Malika Ait Mohamed Parent 1 1Guest article | IACA Visiting Lecturer Malika Aït-Mohamed Parent will be a panellist at the upcoming Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum in Paris on 27 and 28 March. In this brief article she discusses the extent of corruption in the humanitarian sector and provides an overview of the main corruption risks in aid.

Corruption kills

Did you know that in 2016, according to a report by Global Humanitarian Assistance, 27.3 billion USD was dedicated to international humanitarian assistance? And, as reported by IRIN news agency, the relief aid economy is worth 156 billion USD.

“30% of aid is lost to corruption,” said Ban Ki-moon (at the time, Secretary-General of the United Nations) at the closing session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council 2012 High Level Panel on Accountability and Transparency.

30% of 156 billion USD!

I leave it to you to calculate how much that makes.

Consider, for just one minute, how many corrupt opportunities this kind of financial volume offers for organized crime.

Let’s not be naïve:  grand corruption schemes exist in the aid sector.

What kind of corruption is involved?

There are multiple definitions and they differ depending on the stakeholder (economists, civil society, politicians… you name it).

Regardless of your definition, as humanitarian workers, it is our duty to understand corruption mechanisms and thus be able to fight corruption and corruption risks in aid; to stay vigilant and set up robust systems that are effective and transparent.

 Concretely speaking, what are the main corruption risks in aid?

  • As with any kind of business, they could relate to:
    • Weak procurement systems
    • Cash transactions
    • Currency transactions
    • Insurance fraud
    • Money laundering via obscure donors
    • Gifts with quid pro quo
    • Kickbacks
    • Intermediary services
    • Customs clearance, etc.
  • And more specifically in the aid context :
    • “Ghost lists” (ghost volunteers who receive per diems, ghost events, ghost staff, etc.)
    • “Double-dipping” (obtaining funds from more than one donor for a project)
    • “Sextortion” (extortion that involves sexual acts or images as currency)
    • Governance set-up allowing nepotism
    • Urgency to spend (at the end of the funding cycle, some unnecessary expenses generate waste)
    • Lack of control over financial systems of secondary partners for implementation; lack of comprehensive reporting;
    • Lack of due diligence practice
    • Security payments at check points, etc.

This is an incomplete list, and any single item relates to a more complex scheme.

How can corruption be stopped in such a context? Not easy to answer in such a short blog. For a constructive discussion and some ideas, consider attending the “Managing Corruption Risks in Contexts of Fragility” parallel session at the OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum (28 March 2018; 14:00-15:30). 

Protecting the aid sector from corruption risks is everyone’s duty, since all of us have a stake in fighting corruption, and in this case, preventing corruption can contribute to alleviating human suffering.


Malika Aït-Mohamed Parent is an independent international anti-corruption expert, visiting lecturer at IACA, and former Under Secretary General of Governance and Management Services of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

With 30 years of experience in the humanitarian sector, she is committed to developing institutional accountability frameworks embracing transparency and integrity elements as well as soft and hard components of fraud and corruption prevention and control.