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U4 Practitioner Experience Note

Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 1

Old issue, new concern – anti-corruption takes off

The two questions I’ve most often been asked are ‘why did development agencies like DFID only start to worry about corruption in the late 1990s, when the problem has been around in the places we work “for ever”’? And ‘why did the world see a sudden spurt of energy on corruption at that time?’ In these questions lie some crucial factors that continue to this day to be vital guides to successful action.

18 March 2020
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Main points

  • Dealing with corruption presents challenges to any practitioner who sees development primarily as a technical problem that can be solved by technical responses. Corruption needs to be viewed as an intensely political phenomenon, with responses crafted accordingly.
  • Tackling corruption has the best chance of success when efforts go ‘with the grain’ – that they are aligned with (often suddenly-arising) political impetus. Practitioners need to be able to operate flexibly and spontaneously to take advantage of unexpected windows of opportunity.
  • Anti-corruption is a long-term endeavour. Practitioners need to set realistic expectations about the pace of change, and be prepared for the long haul. There is unlikely to be constant progress and setbacks must be expected.

Cite this publication

Mason OBE, P.; (2020) Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 1. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Practitioner Experience Note 2020:1)

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About the author

Phil Mason OBE

Phil Mason OBE was senior anti-corruption adviser in DFID from 2000 until March 2019. He formally retired from the UK public service after 35 years, 31 of which were with ODA/DFID. He continues in the anti-corruption field in an independent capacity.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


aid, development cooperation, anti-corruption policy, United Kingdom