A selection of UN TV programmes, webcasts and video clips on issues in the news

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Corruption. A crime against Development

It is commonly accepted that corruption is pervasive, affecting developed and developing countries alike and unduly influencing a wide range of both public and private sector activities. While criminal and penal measures remain central elements of anti-corruption strategies, it is now understood that corruption is often rooted in deeper social, cultural and economic factors, which must also be addressed if the fight against corruption is to succeed. It is also recognized that the harmful effects of corruption represent a serious obstacle to enhancing economic growth and to improving the lives of the poorest segments of the population in developing countries and economies in transition. Development agencies have come to understand that corruption not only erodes the actual delivery of aid and assistance, but undermines the fundamental goals of social and economic development itself. More and more countries view bribery and cronyism as a serious roadblock to development and are asking the United Nations to assist them in acquiring the tools to curb such practices.

In developing countries, corruption has hampered national, social, economic and political progress. Scarce public resources are allocated inefficiently, competent and honest citizens feel frustrated and the general population’s level of distrust rises. As a consequence, productivity is lower, administrative efficiency is reduced and the legitimacy of political and economic order is undermined. The effectiveness of efforts on the part of developed countries to redress imbalances and foster development is eroded: foreign aid disappears, projects are left incomplete and ultimately donors lose commitment.

Corruption also impairs economic development by transferring large sums of money in directions that do not address poverty. Funds intended for aid and investment flow to the accounts of corrupt officials, beyond the reach of official seizure. The reverse flow of capital in turn leads to political and economic instability, poor infrastructure, education, health and other services and a general tendency to create or perpetuate low standards of living.

* Corruption. A crime against prosperity.

In many countries, applicants for driver’s licences, building permits and other routine documents have learned to expect a “surcharge” from civil servants. Often bribes are paid to win public contracts, to purchase political influence, to side-step safety inspections, to bypass bureaucratic red tape and to ensure that criminal activities are protected from interference by police and other criminal justice officials. The direct and measurable consequences of corruption are even more pervasive and profound than these examples suggest.

A broad consensus among academics, practitioners and politicians has been established based on the conclusion that corruption is one of the main obstacles to peace, stability, sustainable development, democracy and human rights globally. Widespread corruption endangers the stability and security of societies, undermines the values of democracy and morality and jeopardizes social, economic and political development. Reactive criminal justice measures are now supplemented by social and economic  measures intended not only to deter corruption, but also to prevent it.

The recognition that public sector and private sector corruption are often simply two aspects of the same problem has led to strategies that involve not only public officials, but also major domestic and multinational commercial enterprises, banks and financial institutions, non-governmental entities and, in many strategies, civil societies in general. To address the bribery of public officials, for example, efforts can be directed not only at deterring the payment and the receipt of the bribe, but also at reducing the incentives to offer it in the first place.

* Corruption. A crime against justice.

Corruption in the justice system is one of the most critical areas requiring attention and focus in the fight to improve transparency, strengthen integrity and safeguard principles of human rights and the rule of law.  Adherence to good governance practices generally, including within the justice system, is integral to economic growth, the eradication of poverty and hunger, and sustainable development.  Transparency throughout the judicial process is widely recognized as a core principle of good governance and the basis for principles of accountability.  It also operates as a check against mismanagement and corruption.  In addition, a transparent and independent justice system helps to promote objective and fair decision-making, and establishes public confidence through the encouragement of informed, meaningful participation and access by the general public.

Judicial independence and the right to a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal have always been regarded as basic human rights, fundamental to the rule of law.  In addition, they are considered vital ingredients to the promotion of a climate of investment and economic viability.  It is now widely accepted that safeguarding judicial independence is essential to the rule of law, and there is also broad agreement on how to go about promoting and protecting judicial independence.  In terms of accountability, in general, the judiciary must be accountable above all else to the law, in the sense that the decisions made are in accordance with the law and are not made arbitrarily.  Like other branches of government, the judiciary must also be accountable to the general public it serves.

Fostering a culture of independence, impartiality and accountability among judges is a vital step towards ensuring the overall integrity of the judiciary.  This is particularly true in countries where there is a lack of accountability in other branches of government. Developing codes of judicial conduct or other institutional measures can also provide an important means of fostering judicial accountability, since they serve as both a guide to and a measure of judicial conduct.  Strong and independent judges associations, meanwhile, can provide a safe point of reference for judges, allowing them to interact with the other branches of government in an accountable, yet independent manner. Ultimately, though, the judiciary must be responsible to the citizens, and civil society, including the media and non-governmental entities, must play an enhanced role in demanding and ensuring judicial accountability.

