It is often said that corruption is a victimless crime.
This is not true.
Every year, USD $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated USD $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.
“Although corruption can strike anywhere, I have seen how it hits the poor, the weak, and the most vulnerable”, said United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres in a recent message.
With corruption, funds that should be dedicated to schools, clean water, health care, sanitation and other vital services are diverted into the hands of criminals or dishonest officials. The victim is the future of our children.
With corruption, our planet earth, and its finite resources, are being sold out. The people in the Pacific - more than anywhere else - know that the world is facing daunting environmental challenges. Many of them are caused by corruption committed by government officials and the private sector.
Corruption can lead to dissatisfaction and distrust in leaders, public institutions and the rule of law, and in most severe cases, it can lead to spirals of anger and unrest.
Corruption facilitates trafficking of drugs and people, and other forms of organized crime, making our world more unstable and insecure.
Simply put, the victims are ordinary people from who corruption denies prosperity, security, rights and services they desperately need.
It is therefore not by chance that the UN Member States have jointly recognized corruption as a threat and decided to integrate corruption related targets into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), under the Goal dedicated to Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – SDG16.
Goal 16 of the SDGs plays an instrumental role in ensuring an integrated approach toward development. Focused on resolving governance deficits and challenges posed by profound social transformation, it tackles the root causes for many development issues covered under other SDGs.
Progress across most SDGs will be handicapped without responsive and accountable governance frameworks. The UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), the only global legally binding anti-corruption instrument, is mobilizing action for honest, transparent, accountable governance. Many concrete steps have been taken by the Pacific governments and people to fight corruption and much has been achieved.
Twelve Pacific Island Countries are already StateParties to UNCAC. While important, this simply provides a framework for further, concrete national policy, legislative and institutional efforts that are required for societies with minimal risks of corruption.
Last month two major global events, relevant for the Pacific, took place back-to-back.
On the eve of the twenty-third session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23), another important Conference took place just an hour flight away from Bonn, in Vienna, the capital of Austria.
The seventh session of the Conference of the States Parties to UNCAC (CoSP7) gathered to take stock of the global anti-corruption efforts and set priorities for the next two years and beyond.
The strong presence of Pacific States in the Conference was greatly noted.
In fact, the Pacific involvement in the global anti-corruption fora was raised to the next level. Among other activities, with the President of Kiribati in lead, Pacific delegations tabled and led the negotiations of a resolution on strengthening the implementation of UNCAC in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
The resolution, which received a broad support and co-sponsorship, outlines some specific development priorities relevant to the Pacific and other SIDS, such as building integrity and preventing and eliminating corruption in the public and private sectors, and strengthening anti-corruption frameworks as part of steps to enhance good governance in the area of land and ocean resources management, with the aim of building resilience to the impacts of climate change in SIDS.
The Resolution also calls for support by State parties and interested donors to support SIDS in their anti-corruption efforts, together with other development partners and relevant UN agencies.
In the Pacific, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) work together to support Pacific States in their action against corruption. This is done under the umbrella of the UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Project (UN-PRAC),made possible through the financial support of the Australian Government. Recognizing the value of joint action, the Conference of the State Parties took note of this joint effort in the above mentionedResolution, with the following words:
“…. welcoming the work of the United Nations Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Project, which, as a result of close cooperation between the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the United Nations Development Programme, may serve as a model for collaboration on anti-corruption issues among United Nations entities”.
This conversation happening in the global fora is a mere reflection of a number of efforts happening in the Pacific, pursued both by state and non-State actors. Leaders, public officials, private sector, media, ordinary citizens, including many young people, are increasingly showing they are committed to fighting corruption in their communities and Governments.
It is clear that no single entity – whether state or non-state – is single-handedly able to address corruption and achieve the anti-corruption related targets of SDG 16. A whole-of-society and partnership approach towards tackling corruption is essential.
Action by ordinary citizens isa critical part of this effort –informing themselves about what their Government has pledged to do to fight corruption,telling elected officials that fighting corruption should be an integral part of all development policies,reporting incidences of corruption to the authorities, teaching children that corruption is unacceptable, and refusing to pay or accept bribes.
Saying NO to corruption is instrumental.
On this International Anti-Corruption Day, we call the people of the Pacific to unite against corruption. United, we can achieve peace, prosperity and sustainable development. And the United Nations stands with you.