A Candidate for Relegation? Corruption, Governance Approaches and the (Re)construction of Post-war States

Alan Doig, Martin Tisne


As aid donors consider revising their broad governance reform focus and move toward ‘good enough governance’, what attention might be paid to corruption in the revised approach? Using a series of country studies, this paper discusses the place of anti-corruption in recent post-war donor agendas, finding that it has often been diluted or downplayed. Addressing corruption should be promoted rather than relegated to lower status in any future reform agendas. Failure to address corruption in favour of what are considered more pressing reform issues will further institutionalise corruption and erode public confidence in governments.

The broad governance approach used in reform agendas to date seeks to expand the capacity of government, the private sector and civil society to manage the nation. The inclusiveness of the approach, which has included addressing corruption as a core component, has been considered the most effective way to guide development and reform. However, since this approach has achieved only qualified success, a more focused and sequenced variant should be developed. Donors are now considering adopting a ‘good enough’ governance approach which would result in more focused and realistic reform programming. However, the emphasis that will be placed on fighting corruption in any future reform approach is still unclear.

The consequences of the broad governance approach are evident in post-war donor assistance in Mozambique, Bosnia-Herzegovina, East Timor, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Palestine and Lebanon. In all these countries, donors stressed rapid, inclusive and comprehensive reform or reconstruction:

  • The speed of engagement and large numbers of donors and funding levels were not driven by coherent and integrated country-specific design and delivery frameworks.
  • Donors spent heavily on technical assistance (TA). For example, it is estimated that from the early to mid-1990s in East Timor one-third of donor capacity building resources was spent on external TA.
  • ‘Trendy’ themes, such as democracy, human rights and gender issues, were heavily funded; little direct support went to productive sectors of the economy.
  • Evidence of corruption was generally present in all countries during and after the war and it emerged as an integral feature of the democratisation process.
  • Despite its position as a core component of reform agendas, addressing corruption was relegated to second place behind more pressing and more easily resolvable issues.
  • Where anti-corruption agencies have been established, they are hampered by a lack of effective control and accountability frameworks.

The ‘good enough’ governance approach will presumably target fewer, more useful and feasible interventions. Addressing corruption is as critical a reform component in this variant as it is in the broader good governance approach. However:

  • The good enough approach will face the same issue as its predecessor: the potential for self-interest by domestic actors participating in post-war governments.
  • Donors will still be limited in whom they work with; they will still need to address the issue of who will be included in the reform process.
  • The potential for corruption to become embedded in the reform process will still exist.
  • Because the good enough approach will facilitate state construction or reconstruction, it should include corruption and accountability issues in state formation agendas.


Doig, A. and Tisne, M., 2009, 'A Candidate for Relegation? Corruption, Governance Approaches and the (Re)construction of Post-war States', Public Administration and Development, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 374-386