Global Corruption: People Pay $1 Trillion in Bribes Every Year

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Monday that corruption is present in all countries, rich and poor, North and South, developed and developing. He was attending the Security Council meeting on corruption and conflict, in New York.

The meeting – which recognizes the importance of tackling corruption as part of the efforts to maintain international peace and security – was organized by the United States Presidency of the Security Council.

The World Economic Forum estimates that the cost of corruption is at least $2.6 trillion — or 5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). And according to the World Bank, businesses and individuals pay more than $1 trillion in bribes each year.

“Corruption robs schools, hospitals, and others of vitally needed funds. It rots institutions, as public officials enrich themselves or turn a blind eye to criminality. It deprives people of their rights, drives away foreign investment, and despoils the environment,” Mr. Guterres said.

He added that corruption breeds disillusion with Government and governance — and is often at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity. The poor and vulnerable suffer disproportionately. And impunity compounds the problem.

Corruption can be a trigger for conflict. As conflict rages, corruption prospers. And even if conflict ebbs, corruption can impede recovery.

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Corruption drives and thrives on the breakdown of political and social institutions. These institutions are never more in crisis than in times of conflict. Corruption is linked to many forms of instability and violence, such as the illicit trafficking in arms, drugs and people.

“The connections among corruption, terrorism, and violent extremism have been repeatedly recognized by the Security Council and General Assembly. Assets stolen through corruption can be used to finance further crimes, including violent extremist and terrorist acts,” Mr. Guterres said.

Large-scale corruption surveys conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that bribery of public officials was particularly high in areas affected by conflict. In conflict situations, stakeholders, such as anti-corruption commissions, civil society and the media, may be weakened or hindered in their essential work.

The consequences of corruption in times of conflict can be especially devastating as they can affect the most basic needs and exacerbate hunger and poverty. “Member States must be on the front lines in the fight against corruption. It is especially important to build up the capacity of national anti-corruption commissions and prosecutorial efforts,” Mr. Guterres suggested.

Governments can also enhance anti-corruption efforts by ensuring independent judiciaries, a vibrant civil society, freedom of the media and effective whistle-blower protections.

The international community can complement those efforts by working more effectively against money-laundering, tax evasion, and the illicit financial flows that have deprived countries of much-needed resources, and that feed further corruption.

“As members of the Council know, I have called for heightened efforts to prevent conflict and to address risks early, before they escalate. In that spirit, combating corruption and addressing governance challenges, which lie at the root of many conflicts, must be a component of preventive approaches,” Mr. Guterres said. “This is an opportunity to build a solid foundation of trust and accountability and increase a society’s resilience to crisis.”

In peace operations, our engagement should be designed and implemented with a clearer anti-corruption lens to reinforce a culture of accountability and respect for the rule of law, he added.

Before the adoption of the Convention, there was no global instrument to criminalize corruption, or to recover stolen proceeds. Now, the Convention has 186 States Parties, and the crime of corruption is on the books of nearly every country in the world.

The Convention’s robust peer review mechanisms have served as a global framework for international cooperation to strengthen prevention, to disrupt money-laundering schemes, return stolen proceeds from foreign banks and other necessary actions. “I encourage all Member States to bring greater resolve to its implementation,” Mr. Guterres said.

“Let us also take profit of advances of technology, which give us an opportunity to massively expand public participation in governance and to increase accountability. At the same time, we know that conventions and legal measures must be complemented by strong leadership that elevates corruption as a concern and makes it a priority for action,” he said.

People across the world continue to express outrage at the corruption of their leaders, and at how deeply corruption is embedded in societies. They are rightly calling for political establishments to operate with transparency and accountability — or make way for those who will.

“I call on leaders everywhere to listen, to nurture a culture of integrity and to empower citizens to do their part at the grass roots. We must all do more to fight corruption, strengthen governance, and build trustworthy institutions that can ensure probity and progress for all,” Mr. Guterres said in his remarks.

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