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Addressing corruption risks in the humanitarian sector requires open and collective engagement

Transparency International today called on all humanitarian actors to strengthen efforts to enhance transparency and accountability in humanitarian responses to ensure humanitarian aid is distributed in a fair and rapid way without corruption. A more open internal and inter-agency dialogue on the risks of corruption in humanitarian operations is key for addressing corruption risks.

The new Collective Resolution to Enhance Accountability and Transparency in Emergencies: Synthesis report, developed in partnership with Humanitarian Outcomes and Groupe URD, compares the challenges that humanitarian aid actors face in four different complex humanitarian contexts: protracted conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia, sudden onset disasters such as the Ebola crisis in Guinea, and the response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon.

The study shows that corruption risks exist across the entire programme cycle of humanitarian aid with slightly different emphasis depending on the context and nature of the response as well as the type of actors involved. Where high levels of insecurity exist, risks include the process of negotiating conditions for access, identifying local partners, and the selection and targeting of aid recipients. Other more common risks include procurement, especially in the awarding and pricing of contracts, and human resources, particularly nepotism and cronyism in recruitment.

Across all contexts, there were challenges in engaging with the affected population, which impacts the type of information an organisation might receive on the quality of programmes and the related risks of corruption, including gate-keeping, favouritism and other forms of abuse.

These practices are not specific to a particular type of organisation (national or international). Humanitarian resources are not only diverted by governmental actors and national NGOs, but also as a result of the practices of international agencies.

While commendable and important initiatives to reduce corruption risks and improve aid integrity are being implemented, there is a need to re-double efforts. A collective, strategic effort to bring about change as well as more open and frank discussions at global and country levels on corruption risks are necessary. In particular, Transparency International makes the following recommendations:

Humanitarian aid agencies should:

  • Encourage open and principled leadership (‘tone at the top’) by senior management to support a frank dialogue on corruption risks, pressures and actual experiences.
  • Establish, implement and provide training on anti-corruption policies including whistleblower protection.
  • Conduct socio-political-economic analysis in complex environments, as well as external and internal mapping of corruption risks. Incorporate these processes into emergency preparedness and wider risk assessment frameworks.
  • Recognise that larger operations (scale, complexity, multi-partner) require more intensive risk management.
  • Invest in partnerships. International organisations should deepen support to national NGOs, including organisational and operational capacity support, and identify opportunities for shared learning regarding good practice in managing corruption risks.

Donor agencies should:

  • Increase dialogue around the inherent risks required to assist those most vulnerable in complex operational settings.
  • Increase positive incentives for transparent analysis and reporting of corruption risks and experience (including donor experience) and develop shared approaches to managing risk.
  • Put in place more robust waivers and financial / legal exemptions to counter-terrorism legislation and clarify existing legislation to enable an impartial response.
  • Increase funding cycles to decrease pressure to spend quickly.

Inter-donor and inter-agency fora should:

  • Intensify exchanges on corruption and consider including corruption challenges in standing agendas, with a focus on increasing collaborative or joint approaches to mitigation.
  • Consider opportunities for the establishment of specialised mechanisms, such as the Risk Management Unit (RMU), as they could serve to increase inter-agency awareness-raising on risks and good practice at the country level, and also offer capacity building, particularly for local staff and national NGOs.

Host governments should:

  • Develop and make transparent anti-corruption laws and conventions, including those specifically covering humanitarian assistance, and establish a means of oversight, such as measuring the effectiveness of legal frameworks to ensure compliance.
  • Develop disaster relief laws and policies based on best practice from other countries and in consultation with relevant UN and NGO fora.

Note to editors: Click here to download the full report. Funded by the European Commission's humanitarian aid department, this report is part of a series of four case studies looking at corruption risks in the delivery of humanitarian assistance in complex emergencies as well as recommendations on how to prevent corruption. Case studies on Somalia, Guinea, Afghanistan and Lebanon are available online.

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