An often-told story in development circles is how corruption was slashed in Uganda simply by publishing the amounts of monthly grants to schools. This paper from the Center for Global Development examines the case in the context of Uganda’s changing education policy from 1991-2002. While information did play a critical role in achieving a percentage drop (not necessarily an actual drop) in diverted funds, its impact has been overstated. Many contextual factors were also important, and similar results cannot necessarily be expected elsewhere.
The use of information transparency as an anti-corruption measure has become popular, based on the intuitive logic that secrecy breeds corruption and sunlight is the best disinfectant. The case of Uganda’s education sector has often been used to support this argument; the Ministry of Finance adopted a policy of reporting the amount of funds released to schools in the local media. It is often claimed that the proportion of funds reaching schools increased from 20 per cent to 90 per cent due to this policy.
However, this development is best understood in the context of concurrent reforms in Uganda’s educational and fiscal systems. Important contextual details include:
- The reported figures refer only to the ‘capitation grant’ – the amount of which depended on the number of students enrolled. Universal, free primary education (UPE) was introduced in the 1990s meaning student numbers grew by 2.6 million. Accordingly, the size of this grant grew considerably.
- In response to the UPE policy, parental contributions fell considerably, and the capitation grant was doubled to compensate.
- The grant was originally given as a block grant which did not need to be accounted for. This was changed to a conditional grant intended to provide a check on local officials.
- The reported figures measure diverted funds as a proportion of the total. However given the growth in the size of the capitation grant, corruption could have been taking the same absolute amount of a much larger grant. When measured as monetary amounts rather than a proportion, the amount of funds leaked fell by a modest 12 per cent over six years.
- Some reports suggest that the effectiveness of the transparency policy has waned in recent years as public interest and diligence decreased.
The Ugandan case confirms that information does have an important role to play in reducing corruption, but that more than information disclosure is involved. Particularly:
- Uganda’s information disclosure began on the government’s initiative, in response to the ‘information’ provided by a World Bank survey.
- The information campaigns targeted at Uganda’s citizens were thus only part of this story, not the driving force.
- The UPE policy brought education funding to the public’s attention and made the capitation grant a more important part of the funding mix.
- Given the complicated overall picture, the evidence should not lead us to expect similar reductions in corruption if this policy is implemented elsewhere.