Seven ways to help curb corruption in the humanitarian sector

7 November 2017

There are no specific figures on how much humanitarian aid is lost to corruption, but it definitely undermines humanitarian response. The synthesis report of the Collective Resolution to Enhance Accountability and Transparency in Emergencies (CREATE) initiative underlines that collective action is needed to combat corruption effectively. We identified seven ways in which the CHS supports transparency and, as such, helps curb corruption in the humanitarian sector.

In cooperation with Transparency International, one of our member organisations, and Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP) we organised a webinar on 26 October to present and discuss the key findings of the synthesis report of the Collective Resolution to Enhance Accountability and Transparency in Emergencies (CREATE) initiative.

There are no specific figures on how much humanitarian aid is lost to corruption, but it definitely undermines humanitarian response, as “it takes away lifesaving resources, damages aid organisations’ reputation, and can have a negative impact on employee morale, particularly if perceived as going unpunished,” said Roslyn Hees, Senior Advisor, Humanitarian Aid Integrity Programme, Transparency International. It is even more crucial to address corruption insofar as many countries in which humanitarian aid is taking place rank low on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

As Adele Harmer, Partner at  Humanitarian Outcomes and one of the authors of the report pointed out, all types of organisations and all sectors have risks, and the longer the chain of aid, the harder to monitor the spending. Both Hees and Harmer point out that, precisely because of the complex setting surrounding corruption issues, no agency can address related risk on their own, and inter-agency dialogue is more than needed to ensure collective action to address obstacles in relation to fighting corruption becomes possible.

Their plea for a coordinated, systematic approach to enhance the quality and accountability of aid resonates with the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS). At CHS Alliance we identify at least seven ways in which the CHS supports transparency and, as such, the fight against corruption.

1. Self-assessment process

By applying the CHS, and more specifically through the self-assessment against the CHS or any of the other three verification options, which look at both levels of policy and practice, organisations are able to gather key learning on their strengths and weaknesses in relation to corruption risks and anti-corruption measures.

2. Risk-management policies

While corruption is specifically outlined in Commitment 9 of the CHS, corruption risks are described in Commitments 3, 5 and 9 of the CHS Guidance Notes and Indicators. On Commitment 3 for instance, the Guidance Notes highlight that organisations need to have risk management policies and systems in place, and that “NGOs that fail to systematically tackle corruption via their own anti-bribery policies and procedures and through collective action with other NGOs increase corruption risks for other actors.”

3. Safe complaint mechanisms

Commitment 5 requires specific complaint mechanisms to alert the organisation of serious misconduct including fraud and abuse of power. A safe and effective mechanism will help the organisation to be alerted on possible fraud or abuse and take corresponding measures. What do we mean by safe? It has to be a mode of access and treatment of complaint that ensures confidentiality and minimise retaliation risks for the complainant. A complaint box alone is not a safe access for reporting a serious abuse. Multiple complaint options that are suitable to all potential users, including the most vulnerable, have to be made available and advertised.

4. Communicating with communities

Two other commitments are particularly important: Commitment 4 focuses on communicating with disaster-affected populations, enabling their participation in aid programmes, and encouraging them to provide feedback. This commitment is particularly important in building trust between the organisation and the crisis affected population. It also help ensuring a safe design of the programme, based on a good understanding of context related risks. Lastly, systematic collection of feedback from the population and demonstrating that the organisation acts on the feedback received, as recommended by this commitment, will  contribute to encouraging the reporting of more serious abuse if and when they occur.

5. Employers’ awareness & management support

Commitment 8 is crucial in that no anti-corruption policy and procedure will be effective without strong management support, employer’s awareness and training on organisational policies and understanding the consequences of breaching these. Among the organisational policies, a staff code of conduct which specifically prohibits all forms of exploitation and abuse must be in place and signed and understood by all staff.

6. Responsible use of resources

Of course, commitment 9, whereby resources are managed responsibly and used for their intended purpose, focuses specifically on policies and practice governing the use and management of resources, and the need to assess, manage and mitigate corruption risk. Here too, policies, corresponding procedures and their dissemination all form part of a comprehensive system.

7. Complementarity & coordination

Let’s finish with commitment 6, which focuses on coordination. Just as the webinar and report highlights, corruption is not an issue that can be addressed by organisations on their own in settings where organisations are likely to face the same issues. Here too, the CHS can be instrumental in giving a common framework to aid organisations involved in an emergency response, which can be used as a basis for inter-agency dialogue on specific risks and challenges identified in a particular context and more globally.

The report presents synthesis findings from four case studies developed under the Collective Resolution to Enhance Accountability and Transparency in Emergencies (CREATE) initiative, led by Transparency International (TI). The objective of the studies was to produce an evidence base concerning the risks on aid integrity, in particular corruption risks, as well as prevention and mitigation measures, in relation to the implementation of humanitarian assistance in four complex operational settings: Afghanistan, the response to Ebola in Guinea, southern Somalia, and operations to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon

The research consisted of over 500 key-informant interviews and community consultations. These included consultations with a large number and diverse range of international and local aid organisations, donor governments, government actors and private sector representatives, as well as outside experts working on corruption issues. The focus of the research was on the supply chain and service delivery within a few key sectors, including food, shelter, health and protection, as well as cash as a delivery mechanism. The research took place in the capitals of each context as well as in remote provinces and districts. In addition to the interviews and consultations, the report draws on additional materials including an unpublished background report produced for the project.