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Civil Society Role in Combating Corruption Essay


This essay answer the question posed concerning the role of civil society in combating corruption. Corruption has been escalating at a high rate in many countries in the world. Various sectors and government agencies have embarked on the war to fight corruption. This is because of the harmful effects of corruption to individuals as well as the economy as a whole.

The civil society also has not lagged behind in fighting corruption. The civil society comprises of diverse groups but all have a role in fighting corruption in one way or another. These groups include citizens, religious organization groups, NGOs among others. As stakeholders in the quality of governance and institutions mediating between the government and the public, civil society plays a key role in fighting corruption.

At the country level as well as internationally, this statement is unchallenged. But what does it mean in practice? To what extent is the statement true? These are some of the question this paper addresses and go further in highlighting the nature of civil society involvement.

The first part of this essay defines what corruption is and highlights few causes of corruption. The second part of this paper explains how civil society has evolved giving more focus to the third world countries. It also highlights the various roles that the civil society can take to combat corruption. Initiatives taken to empower the civil society have also been highlighted including the role of the media.

In conclusion this essay acknowledges the fact that civil role has key roles to play in combating corruption and these roles should be enhanced.

What is Corruption?

According to Botchwey (2000), corruption is defined as the act of obtaining advantage via dubious means or means that are not legitimate immoral, and that are inconsistent with the rights of others or the duty of the perpetrator. Corruption also exists where people may apply public powers for their own or private gains. Corruption exists in our society and has always existed.

The act is evil and unacceptable and has many negative consequences. Corruption is an impediment factor to economic growth and may cause economic downturn where it is severe. Most of the democratic institutions like legal institutions have suffered or suffer most where corruption is prevalent.

Some of the gangrenous effects of corruption may include low supply of public goods and services, embezzlement of public funds, downgraded infrastructures among others. There factors are detrimental to economic growth and development and calls for immediate attention wherever they exist.

For war against corruption to be won, efforts must move beyond a narrow response to a broader approach of addressing its underlying causes (Al – Shuaibi, n.d). Dealing with these problems will require a multi-pronged strategy tailored to the specific pattern of corruption in each specific country.

Corruption impedes sustainable development which is key in the economic development of every country. Causes of corruption can be summarized as follows:

  1. The lack of political will to combat corruption at the leadership level;
  2. The weak judicial system and the absence of the rule of law;
  3. The weak parliamentary role;
  4. Incomplete rules and regulations and public monitoring;
  5. Weak media and inactive civil society.

The role of combating corruption should not be left to the official bodies and the legislative authority alone. Civil society should take an active role in enhancing and demanding democracy and human rights (OECD, 2003). They should commit themselves to the objectives of ensuring integrity and accountability in response to need for enhancing a system of good governance.

Civil Society’s Role Combating Corruption

As highlighted earlier civil society include the no-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community based organizations (CBOs).Some are progressive while others are conservative. The community and the social organizations fight corruption through religion and humanitarian agencies that fight for human rights.

Together as a society they discourage vices such as dishonesty and bribery that characterize corruption. In deed these societies campaign for democracy.

These groups including professional bodies and business associations participate in the fight against corruption while conducting their civil roles. Reports from the third world countries indicate that civil society was in active (Bardhan, 1997). The reason for this is because it has been marginalized.

Although the ability to effectively scrap off corruption following independence has been narrow, the civil society has given recognizable contribution in the fight against corruption. Roles taken during this period include:

  1. Condemnation of official corruption by professional bodies, student and trade unions as part of protest against economic mismanagement by the government.
  2. Exhortations against corruption by religious organizations leaders. These include leaders from all religious circles.
  3. Too much focus on corruption scandals that have already been exposed by the political leaders in the opposition side of the government. In this case the media take the role of giving the issue much publicity.

The efforts raised above are considered to be reactive rather than been pro-active. They are inadequate in stemming out corruption and more pro-active actions should be devised by the civil society. An establishment of a more vibrant civil society is the way to ensure pro-active approach. Karkling (2005) in his arguments maintains that society has inspiration that is adequate to fight the vice.

Corrupt persons are likely to find their way out of the when it comes to the laws of the country. The government therefore needs support from the civil society in the campaign for a corruption free society ( Olabimpe and Sesan, 2006) This will ensure well founded initiatives that will check on the vice. Unless this is done the war against the vice will be lost.

