Corruption has a devastating effect on democratic governance and economic development all over the world. The problem is global and no country in the world could possibly claim to be immune against any of the various forms in which corruption manifests itself. Yet, it is of particular concern in the developing world, as huge amounts of money and resources are diverted through corruption away from what it should serve: socio-economic development, justice and security. This is acutely so in South Asia, which is home to one-fifth of the world population. Here, countries face enormous challenges of sustainably alleviating poverty for millions of people as well as of meeting the Millennium Development Goals in fewer than six years from now.
This year, the United Nations initiated a global campaign against corruption called “Your No Counts”—that every person and country can make a choice, and hence make a difference.
Often, people believe that they are at the mercy of corruption or even that paying a bribe just belongs to a way of life or culture in a given society—and that this cannot be changed. Although corruption in most places is unanimously considered ethically unacceptable, it seems that only few are able to visualize and understand the long-term harmful consequences of corruption for development and the society. It is perhaps natural, therefore, that most people and countries view a zero-tolerance approach to corruption with scepticism.
This is now gradually changing. In 2003, the world community marked a historic milestone by adopting the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the first ever universal instrument against corruption. Two years later, it entered into force and today, we can report that 142 countries have ratified the convention.
Through this convention, governments have now universally agreed upon and accepted comprehensive standards and measures to criminalize and prevent a variety of corrupt practices, such as bribery of public officials (both national and international), embezzlement of funds, trading in influence, abuse of functions, illicit enrichment, laundering of the proceeds of crime and obstruction of justice. Equally important, State Parties to the convention have committed themselves to implementing appropriate measures for asset recovery—also across borders—along with international cooperation, in view of the transnational character of organized criminal activities such as drug and arms trafficking.
Whereas the convention has been signed and ratified by governments, it does not limit itself to the public sphere. It also proposes concrete measures to be taken both by the private sector and civil society. For example, the convention specifically mandates the private sector to establish a code of conduct for the prevention of conflicts of interest, internal auditing controls as well as proper commercial practices. Equally, civil society is called upon to create awareness and undertake public information and education programmes to promote transparency, integrity and non-tolerance of corruption.
Since entering into force, the State Parties to the convention have met regularly to discuss progress in its implementation. In the last meeting held in Doha, Qatar, in early November, states made a breakthrough by agreeing to a new mechanism under which they will monitor every five years to see how they are living up to their obligations under the convention. The strength of the monitoring mechanism is that it is based on self assessments and peer reviews and that information will be made public.
The time has come to be judged by action taken and not by promises made. The “Your No Counts” campaign which was brought to life to harness people’s support for anti-corruption in the spirit of the convention, also calls on you to stand up for integrity and take action against corruption.
Cristina Albertin is representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for South Asia. Comment at email@example.com