How Donors Fall Into the Hypocrisy Trap

    Good governance and fighting corruption are two themes embraced by donors in the last decade. But turning the rhetoric of reform into workable solutions on the ground has proven to be difficult.

    Paring back the scope of governance reform and anti-corruption measures undertaken by donors may provide an answer.

    "I think…that fully operationalizing [governance and anti-corruption programs] may not be viable," said Catherine Weaver, assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin, during an event hosted by the Center for Global Development in Washington. "But in some cases it may not even be desirable – that is in part because if you start to think about what it takes to do GAC, not only is it a little hypocritical but technically, how do you do it?"

    In her study of the World Bank's disconnect between policy and programs called "Hypocrisy Trap: The World Bank and the Poverty of Reform," Weaver identified obstacles faced by the agency in turning its good governance and anti-corruption agenda into reality.

    Weaver said anti-corruption work was idealized at the bank in the late 1990s. But the failure to implement it successfully was due to some complex organizational behavior. For instance, the economic rationale for fighting corruption that framed the bank's policy led it to hire the wrong kinds of people to work on such programs. A recurrent problem of getting money out the door without holding managers accountable for results also stifled governance projects.

    A scandal that engulfed former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, a staunch advocate of governance reform, made the bank look even more hypocritical.

    The global lender also tried to improve its own governance. But it focused too much on reform at the director's level but not operations, according to Weaver.

    "You have to look more critically at the various goals being imposed on an organization …how they fit in with the existing culture and the political environment, and know what will be feasible," Weaver said.

    About the author

    • Oliver Subasinghe

      Oliver joined Devex in late 2008 as an international development correspondent and researcher. He previously served as a microfinance fellow for Kiva in Kenya and Uganda. During his tenure, he worked with Kiva’s field partners to improve their operations and governance. Oliver holds a master's in business from the College of William & Mary.