An important opportunity to shape the global anti-corruption agenda

June 3, 2021

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This week, (2-4 June) the UN General Assembly is convening a special session to discuss the challenges in preventing and addressing corruption. It takes place as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate societies, economies and governments. For the first time in 30 years, global human development is on course to decline, and over one billion people could be living in extreme poverty by 2030 – one-quarter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In these times of increased uncertainty and vulnerability, corruption is thriving, depleting scarce resources for financing response and recovery plans, and undermining public services, particularly in emergency contexts. Transparency International found that, six months into the pandemic, documented cases of corruption across 17 countries amounted to US$1.1 billion, while the estimated US$500 billion lost to corruption in the health sector annually exceeds the total cost of universal health coverage. Corruption during COVID-19 is denying people critical public services, distorting markets through procurement fraud and malpractices, and hindering the equitable allocation of funds to rebuild economies and protect the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Without addressing and preventing corruption, efforts to respond to and recover from crises are weakened. On the other hand, ensuring that transparency, accountability and anti-corruption are integrated in crisis response promotes an effective, fair and equitable recovery, so that no one is left behind.

Beyond the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, corruption undermines sustainable development, with negative impacts on society, the economy, and our environment. Apart from corruption exacerbating poverty and inequality, eroding public trust, and damaging social cohesion, it is also undermining urgent global efforts to address climate change. In the forestry sector alone, corruption costs some US$29 billion annually; while corruption in the timber sector, fisheries, wildlife and extractive industries continues to exacerbate environmental degradation. Now more than ever, anti-corruption measures act as an important accelerator for the SDGs, which rely on transparent, accountable, and inclusive governance.

UNDP adopts an integrated approach to anti-corruption to accelerate climate action, build green economies, ensure universal health coverage, advance gender equality and end poverty. Working closely with governments, other UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and communities, UNDP promotes transparency, accountability and anti-corruption for all sustainable development efforts, guided by the 2030 Agenda and the UN Convention against Corruption, in line with the UN  common position to address global corruption.

With support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, we are implementing innovative anti-corruption initiatives in Asia and Africa. These leverage technology and innovation to promote integrity and anti-corruption across sectors and development areas, including integrity in climate, biodiversity and environment initiatives to deliver the Climate Promise; beneficial ownership transparency to promote financial integrity for sustainable development; and open contracting and procurement processes to deliver on the SDGs.

UNDP, together with the WHO, the Global Fund and the World Bank, has established the ‘Coalition for Anti-Corruption, Transparency and Accountability in Health (CATCH)’ to strengthen integrity in health systems and promote universal health coverage.

Thanks to the U.S. Department of State, we are strengthening judicial integrity to curb corruption and deliver justice for all.  And with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, we are working closely with the private sector to promote a fair business environment and build transparent and open public procurement systems to achieve the SDGs.

The UN General Assembly Special Session 2021, and its political declaration will provide the world with an opportunity to unite against corruption and move from commitment to action. UNDP reaffirms its commitment to supporting countries to strengthen transparency, accountability and anti-corruption in all development areas, to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs for people and our planet.