The civil society is aware due to the changes that have occurred with increase in information. They are major actors in putting checks and balances in the political and socio-economic fields (Kidd & Richter, 2003). These factors include:

  1. There has been proliferation of democratic constitutions facilitated by some political openings. This has given a chance to the growth of human rights and association freedom; a factor that is crucial in the fight against corruption. This has been manifested by the surge of civil society in general. The indicators of this move include the chapters of Transparency International in Nigeria, Benin and Kenya among other countries. There are other improvements like environmental and human protection bodies that also acts as indicators.
  2. The growing emphasis of private sector towards economic development. Business associations and various representatives have kept the government on its toe towards implementing policies that create conducive environment for business.
  3. Technology improvement has made it easier to expose government officials that are corrupt. For instance, the existence of effective and efficient electronic and print media has been on the vanguard in this context.
  4. The emergence of well informed middle class and increase in the number of business people who reject the old system of nepotism and self dealing and instead engage in openness and fair dealing (Ralchev, 2004). They have the conviction that low corruption stimulates economic growth. More proactive roles include the following:

Creating public awareness about corruption

Most of the cases of corruption involve public and private officials. Civil society stands on a more neutral ground as an independent actor in combating corruption and representing the interest of the public at large.

In their research Noorjehan & Beagali (2008) found out that information on corruption can be obtained from statistical studies The publicity of information concerning the development of patterns and action plans has been enhanced seminars and conferences that are effective in creating awareness. This would be achieved by these organizations lobbying for the legislation of more strict rules on corruption.

Formulating and promoting actions plans to fight corruption

This involves lobbying for new laws that are geared towards combating corruption. Advocacy for institutional reforms, legal and judicial reforms, freedom of information as well as heavy penalties for the individuals or institutions found guilty of corruption.

There is also monitoring of actions and decisions of the government.

Various policies enacted by the government ensure that the will of the people guides the actions of public administrators. The expectations of the community are that they receive standardized public utilities. The public can actively participate in the formulation of laws that will regulate behavior.

This kind of supervision and oversight role ensure that the government or the state is accountable to its key roles and that it carries them out in a transparent manner.

Enhancing the Role of the Civil Society in Combating Corruption

The fact that corruption is real and that it hampers economic development, there has been the growing desire among domestic and transnational actors. Civil activism has been enhanced by the political liberalization that over the past decade has been improving becoming robust. The civil society and the non-government agencies have been pushing for good governance and low corruption. The question is how may this role be enhanced?

Mobilization of opinion against corruption and corrupt people

Civil society plays a key role in the national governance and therefore it is actively involved in the fight against corruption. In general, civil society and the media can create awareness on corruption and its damage on economic development.

Both groups can form a formidable force that can force the policy makers and the government to initiate reforms against corruption. When involved in restructuring of state structures the public will Maintain a positive culture against corruption.

It is apparent that civil society, NGOs, trade unions and other such bodies have a chance of fighting corruption in the electoral systems through addressing the issue therein and facing out corrupt officials. The electoral system is a genuine facility that could effectively be used in voting out corrupt officials in the government and other sectors where it applies.

The community involvement and support to the organization formed to implement restriction give a successful outcome. The media has the potential of supporting the anti-corruption agencies in carrying out their duties through working closely with them in order to provide relevant information that would help the agencies identify the corrupt people.

This will ensure harmony between constitution and statutory promise as well as ensuring that the corrupt officials comply with the regulations set against them.


Several factors can be identified as limiting the development of a vibrant civil society and its involvement in combating corruption. Major limits will mostly come from the state. In certain countries, public rules limit basic civil rights and will impede the development of civil society organizations.

The lack of transparency of public operations and the limited access to critical information do not encourage the direct participation of citizens in the conduct of public affairs.

Citizens may also impose limits. In certain countries, citizens are ignorant on information in regards to the costs of corruption and the existence of several avenues available to them for fighting corruption. Citizens do not always understand the realisable personal gains they can get by fighting corruption. They therefore lack the motivation to be actively involved in eradicating the vice.

Lack of resources can also be a limit. Most of the civil society organizations have inadequate information and technical capacities required for pro-active actions rendering them inefficient in their fight against corruption. Previously these organization have been addressing environmental issues and basic human rights until more recently when they devised ways of engaging themselves in the war against corruption.

Empowering the Civil Society Organizations in their fight against corruption

The effective functioning of the civil society must have an effective legal and regulatory framework that helps guide it’s functioning. Some aspects of such legal framework may include the basic human rights and freedom among others.

Such freedom would enable people to come together and form non-governmental organizations that would facilitate the fight against corruption. Empowering or strengthening the capacities of civil society organisations means to:

  1. Provide these organisations with information and expertise;
  2. Support training programmes;
  3. Contribute to the raising of funds; and
  4. Forge more partnerships between civil society actors.

