COVID-19 and Corruption: A Public Search for CIPE’s Role

Euro notes and coins and a protective mask

Two months (and what seems like a lifetime) ago, CIPE’s Anti-Corruption & Governance Center embarked on an effort to explore what the COVID-19 pandemic means for our anti-corruption work. We considered conducting an exploration quietly and internally by reading the dozens of publicly available expert analyses, talking to our partners and peer NGOs around the world, and perhaps even commissioning a study to map out next steps for our Center.

Instead, we decided to make our quest a public one. We launched a series of blogs, created a WhatsApp channel for practitioners, collected useful publications and trackers, and pledged to hold a public event once a week. All are anchored to the theme of “COVID-19 and Corruption.” They range from a look  at the pandemic’s impact on global trade to an exhaustive, regularly updated list of dozens of voices on the subject. Our weekly events, held Wednesday mornings and listed here, routinely attract 50 or more outside participants. Recognizing that our participants’ comments and questions inform us and the broader anti-corruption community, we dedicate at least half of every 90-minute session to Q&A.

Slowly, we are grasping what the shape of our programmatic response to the crisis may be in the emerging markets where we work. On the one hand, we are learning to filter out those experts and opinion-makers who see the crisis as just a new canvas for the same ideas that have been promoted for years. On the other hand, we are listening carefully to those who see this moment as a critical juncture for the world’s political institutions. By all measures, this is a turning point for how the world’s resources are being divided up, a mad scramble to redirect financial flows, suspend ordinary procurement regimes, and generally rewrite the rules of how governments interact with their citizenry.

This is a chaotic space. Fortunately, it is one where CIPE’s Anti-Corruption & Governance Center is comfortable. For four years now, we have been pursuing and implementing rapid response anti-corruption projects. In countries ranging from The Gambia to Armenia, we organize support to those civil society activists who are pushing hard for transparency and accountability during windows of opportunity, often in environments where dictators had ruled for decades. We anticipate that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will swing open new windows of opportunity as anger over corruption and mismanagement during the pandemic creates space for political change. Our challenge is to be nimble and smart enough to assess windows of opportunity accurately and deliver support swiftly.

We expect this phase of our journey to continue at least through the end of the summer. We hope you can join us.