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A Q&A With Anti-Corruption Experts: Juhani Grossmann

With pervasive corruption taking many forms, it’s important to understand the causes and work being done to combat it. In honor of International Anti-Corruption Day, we ask some of our experts about their experience.


Juhani Grossmann
Chief of Party, USAID CEGAH – 15 years of anti-corruption experience

Head shot photo of Juhani Grossmann

How do you define corruption?

The formal definition of corruption by Transparency International is "abuse of entrusted power for private gain." We work with this broad definition, because it highlights the all-important power imbalance between government and citizens that lies at the core of corrupt societies.

How has corruption manifested itself in the communities you’ve worked in?

There are two clusters of corruption manifestations. At the personal level, we see individuals being forced to compromise their principles to gain access to basic public services, such as healthcare, education, or government documentation. At the systemic level, the inefficient allocation of state resources that always accompanies corruption leads to a significant underperformance by government, with sub-par medicines, crumbling infrastructure, and low test scores in schools. 

Describe one innovation in your project work that has led to a reduction in corruption or a strengthening of institutional integrity.

Our flagship activity relates to a public feedback and complaint system called LAPOR! which allows citizens to provide direct feedback to the government on its services and thereby bridges the gap between citizen and unassailable bureaucrat. Currently, the system receives over 500 complaints every single day and we are working hard in 28 regional location, some rather far-flung, to connect them to the system and allow even more citizens access to this powerful accountability tool. 

What are some of the core best practices you have learned from your experiences?

One important lesson that took me a while to internalize is that cooperating with government in fighting corruption needs to be based on at least an inkling of political will. While it doesn't have to be all-encompassing or far-reaching, without that initial spark, foreign development program have little chance of succeeding and need to be pragmatic about shifting resources to more promising engagements. 

What are some of the challenges you have encountered and how did you work through them?

Political uncertainty is the biggest challenge. Elections, like the one we face next year in Indonesia, have the potential to undo years of hard fought achievements. Accordingly, plans need to be put into place to formalize informal progress, to make it more resilient to changing political winds. This is sometimes difficult since additional resources need to be expended on already-function systems. 

How does anti-corruption work to support a country’s journey to self-reliance? 

The journey to self-reliance is essentially a question of a) sufficient capacity and b) sufficient resources. Corruption severely decreases the available resources, both in the public and private sectors, and both in the human resource and financial resource sense. It acts as a crippling tax on those who can’t afford to game the system, discourages a merit-based performance system, and distorts competition. One could argue that getting corruption under control is a prerequisite on the road to self-reliance. 

What does a corruption-free world look like? How do we accomplish this?

There has never been and will never be such a thing as a corruption-free world. Corruption is part of human nature and exists in all societies, even my native Finland, which is continuously a top performer in corruption rankings. 

The challenge is to control and regulate it to a degree where it does not undermine the functioning of society. The analogy here are infectious diseases. We rarely ever eradicate them completely, and they are forever evolving. Just like infectious diseases, corruption also crosses geographic boundaries at will, making it a truly global problem. 

Building up society-wide defenses and even immunities is a long-term process that require prevention efforts to minimize corruption vulnerabilities in government systems, broad and sustained public education efforts on the negative consequences of corruption, and brave and far-reaching law enforcement efforts to set clear deterrent effects for those who chose to cross the line.