Building Accountability: The Politics of Anticorruption

Posted: 16 Sep 2010

Date Written: April 27, 2010


Over the last 20 years, there has been an eruption of transnational anticorruption efforts, including treaties, systems of implementation review, advocacy campaigns, donor projects, and conditionalities. This study argues that absent these initiatives, resources that have been instrumental in shaping domestic decision-making processes would not have been mobilized. More active accountability constituencies and outcomes would not have ensued. However, not all transnational efforts have been equally productive in sustaining anticorruption reforms. I identify two types of strategies and argue that international legalization is more likely to pay off than efforts to shock and replace domestic accountability mechanisms from outside. When the process of making and maintaining international legalized standards becomes a part of anticorruption policy making, it gradually becomes harder for those who oppose reform to sustain inoperative accountability mechanisms. It is also harder to discretionally manipulate reforms. In the short run, it is possible to use transnational resources to bypass obstacles to reform created by the democratic process. However, over time actors who oppose change are likely to be willing and able to undo those exogenously imposed outcomes. Transnational displacement is more likely than legalization to backfire on anticorruption constituencies.

The usefulness of transnational strategies is likely to vary within countries. International legalization is more likely to be effective in executive branches than in legislatures because the latter’s setup creates more substantial barriers to innovation, such as collective action requirements and narrow spaces for reinterpretation. Consequently, the pathway to accountability is generally proactive in the executive branches but reactive in legislatures.

This study presents a theory of the politics of anticorruption reform. I explain why building accountability is as much about the transnational pathways that accountability constituencies pursue as it is about the objective, looking at the activation of conflicts of interests control systems in Argentinean and Czech branches of government. These cases provide insights about what transnational anticorruption efforts have been relatively effective in the Americas and Europe. I specify the mechanisms by which transnational resources produce useful results rather than shams. In so doing, I contribute to the broader literatures on transnational politics, democratization, and institutional innovation.

Keywords: Anticorruption, Accountability, International Law and Institutions, Americas, Europe

Suggested Citation

Guerzovich, Maria F., Building Accountability: The Politics of Anticorruption (April 27, 2010). Available at SSRN:

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