9 December: Anti-Corruption or Anti-Poverty Day?

This guest blog has been written by Craig Fagan of Transparency International.

More than a decadUN_logo_colorse since 9 December has become known as International Anti-Corruption Day, it is clear that this day could equally be called Anti-Poverty Day. Corruption indicators, both national and global, show that it is the poorest countries and poorest people that pay the most when it comes to corruption. For Transparency International, the global anti-corruption movement, in order to end poverty, you must end corruption.

Take the most recent findings from the Corruption Perceptions Index that Transparency International produces: the countries scoring the lowest are among those with some of the highest poverty rates in the world. Somalia, which is at the bottom of the list, has a poverty rate of 73 per cent. Sudan and North Korea, also trailing all other countries in their scores, see about half of all their citizens living in poverty. When the corruption index’s results are run against other poverty metrics, such as inequality and human development, similar trends emerge.

Work from the field echoes how corruption and poverty go hand-in-hand.

Grand corruption – large scale graft and abuses by public officials – undermines the fight against poverty. This can happen through the wide-scale theft of monies – whether collected through taxes or delivered through aid –for things such as schools, clinics and new water wells. Too many recent cases from across all regions – such as Malawi’s US$60 million debacle known as Cashgate or Brazil’s US$43 million Mensalao scandal – show how raiding the government’s purse steals needed funding to meet citizen’s demands for basic services. Illicit flows capture part of this phenomenon and the systematic plundering of state coffers. For example, it is estimated that illicit flows from Africa have drained the continent of over US$1.4 trillion between 1980 and 2009.

Small-scale corruption is equally destructive and makes poor people poorer. According to the most recent findings from the Global Corruption Barometer, one in four people surveyed, have reported paying a bribe while trying to access the most basic services. This number rises to one in two for the poorest countries included in the survey, which gathers the experiences of more than 114,000 people in 107 countries. Stories from Argentina to Zimbabwe show how bribery creates a barrier for people to access essential services and at the same time eats up a large share of their limited resources. These findings also underscore how monies spent to improve public services- whether funded by governments, donors or the private sector – will have little impact if bribery blocks people from accessing them.

The combined effect of these different faces of corruption means not only less schools and clinics being built, but fewer students educated and children vaccinated. The downstream results are seen in countries’ spotty progress on meeting key global development commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals. Findings show that in countries where reported bribery rates are over 60 per cent, over half of children do not complete primary school and more than one in three people live in poverty.

As the world looks beyond 2015 to new global development goals, now is the time to set past wrongs right and address how governance and corruption condition development. Responding to this reality includes adopting a stand-alone goal on governance and ensuring that there is open, accessible and comparable information on the funding going to development (from governments, donors and the private sector).

The UN established International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003 to call attention to the plague destroying countries and people’s lives – and the solution that they sought for it.

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