is that people who are seeking bribes know that “time is money”. The more we plan ahead and show that we are not in a hurry – the less power the bribe-seeker will have. One colleague I know used to take sandwiches with her when visiting customs, so she could take them out and say “I’ll wait” to emphasize she was not in a hurry!

Tim Boyes-Watson


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