The corruption chameleon : a case study of corruption within a Malawian NGO : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Over the last decade, a growing consensus has emerged within the development world that corruption is the single greatest obstacle to reducing world poverty. The simplicity of this statement, however, masks the complexity of the issue, as corruption itself is a complicated multi-faceted phenomenon with multiple inter-related causes and effects. Both the term and the concepts underpinning it are highly problematic, as the shape and tone of any discussion on the topic is dependent on who is defining it.
The majority of recent literature on corruption has tended to focus on the role of a single actor: the state. Despite their growing influence, NGOs on the other hand, appear to have attracted only cursory inspection. This thesis attempts to rebalance this by examining corruption with specific reference to development NGOs, and is based around a central hypothesis that they are not impervious to its influences. It seeks to contribute to the understanding of the nature, form, and dynamics of corruption within NGOs operating in a development context.
Based on a detailed case study of an INGO operating in Malawi, the research findings highlighted the nature and extent of internal corruption; indicating that NGOs are subject to similar types and levels of corruption as faced by the broader societies in which they operate. The thesis concludes that whilst Western forms of combating corruption can be effective, they are insufficient to counter deeply entrenched neopatrimonial networks underpinning it. The most effective mechanism for countering such forms of corruption was found to be the same as those supporting and protecting it: access to, and support from, high-level political connections and insider networks. Whilst the key deterrent remains the implementation of a strong internal control system, its overall effectiveness is dependent on support at the highest levels. Instrumental to this is also the presence of a “principled” principal, with sufficient political-will to counter political-interests that may be vested in maintaining the status-quo.