Rooting out corruption is vital to achieving sustainable development

ABU DHABI, 17 December (UN Information Service) - Corruption is a global phenomenon found in all countries which impacts everyone but harms poor people more than others. By undermining development, damaging economic prosperity and negatively affecting good governance and the provision of public services, corruption is a major impediment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The World Economic Forum estimates that at least $2.6 trillion is stolen through corruption every year – that is the equivalent of five per cent of global gross domestic product.

“People are right to be angry. Corruption threatens the well-being of our societies, the future of our children and the health of our planet. It must be fought by all, for all.” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for International Anti-Corruption Day earlier this month.

Addressing corruption essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Corruption threatens the achievement of the SDGs.  The vast sums that are lost to corruption could be used to improve living standards by increasing access to housing, health, education and water.

“As we enter a decade of ambitious action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on time, stepping up efforts to eradicate corruption and promote good governance is essential if we are to deliver on our global pledge to leave no one behind. To win the fight against corruption is to create the conditions necessary to effectively combat poverty and the inequalities that stem from it.” said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The United Nations General Assembly has also recognized that corruption is a barrier to development that diverts resources away from poverty-eradication efforts and sustainable development. It has urged States which have not yet done so to ratify and accede to the United Nations Convention against Corruption. 

Substantially reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms is among the targets for Goal 16 which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Anti-corruption measures can help promote sustainable development and help build society’s trust in the rule of law and accountability within the institutions established to protect and provide a multitude of services to them.

Costs of corruption

The cost of corruption is greater than the mere diversion of resources from their rightful purpose – corruption corrodes the fabric of society, weakens the rule of law, undermines trust in the government, erodes people’s quality of life and creates a conducive environment for organized crime, terrorism and violent extremism to flourish.

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a major breakthrough, with Member States explicitly recognizing the importance of promoting transparency, accountability and integrity for sustainable development.

Corruption has a devastating impact across the world, disproportionally affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

The World Bank estimates that more than $1 trillion is paid in bribes each year by businesses and individuals. According to the International Monetary Fund/World Economic Forum, the least corrupt governments collect four per cent of GDP more in tax revenues than countries at the same level of economic development with the highest levels of corruption.

Today there is political will and technical expertise to combat corruption. There are also partnerships among a wide range of stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, academia and youth, and there is global consensus that corruption underlies many of our problems across the globe, and needs to be addressed through a holistic, targeted and collective response.

What the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is doing to address corruption

UNODC provides a broad range of support to Member States to improve their capacity to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute corruption. UNODC also supports countries by developing and coordinating technical assistance activities related to the fight against corruption at regional, national and international levels.  

UNODC also partners with the World Bank on the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR Initiative), which supports efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds. The StAR Initiative works closely with countries and financial centres to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and to facilitate more systematic and timely return of stolen assets.

To address the problem of a lack of internationally-established methodologies or standards in measuring corruption and to support evidence-based policymaking, UNODC teamed up with the Mexico-based UNODC-INEGI Centre of Excellence for Statistical Information and the UN Development Programme to develop a new corruption measurement initiative: the ´Manual on Corruption Surveys´. The Manual offers methodological guidelines on measuring bribery and other forms of corruption through sample surveys and aims to support the reporting on SDG target 16.5 which requires Member States to “substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms”.

Tackling corruption together

The global community has recognized that corruption is an obstacle to the full achievement of the SDGs and is stepping up anti-corruption efforts. In April 2021 the United Nations General Assembly will hold a Special Session against corruption.  The session will consider the challenges and measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation.