December 9th was International Anti-Corruption Day; a day on which to remember that we live in a world where every single dollar counts, particularly when aimed at helping the poorest, most vulnerable women, children and men.
Corruption costs us all at least US$ 2.6 trillion or 5% of the world’s GDP. This colossal sum is leached out of countries creating enormous holes in vulnerable and fragile societies.
These bleak gaps in essential services and infrastructure cause endless suffering due to the lack of life-giving health care, hope-affirming education and community-saving roads and bridges.
The many victims of corruption may not even be aware that corruption is the cause of their lack of opportunities and services. Instead, corruption and its impact can haunt successive generations, devastating the lives of countless numbers of people.
It is hard not see corruption as a tsunami spilling out into fragile societies and doing untold harm to people and communities.
Hardly any transnational organised crime exists in today’s world without corruption to reward those prepared to look the other way.
But in recent years, there has been a dramatic fightback against corruption. We are not there yet, but two developments are helping.
First, the world’s sharpest anti-corruption instrument is the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which sets out the gold standard for domestic legislation and enables countries to review each other’s efforts.
One of the greatest successes under UNCAC was the shift in the embedded view that corruption was simply a part of doing business.
That transformation is due to a greater understanding of the devastating impact that this crime has on people. We know what corruption does to frail countries and how it results in inequality and inequity.
In early November, the world’s largest anti-corruption conference was held in Vienna under the Convention’s umbrella. The weeklong event drew together nearly 2,000 representatives of countries, academia, and civil society to debate every aspect of the globe’s anti-corruption efforts.
This year the conference—known as the Seventh Session of the Conference of States parties to UNCAC saw a rolling succession of discussions among ministers of justice and others, debates and careful crafting of resolutions to become determined action at the grassroots level.
Second, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises that battling corruption is tied to the overall efforts to improve education, lift people out of poverty, deliver economic growth, and ring-fence natural resources.
The 2030 Agenda calls for substantial reductions in corruption. Returning stolen assets, and severing the flows of illicit finances are all targeted under Goal 16, which seeks to create peaceful and inclusive societies.
Although we have the tools and a global plan, there is one piece missing from the anti-corruption jigsaw: Unity of action.
We must empower Goal 17 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by creating strong partnerships against corruption.
This includes improved education and youth engagement for enhanced integrity, transparency and accountability in public affairs, and close cooperation with the private sector.
We need to be creative and innovative in maintaining corruption at the top of domestic and international agendas, so that we promote a deep and genuine intolerance of this crime.
Corruption is everybody’s business because it weakens every society and we all suffer due to its impact. This is a strong reason to unite against this criminal plague. If we fail, corruption will continue to hinder plans to lift people out of poverty and promote opportunities for a better life.
By the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov