What is political will?

The lack of political will is often invoked as a reason for failure of anti-corruption reforms and a major obstacle to economic performances and the achievement of development goals. Political leadership and a commitment to fight corruption at the highest levels is a pre-requisite for initiating and sustaining reforms over time, until results are achieved. Power holders are supposed to act for the common good and against their self-interest. As they make the laws and allocate the powers, manpower and funds that enable them to be effectively enforced, they are the principal actors who can change a country’s culture of corruption. In fact, some authors go as far as saying that political will has been the most important factor for ensuring the effective implementation of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy in countries such as Singapore[1]. On the other hand, power holders are also potentially the greatest beneficiaries of corruption, with the powers and incentives to use and maintain the corrupt nature of government for their own benefit. Thus, the critical importance of the existence or lack of political will in the success or failure of governance and anti-corruption reforms has been largely recognised in recent years.  

Yet, the concept itself has received relatively little study and remains poorly defined and understood, referred to by some authors as “the slipperiest concept in the policy lexicon”[2]. Political will is commonly defined as the “demonstrated credible intent of political actors”[3]. A more detailed and operationally-oriented definition of this concept is “the commitment of political leaders and bureaucrats to undertake actions to achieve a set of objectives and to sustain the costs of those actions over time”[4]. While this definition seems straightforward, many authors stress the complexity of the concept of political will, which entails many dimensions and reflects a large and multifaceted set of underlying factors. They conclude that thinking about political will as a single, simple factor underestimates the sheer complexity of what is involved.



Roberto Martínez B. Kukutschka


Marie Chêne, Finn Heinrich, PhD, Transparency International, Carmen Malena, CIVICUS



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