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On International Anti-Corruption Day: Development vs. corruption

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International Anti-Corruption DayActivists take part in a demonstration to mark International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December 2014 in Bangkok. Photo: UNDP Thailand

The 9 December International Anti-Corruption Day is probably a day of resolve, of fighting against injustice, but also a day to feel good about. Many activists, civil society organizations, and honest people who hold public office or manage private businesses are united around an agenda for integrity and clean, proper management of collective affairs. This should give us hope that corruption can be curbed, and that we are many more demanding transparency than those who prosper in the dark shadows of white-collar criminal behaviour.

This year, UNDP and the UN Office for Drugs and Crime are commemorating International Anti-Corruption Day around the theme “United against corruption for development, peace and security”. The effort takes forward the agreement 193 UN Member States adopted last year with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 of that Agenda, world leaders for the first time acknowledged a direct link between corruption, peace and development, and established that achieving peaceful, just and inclusive societies will not be possible without curbing illicit financial flows, tax evasion, bribery and corruption.

Corruption is a menace for peace, thrives when there is conflict, attacks hard-fought development gains, nests in the delivery centres of public services, such as water, education, healthcare or law and order. It prays on infrastructure and other large public contracts and has even found a new victim in climate-related activities. It bogs down legitimate business and destroys clean competition for contracts.  

Earlier this year, an unprecedented leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records kept by the Mossack-Fonseca firm, exposed the grim reality of a complex global financial and accounting system that enables the laundering of the financial proceeds of tax evasion, crime and corruption. Through secretive offshore companies, the corrupt wealthy continue to illegally hide their proceeds in more than 21 offshore jurisdictions. Funds that could have been invested in development, and public goods and services are stashed away where they don’t pay taxes. From a development perspective, corruption undermines progress and growth.

The impact of corruption is particularly corrosive on peace and citizen security. In 2015, the Institute for Economics and Peace found that, beyond a certain threshold, there is a direct correlation between the degree of corruption and levels of crime and violence. Corruption thus undermines people’s confidence in the capacity of the State to protect and to provide essential public goods like justice and security for all. Corrupt practices have sought to undermine independent courts, decent lawyers and attorneys, efficient police work and integrity of the Armed Forces. It is in our interest to uphold the transparency in all these institutions linked to the Rule of Law and the National Defence.        

Last week, I participated in the 17th “International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) organized by Transparency International in Panama at which more than 1,600 people from 130 countries exchanged on the latest trends in the anti-corruption movement. The theme of the conference “Time for Justice, Equity, Security, and Trust”, was a response to the growing public anger and frustration with the level, or rather lack of decency in public office and private business nowadays. But solutions are in reach. An alliance that was discussed at length was the one we need to build with the Human Rights community to address the impunity for crime and corrupt behaviour. Protecting and expanding civic space is important in this endeavour. Indeed, societies that protect civil liberties and freedom of expression, tend to be better at fighting corruption and are also seen to enjoy a greater degree of peace, security, and prosperity.

UNDP works closely with Member States, civil society and the private sector to broaden the strength and impact of the anti-corruption efforts. The International Anti-Corruption Day should help us create awareness and then back the integrity and transparency agenda, for the rest of the year!

Magdy Martínez-Solimán Anti-corruption Governance and peacebuilding Accountability Blog post Agenda 2030

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