Where are the weakest links in the illegal wildlife trade enforcement chain? Lessons from corruption risk assessments with agencies in three countries

This Practice Note:

  1. Summarizes experiences and lessons from conducting corruption risk assessments (CRAs) with authorities responsible for investigations and prosecutions of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) cases in three countries in Africa and Latin America. It seeks to demonstrate the value of adopting a collaborative approach to CRAs, illustrates potential avenues for pursuing such an approach when the right factors are in place, and demonstrates how mapping the criminal justice process provides a solid starting point to identify critical vulnerabilities. The note also highlights factors that might recommend another approach, for example where collaboration cannot be assured.
  2. Highlights some common risks that emerged from the CRAs in the three countries and that may negatively affect the progress of IWT cases in other countries. Still, corruption risks vary among countries and agency contexts, and it is not always feasible for practitioners to conduct or initiate a CRA. These general insights can help point practitioners to possible vulnerabilities to look out for.

The practice note was developed by team members of the Basel Institute's Green Corruption programme as part of a wider research collaboration between the Basel Institute and the TNRC project consortium. 

Takeaways

  • Effective enforcement against illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and related crimes is a vital component of wildlife conservation, but corruption risks within law enforcement agencies can undermine their ability to investigate and prosecute such cases. Supporting agencies to identify, evaluate, prioritize, and mitigate their corruption risks can help improve enforcement outcomes, assign scarce resources to areas that pose the highest risks, and build trust and cooperation with other agencies and stakeholders.
  • This TNRC Practice Note describes the lessons and insights from a three-country corruption risk assessment (CRA) exercise, using a collaborative approach that involves engaging with agency staff and relevant stakeholders to illuminate and systematically evaluate major risks. This is a sensitive process that requires strong relationships with agency leadership and a deep understanding of local political, social, and economic factors.
  • In all three countries, mitigating high-priority corruption risks in law enforcement agencies required a constructive, pragmatic, and sustained approach. Working jointly and acknowledging agencies’ political, capacity, and resource constraints can therefore represent a viable alternative to simply penalizing corrupt practices through investigations and audits.
  • Experience suggests that mapping the criminal justice process’ decision points is a crucial first step that builds shared understanding across stakeholders and helps identify corruption risk areas. It can take substantial investments of time to produce such maps, but that investment is usually warranted as it ensures researchers and stakeholders are speaking the same language.

About the TNRC project

The TNRC project seeks to improve biodiversity conservation outcomes by helping practitioners to address the threats posed by corruption to wildlife, fisheries and forests. TNRC harnesses existing knowledge, generates new evidence, and supports innovative policy and practice for more effective anti-corruption programming on the ground.

A USAID-funded project, TNRC is implemented by a consortium of leading organizations in anti-corruption, natural resource management, and conservation: World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, TRAFFIC, and the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University.

TNRC practice note on corruption risk assessments - cover page
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Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project
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