Requirements for registering these non-governmental organisations should be reasonable and not bureaucratic. Government should support civil society by waiving taxations on them. Effectiveness of the civil society can be enhanced through access to information and knowledge (Bertram, 2005). Adequate funds raised for the civil society will attract well-educated and highly motivated people.

This ensures that the capacity of civil society in combating corruption is not comprised. The local groups have teamed up with international organization like Transparency International, or TI to fight corruption.

TI is a worldwide movement which helps in the fight against corruption and its stakeholders are those that against corruption. It is a non-governmental and non profit. TI’s has grown to the membership of more than 60 countries since its launch in 1993 and has membership in every continent in the world.

The civil society also gains more support in the area where there is great mobilization against corruption. The objective will be achieved through strengthening citizen support for the existing anti-corruption NGOs, and increase participation of other stake holders whose primary interest may not be necessarily the fight against corruption.

Publishing surveys that show how prices of basic commodity rises due to corruption should be a powerful tool in mobilising the public. Talking about the general damages of corruption is not good enough. Many countries like Pakistan have undertaken public awareness campaigns at the national, provincial and district level through schools and universities.

The Role of the Media as part of civil society in fighting corruption

It has been logically argued that the fight against corruption could not be won without free media because of the role it plays in the whole process. The linkage between the media and fight against corruption is critical. Free media plays a significant role in the fight against corruption because it helps expose or uncover various hidden corrupt cases.

Though most of the countries have a free media, many factors still impede the efforts made by the media in their role towards fighting corruption. These factors may include corruption among the media itself, state control over media among others factors that hamper the functioning of media.

Media may also be inhibited in its role towards combating corruption by libel laws and intimidation. In some countries violence against journalists has resulted in strong self-censorship. Legal framework that guarantees freedom of expression forms the foundation of a vibrant media.

Freedom of information laws differs in some respects from one country to another. Journalists practicing in Turkmenistan are prohibited by the state to publish comments that connote corruption. However, the head of the state is immune from this law. Government monopolies on printing and television signal transmissions continue in many countries, creating pressures for self-censorship.

Media business is booming and can be a major industry but the partisan nature of the ownership structure continues to hamper its development and growth. An appropriate system of corporate governance within the media would ensure non-partisan participation by the media.

Allowing free entry, especially the foreign press that is non-partisan can also help mitigate the problem of “media capture”. Foreign media can help to create a highly competitive and diverse media culture.

Some countries mostly from Europe have made great strides in ensuring free press. Freedom of the press is highest in countries with the lowest levels of administrative corruption.


The fight against corruption is a multi-dimensional approach and it is evident that the civil society plays a significant role in the process. Statistics has it that there is no single agency that can win the bathe against corruption unless by partnering with other stakeholders.

This has happened in many developing world. Since the Civil society acts as a watchdog to the government and also defends the public interest, there is dire need to accord it the due support in the fight against corruption. The civil society should therefore be involved in the enactment of the anti-corruption laws as much as possible and also in their enforcement.

A well developed civil society will represent a wide variety of interests. Organizations with diverse organizational structures will view corruption from different perspectives which will bring together diverse view points to design a strategy and increase its chances of success.

To ensure that the measures taken are not politically biased, there should be more political will based on a broad support from various sources in the civil society. A variety of interests ensures that the anti-corruption initiatives taken meet the public interest.

The discussion clearly indicates that the civil society has an important role to play in the negotiation and in the implementation of government instruments against corruption. The contribution made by the civil society can never be underestimated.

Reference List

Al – Shuaibi, A., n. d. The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Combating Corruption. Palestine: Palestinian Legislative Council

Bardhan, P., 1997. ”Corruption and Development: A review of issues, “. Journal of Economic Literature, 35 (1997)

Bertram, I., 2005. Fighting corruption in developing countries: strategies and analysis.

West Hartford: Kumarian Press Botchwey, K., 2000. Fighting corruption, promoting good governance. Durban: Commonwealth Secretariat

Karklins, R., 2005. The system made me do it: corruption in post-communist societies. New York: M.E. Sharpe

Kidd, J. & Richter, F., 2003. Fighting corruption in Asia: causes, effects and remedies. Geneva: World Scientific

Noorjehan N. & Belagali, H.V., 2008. Educational Philosophy of Dr. Zakir Husain. India: Global Vision Publishing.

OECD., 2003. Fighting Corruption: What Role for Civil Society? Canada: OECD

Olabimpe, B. Sesan, A., 2006. Fighting corruption in Nigeria: challenges for the future. Kampala: Fountain Publications Limited

Ralchev, P., 2004. The role of civil society in fighting corruption and organized crime in Southeast Europe. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2004, Pages 325 – 331

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