TNRC Blog Using political economy analysis to support corruption risk assessments that strengthen law enforcement against wildlife crime
Using political economy analysis to support corruption risk assessments that strengthen law enforcement against wildlife crime
This blog post captures expert insights and responses to practitioner questions raised in a TNRC Learning Series webinar on Using political economy analysis to support corruption risk assessments that strengthen law enforcement against wildlife crime, hosted by the Basel Institute on Governance. This webinar, held on 12 April 2022, addressed three learning questions: (1) How does a political economy analysis (PEA) inform assessments of corruption risk in the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes? What can be learned from a PEA that other types of risk assessment might miss?; (2) How should findings from PEA inform the design or adaptation of corruption risk mitigation measures to improve conservation outcomes?; and (3) What practical guidance should be followed when implementing PEA in contexts in which corruption is widespread and highly politicized? This learning event was attended virtually by practitioners based in 27 countries. A TNRC publication on the topic is forthcoming. A recording of the webinar is above, and a PDF of slides can be downloaded here.
- Addressing corruption risks that undermine law enforcement action against wildlife crime is important. A holistic approach to addressing weaknesses in law enforcement systems that create corruption risks also needs to consider the broader political and economic context.
- A political economy analysis (PEA) can generate important insights into the drivers of corruption risks. It can thereby support decision-making about the design and adaptation of corruption mitigation measures that are relevant, impactful, and sustainable. Using the PEA, decision-makers can better allocate scarce resources towards addressing the corruption challenges most likely to undermine conservation efforts.
- In adverse contexts with high levels of both corruption and wildlife crime, adopting a political economy lens allows conservation practitioners to steer programming to achieve greater impact and avoid doing harm. In particular, it helps practitioners to keep an eye out for entry points and allies that can support or strengthen anti-corruption measures.
- Conducting a PEA need not be complicated, but the approach should be adapted to fit the context. Taking account of potential sensitivities is particularly essential to obtain relevant information and avoid damaging relationships or triggering a backlash.
Political economy approaches are increasingly leveraged in conservation programming to help analyze dimensions of politics and power in a given context. Insights can inform stronger and more strategic ways to address risks to conservation outcomes, including risks from corruption. This is an important component of efforts to strengthen effective enforcement against illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and related crimes in support of wildlife conservation.
In recognition of this, the Basel Institute on Governance undertook two complementary assessments, a corruption risk assessment (CRA) and a political economy analysis, in Uganda, Malawi, and Peru. The aim was to better understand the broader context and identify specific corruption risks that undermine law enforcement action against wildlife crimes, particularly IWT.
In this webinar, the authors of the study, together with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and WWF experts, shared their lessons learned and practical reflections for conservation practitioners considering incorporating corruption risk assessments into their programming to combat wildlife crime.
How can a PEA inform assessments of corruption risk in the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes?
PEAs are useful in providing insights into drivers of corruption risks. They can illuminate the below-the-surface explanation of why and how corruption risks undermine law enforcement action against wildlife and similar crimes. This is even more important in contexts in which informal practices and relationships prevail over formal governance structures. In these contexts, political arrangements and power dynamics can impact the law enforcement chain in various ways.
Adopting a political economic lens to understand corruption risks in the law enforcement chain also brings out different perspectives. Perhaps you are seeking to understand why laws are not effectively enforced or why corruption challenges persist in law enforcement institutions. These discussions will benefit from the insights of several different groups of people. A PEA can help identify who these are and give them an opportunity to be heard.
What can be learned from a PEA that other types of risk assessment might miss?
An important reflection of some PEAs is that corruption in law enforcement institutions is not the result of individual bad apples or particularly tempting opportunities to abuse one’s power for private gain, but rather a systemic weakness. PEAs can therefore shed light on whether corruption risks identified are “IWT specific” or more of a systemic nature.
A complementary PEA-CRA approach also fosters a more holistic understanding of corruption issues in law enforcement bodies. This can bring out risks that might have not been on the radar in the first place. Ideally, one runs the PEAs and CRAs in cycles, where the PEA helps understand the context of risks, the CRA identifies and prioritizes the risks and additional PEAs on these risks help design mitigation measures that have a higher degree of success. Budget constraints can make this unrealistic, of course, but the mindset that political context needs to be considered at all stages of addressing corruption is nonetheless a valuable takeaway.
It can also provide insights into avenues through which to strengthen preventive approaches and positive incentives for law enforcement officers responsible for addressing IWT. This is useful given the rising global demand for wildlife products, which increases incentives for wildlife traffickers to co-opt and bribe law enforcement.
How should findings from a PEA inform the design or adaptation of corruption risk mitigation measures to improve conservation outcomes?
Designing or adapting corruption risk mitigation measures for IWT enforcement agencies is less straightforward than it may seem. Mitigating the largest weaknesses identified in the CRA might seem a logical first step, for example, but in fact would miss one important factor, namely the political feasibility of such an intervention. There is no point in trying to mitigate a major weakness if any direct intervention is doomed to fail.
PEAs can provide insights that can support decision-making on the design and adaption of corruption mitigation measures that are not just politically feasible but relevant and impactful. A trade-off will likely emerge in terms of interventions that have a high likelihood of success but are not hugely impactful, versus interventions that would theoretically have a high impact if they were to be successful but are unlikely to be so in practice for reasons of politics and power.
Equally important are how a PEA can help practitioners to:
- consider unintended consequences that might harm vulnerable individuals or populations and exacerbate corruption or other risks; and/or
- design anti-corruption interventions that “work with the grain” and have a chance of being sustainable long after the program funding has come to end.
Even in contexts in which there are high levels of both corruption in the law enforcement system and IWT, there can be entry points to anchor effective corruption mitigation measures. The PEA’s findings are based on a wide range of perspectives, which helps to identify these entry points and involve more groups in co-creating or implementing corruption risk mitigation measures.
What practical guidance should be followed when implementing PEA in contexts in which corruption is widespread and highly politicized?
Conservation practitioners regularly consider how the political, economic and social context impact their programs. PEAs take those everyday reflections into wider and deeper assessments. A very good place to start is with desk research. There is a lot to learn from what has already been written in reports and media sources, both off and online.
Complementing desk research with speaking to people in the know is an invaluable source of information for PEAs. But practitioners should take care, especially in contexts where speaking about corruption is taboo. Providing full anonymity to interviewees is crucial and can be part of a broader written informed consent that provides information on how data that is being collected will be used and stored (watch the recording above for further insights from experience).
Image attribution: © naturepl.com / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus