Guardians of accountability: A field experiment on corruption and inefficiency in local public works

In the construction of public works, the lack of accountability manifests as corruption and inefficiency. Will civil society oversight that is explicitly supported by the relevant authority strengthen accountability? Or will it demoralize and frighten officials, thus causing delays?

To answer these questions, the study builds on a sample of 200 urban and peri-urban district governments in Peru. Half of the districts were randomly selected to enter into a control group. The other half received letters indicating that specific public works under their charge were being monitored by a civil society organization with the support of the country’s leading anti-corruption agency. The results suggest that, even as districts in the two groups completed public works at a similar rate, the intervention lowered the cost of these public works by a substantial amount. The monitoring intervention resulted in efficiency gains.