* Corruption. A crime against democracy.

There is little doubt that corruption impedes economic development, lowers the ratio of private investment to GDP, and has a negative effect on the functioning of democratic institutions.  Therefore, corruption poses a serious development challenge.  In the political realm, pervasive corruption undermines democracy and good governance by undermining formal democratic processes, including elections.  More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government institutions as formal procedures are ignored, resources are diverted for private gain, and public offices are paid off through bribery or other means of enrichment.

At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as public trust and tolerance of minority or powerless groups, thereby affecting the fulfillment of civil and political rights.  Corruption may weaken democratic institutions both in new and in long-established democracies.  When corruption is prevalent, those in public positions fail to take decisions with the interests of society in mind.  As a result, corruption damages the legitimacy of a democratic regime in the eyes of the public and leads to a loss of public support for democratic institutions.  People become discouraged from exercising their civil and political rights and from demanding that these rights be respected.

The good news is that there appears to be an inverse correlation between democracy and corruption; strong, robust democratic institutions result in less corruption across the system.  The role of sound democratic institutions, including an independent judiciary and an independent media, along with active political participation, is crucial to the fight against corruption.

* Corruption. A crime against the environment.

Corruption that occurs in the environmental sector can have a devastating impact. Such practices include embezzlement during the implementation of environmental programmes,  grand corruption in the issuance of permits and licenses for natural resources exploitation and petty bribery of law enforcement. Corruption can happen during the initial stages of the resource exploitation process as well as during operations. Committed at the international, national or local level, these offences may result in the loss of resources and habitats and the degradation of ecosystems, with direct and indirect effects on the livelihood of people.

To tackle this problem, it is crucial to enhance transparency, accountability, democracy and good governance in natural resources management. Commitment of politicians and policy-makers of resource-rich countries is indispensable to strengthen the legal framework and relevant institutions. Committing sufficient resources to prevent and combat environmental crime, including corruption, is crucial. It is equally important not to undermine the role of foreign investment and the private sector, who should not accept the exploitation of natural resources by unlawful means. Finally, the local population and general public as consumers of relevant goods and products should enhance their efforts to bring more transparency into the process by enquiring how and with what kind of environmental consequences such products are obtained.

* Corruption. A crime against health.

The health sector is multi-dimensional and for this reason, so is the fight against corruption in this sector. Corruption can deteriorate general health, deplete resources, undermine the effective use of existing services, distort the procurement of medical supplies and literally become a matter of life and death. There is limited knowledge on corruption in the health sector, but of particular concern is the health financing system. The direct financing of healthcare services and supplies appears to be particularly prone to corruption. Corruption in the health sector has an especially destructive impact in developing and transitional economies where public resources are already scarce by diverting resources from areas where they are needed most and increasing the cost of health care and services. There is increased interest around the world to address sector specific issues and causes of corruption, which includes a growing focus on the health sector.

* Corruption. A crime against education.

From 2000 to 2010, the world’s population grew at an average annual rate of 1.2 per cent, from approximately 6.1 to 6.9 billion people. The youth continue to make up approximately one-fifth of the total population in many developing regions, including the Middle East (20.5 per cent), Sub-Saharan Africa (20.3 per cent), North Africa (20.0 per cent), and South Asia (19.5 per cent). With such a large percentage of the world’s population comprised of young people and anti-corruption efforts requiring a long-term focus, the youth must be engaged in the fight against corruption. The youth have proven to be innovators, free-thinkers and even resolute in not accepting the status quo.

Forums and platforms have been created that speak to the youth, be it through stimulating debates or expressing views through the internet and music. They have also initiated campaigns and have used, in particular information technology, to further their opinions and be agents of change. Engaging them in anti-corruption discussions, promoting partnerships and fostering synergies are important components of anti-corruption efforts. Every new generation needs people to be determined to find a better way, as corruption is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional with a significant reach into every aspect of life.

The education sector, one of the largest budget items in many countries, presents many opportunities for corrupt practices. Corruption in this sector is particularly devastating in that it can lead to poor quality education, inferior performance and drop out rates, which in turn can lead to increased levels of poverty. While corruption in the education sector is difficult to measure, it is prevalent in many countries and a long-term perspective is needed that recognizes the important role of tomorrow’s leaders. Conversely, investing in education and strengthening integrity and transparency in this sector will have a positive impact on preventing and addressing the challenges of corruption.

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