TNRC Blog Post - Digital Capture Certificates to Close Opportunities for Corruption

Image representing TNRC's four focus areas: wildlife, fisheries, forests, and finance

Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

Harnessing knowledge, generating evidence, and supporting innovative policy and practice for more effective anti-corruption programming

Digital capture certificates to close opportunities for corruption

In September 2023, WWF Peru presented lessons from their activity to digitize fishing catch certificates to the Conservation Measures Partnership. This blog summarizes the results of the activity, its theory of change, and the knowledge that WWF Peru generated implementing it.

Import control systems

In recent years, one of the most important advances in controlling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the proliferation of requirements for exporting products to large markets like the United States and the European Union. The idea behind these systems is that requiring a catch certificate, for example, incentivizes permitted and presumably sustainable fishing and discourages IUU fishing.

However, corruption can undermine the effectiveness of these systems by facilitating falsification of certificates or other requirements, laundering of illegal products into supposedly legal shipments, or bribing officials to ignore irregularities, to name just a few examples. In such cases, a system will not have its desired effect and could even exacerbate the problem.

WWF Peru's response

Recognizing these problems and the challenge that corruption poses to the sustainable management of fisheries and the livelihoods of fishers, WWF Peru has developed and implemented several solutions to improve the situation. In collaboration with the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project, they identified the experiences of fishers and officials in cases of corruption as a baseline, conducted corruption risk assessments, and developed a chatbot to connect fishers with clear information about their duties and rights in official processes and ways to report irregularities. These activities are built on WWF Peru’s core innovation: TrazApp, a digital tool to comply with official requirements easily, quickly, and with less vulnerability to corruption. This case study of WWF Peru’s activity to digitize electronic departure permits, an important step at the beginning of the fisheries value chain, describes that first phase of the work.

In a second phase, WWF Peru extended TrazApp to catch certificates. Verification and trust at this stage of the process are critical to controlling IUU fishing because corruption at this early step can negate the value of all subsequent controls. WWF Peru created a platform for requesting catch certificates, to be donated to a subnational government, and connected this platform to the TrazApp application. WWF Peru then trained artisanal fishers and processing plant owners on the use of the new platform.

This new platform transitions traditional, often paper-based fisheries administrative procedures to a digital environment. In this digital environment, irregularities, unintentional mistakes or intentional falsifications can all be caught, investigated, and rectified.

Anti-corruption impact

Now, processing plants looking to export to the European Union, European importers who need to comply with the requirements, and all those interested in a sustainable fishery in Peru have more reliable traceability of the fisheries value chain. Taken together with the many other activities that WWF Peru and its partners have undertaken from a holistic anti-corruption perspective, it is reasonable to say that the country has a fisheries value chain that is less susceptible to corrupt practices.

Since TNRC is a learning project, WWF Peru and TNRC made sure to make an effort to capture lessons from their experience. Several case studies and methodologies are cited above, and the last section of this blog includes some additional concluding thoughts.

In addition, TNRC developed four model results chains to include anti-corruption in the design of conservation projects. Two of the model chains were directly informed by WWF Peru's experience: "Integrating Anti-Corruption into Traceability Initiatives" and "Transparency and Accountability in Market-Based Incentives."

WWF Peru presented its activity for the "Conservation Measures Partnership" in September 2023. Below you can watch the presentation, also available here in Spanish. After an introduction to TNRC and the model results chains, the presentation of WWF Peru begins at the 18:00 minute mark. It covers the activity, its results, and the final theory of change for WWF Peru’s project.

Final thoughts

As a closing to the collaboration, TNRC asked José Carlos Alvarez, Marine Program Officer at WWF Peru, to offer his thoughts in response to a final question.

What have you learned through this anti-corruption pilot? How was the anti-corruption perspective valuable for TrazApp's results?

  1. The importance of digitalization:

    "Digitizing fisheries administrative procedures, particularly the catch certificates, is crucial to mitigate corrupt practices. The lack of oversight and the possibility of falsifying information and documents in physical processes are significantly reduced with digital systems. In this sense, the implementation of TrazApp has [clearly] demonstrated its potential by eliminating the dependence on physical documents and facilitating interoperability between systems.

    This effectiveness of digitalization in reducing opportunities for corruption is a transferable lesson. Implementing electronic systems can be applied in various contexts where the transition from manual/by hand to digital processes could improve efficiency, reduce the opportunity for corrupt acts, and strengthen traceability."

  2. Identifying vulnerabilities that could lead to corruption:

    “The anti-corruption perspective was essential to identify and address specific vulnerabilities in administrative processes such as the lack of oversight, the absence of computer databases, and the need to complete administrative procedures by hand. This identification of vulnerabilities is a valuable skill. This approach can be replicated in other projects to identify hotspots susceptible to corrupt practices, allowing for a more robust design tailored to the specific needs of the context."

  3. Improved traceability:

    "TrazApp has proven valuable in improving the traceability of fisheries. The issuance of digital certificates allows for more accurate and transparent monitoring of catches, helping to guarantee the legal origin of fishery products and facilitating the identification of possible irregularities. The importance of transparency and traceability as guiding principles is applicable in any project that involves documentation and monitoring processes. These principles not only reduce corruption vulnerabilities, but also strengthen key stakeholder trust and operational efficiency.

    However, the implementation of these processes must be accompanied by regulations that officially validate the digital procedures. Therefore, it is crucial that the authorities are involved from the beginning through to development and the end of the project."

  4. Empowering value chain actors:

    "The anti-corruption perspective in TrazApp has been valuable in empowering artisanal fishers and plant owners. The platform not only facilitates compliance with legal requirements, but also promotes understanding of fisheries and administrative regulations, thus strengthening the capacity of value chain actors to comply with regulations, deny and avoid illicit practices, and reduce informality.

    Likewise, the improvement in government oversight capacity through digital tools can inspire similar strategies in other projects where supervision and effective enforcement of regulations are critical."

© Yawar Motion Films

Image attribution: © / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus