Transparency and grand corruption: Lessons from the Colombia school meals program

Author(s) : Keefer, Philip; Roseth, Benjamin

Imprint : 2024

Series : Journal of Comparative Economics

Can transparency interventions reduce corrupt behavior when corrupt actors are politically influential and the victims of corrupt acts confront large obstacles to collective action? These conditions describe the pervasive phenomenon of grand corruption and potentially render corrupt actors less vulnerable to transparency interventions. We present the first evidence that, despite these theoretical obstacles, a transparency intervention in the Colombian School Meals Program significantly changed the behavior of powerful operators. The intervention consisted of informal audits and text messages to parents. It affected behavior through two channels. A survey of parents reveals greater bottom-up mobilization to oversee operators in treated schools; the pattern of operator responses to the informal audits over time and across departments indicates that operators were concerned that systematic evidence of corrupt behavior would trigger top-down enforcement actions by high-level enforcement agencies.

  • Corruption, Political corruption, School meals, Transparency
  • Colombia