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Transparency and accountability – particularly vis-à-vis local authorities – as a way of mitigating the risk of corruption in humanitarian operations
Richener Noel

A 2013 report by Transparency International UK on corruption and United Nations missions argued that United Nations peacekeeping missions are often susceptible to being marred by corruption. Vulnerability to the risk of corruption is linked to the absence or weakness of strategies and policies established by decision-making authorities and the operational process for establishing and running missions. The report, which was widely debated, compares the risk of corruption in operations by humanitarian NGOs and by development NGOs. This article looks at how the Haitian government plans to improve the transparency of humanitarian organizations via the Cadre de Coordination de l’Aide Externe (CAED) and highlights how corruption can affect the process of managing and distributing humanitarian aid. It also goes on to show how transparency and accountability – particularly vis-à-vis the local authorities – help to mitigate the risk of corruption.

 Corruption: a hindrance to the provision of aid which is not sufficiently taken into consideration

Transparency International UK’s 2013 report is one of a number of studies by the organisation on the issue of corruption. In 2010, they produced the “Handbook of good practices: preventing corruption in humanitarian affairs” [1], based on research into corruption mechanisms in humanitarian operations throughout the world. This research had shown that the desire to provide assistance is not enough on its own to prevent corruption from taking place. On the contrary, each time that there is a massive response to a large-scale emergency, this seems to provide new opportunities for corruption. This was the case for the most recent large-scale disasters. Indeed, according to Transparency International’s report, “There were numerous examples of corruption during the massive Asian tsunami humanitarian response, and examples of substantial diversion of aid resources have been reported recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia and Somalia.” [2] In Haiti, after the earthquake of 12 January 2010, Fondation Héritage, the Haitian branch of Transparency International, had described the situation in these terms: “Fragile institutions which have been seriously damaged by the disaster; extreme poverty which makes the population vulnerable to corruption; a massive and sudden influx of aid to an environment where there is a shortage of resources; low technical and financial capacity to absorb and manage the massive flows of aid.” [3] The organisation saw Haiti as “fertile ground for corruption in relief, recovery and reconstruction operations.” [4]

One of the most important advances of the TI handbook is the very broad definition of corruption, “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” [5], which therefore includes a larger number of acts, types of behaviour and attitudes which stand in the way of the fair and equitable distribution of humanitarian aid. This includes financial corruption such as fraud, bribery, extorsion and “kickbacks”. Also taken into account in this definition are “non-financial forms of corruption, such as the manipulation or diversion of humanitarian assistance to benefit non-target groups; the allocation of relief resources in exchange for sexual favours; preferential treatment in assistance or hiring processes for family members or friends (nepotism and cronyism); and the coercion and intimidation of staff or beneficiaries to turn a blind eye to or participate in corruption” [6].
According to TI, what reinforces the harmful aspect of corruption with regard to humanitarian action is that it diverts resources which are essential for survival away from the people who need them.

Though it was produced in 2010, the handbook and the subject of corruption are still as relevant today and it can be a source of inspiration for humanitarian and development organisations in their efforts to mitigate the risks of corruption in their operations.

The report describes the vulnerability of UN peacekeeping missions to corruption and shows the extent of the problem: states, multilateral organisations, NGOs, etc., no sector is spared [7]. UN peacekeeping missions are often mired by corruption: a risk which the United Nations does not take into account enough. The document entitled, “Corruption & Peacekeeping: Strengthening peacekeeping in the United Nations” describes the different kinds of risk: the risk of corruption which stems from the regulatory framework of missions, the risk of corruption in the countries which provide troops, the risk of corruption within the mission structures, the risk of corruption in relation to procurement, risks related to the quality of local and central surveillance, and the risk of corruption linked to denunciation and investigation into allegations of corruption. These risks of corruption are linked to the lack of strategies and policies to reprimand corruption within the United Nations and the way missions are planned and implemented.

In the recent past, there has been suspected corruption in several peacekeeping missions. In 2007, in Haiti, allegations of corruption were made about the MINUSTHA: a United Nations enquiry had even described the involvement of employees in the fraudulent attribution of contracts to deliver petrol. In the same year, cases of corruption concerning the awarding of contracts were revealed in missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Cambodia, in the Balkans and in Somalia [8].

Similarly, humanitarian NGO procedures and operations are very vulnerable to acts of corruption. It is possible to assume, based on the report about UN peacekeeping missions, that there is also significant corruption in humanitarian programmes by NGOs. Though NGO programmes do not resemble those of the UN, it is nevertheless true that they are often subject to similar constraints and hazards: rapid responses, which do not take the risk of internal and external corruption sufficiently into account ; procurement contexts which are not sufficiently understood at the beginning of the mission, leaving room for possible acts of corruption; staff often recruited in an emergency, without checking their history in detail, though they can immediately become directly involved in corruption; and, collaboration with local bodies who are not always active in combating corruption.

These constraints and hazards become more significant when there are other aggravating factors (such as poverty, the weakness of institutions, etc.) in the host country. This is another reason to consider that the risk of an organisation being affected by corruption in Haiti is very high.

[1] http://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/pub/guide_de_poche_des_bonnes_pratiques_prevenir_la_corruption_dans_les_operati

[2] Ibid., p. IV.

[3] http://lenouvelliste.com/lenouvelliste/article/91548/Un-projet-pour-minimiser-les-risques-de-corruption.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] p. XII.

[6] Ibid.

[7] See: Transparency International UK (2013), Corruption & peacekeeping : Strengthening peacekeeping in the United Nations http://www.transparency-se.org/130925-PK-report.pdf

[8] These revelations were made by the Washington Post, and were confirmed by the spokesperson for the UN Secretary General at the time, Michèle Montas: http://www.metropolehaiti.com/metropole/full_poli_fr.php?id=13341