In the recent past attention has been drawn to a significant development which has continued to grow throughout the world and affect socio-economic engagements. It is now being seen as a violation of human rights and abuse of good governance.
In these times when all sorts of human rights violations are being perpetrated and efforts are underway by the perpetrators to have them seen as 'normal', crimes of this nature continue to be perpetrated everywhere but punished nowhere. Corruption is also being seen as business as usual, that relies on the wide complicity of official authorities.
Multinational companies bribing their way into foreign markets are ending up largely unpunished. In addition, the question of requisite and suitable compensation for victims is also becoming rare.
Consensus is slowly emerging that as corruption incidents often happen during the interaction between representatives of private sector companies and public officials, a meaningful step against corruption can be taken within the scope of public administration through setting a good governance matrix. Transparency, it is being reiterated, is one aspect of good governance and such a tool as an initiative can help detect corruption and hold corrupt officials and politicians accountable. It will also create trust toward state institutions.
Analyst Baher Kamal has drawn reference to the World Bank and the United Nations both underlining on the International Anti-Corruption Day normally held on December 9 that corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existence is bribe. In this context criminologists have also pointed out that much of the world's costliest forms of corruption could not happen without institutions in wealthy nations: the private sector firms giving large bribes, the financial institutions accepting corrupt proceeds, and many lawyers, bankers, and accountants facilitating corrupt transactions.
They seem to forget that corruption tends to weaken and affect democracy. This deteriorating phenomenon is gradually extending itself across continents irrespective of frontiers. The osmotic effect of such a shockingly perpetrated practice -can only be defined as a "crime". Subsequent emerging conflicts, as we have seen in Africa and Latin America, follow such dynamics as one of its root causes. This happens because corruption fuels conflict and inhibits peace processes by undermining the rule of law, worsening poverty, facilitating the illicit use of resources, and providing financing for armed conflict. It will be pertinent to point out here that the UN has correctly warned that corruption has negative impacts on every aspect of society and is profoundly intertwined with conflict and instability jeopardising social and economic development and undermining democratic institutions.
Such an emerging deteriorating situation affects economic development, by stunting and discouraging foreign direct investment. As a result small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the "start-up costs" required because of corruption.
Socio-economists from different corners of the world are observing that some of the comments made by the World Bank in the recent past needs to be viewed more seriously. This international financial institution considers corruption as a major challenge to the twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity for the poorest 40 per cent of the people in developing countries.
They have also noted that "Corruption has a disproportionate impact on the poor and most vulnerable, increasing costs and reducing access to services, including health, education and justice." This has become particularly evident during the Covid pandemic when corruption influenced from behind the platform the required process in the procurement of drugs and medical equipment- thereby driving up costs and also in the production of sub-standard or harmful products. This meant that the human costs of counterfeit drugs and vaccinations on health outcomes and the life-long impacts on children far exceed the financial costs. This, it cannot be denied, has had a pernicious effect on the poorest 40 percent of people in developing countries.
Civil society including Transparency International (TI) has indicated that there is an ongoing effort in over 100 countries to end the injustice of corruption. In their 2022 report TI has held the powerful to account and warned that despite a few breakthroughs, "multinational companies bribing their way into foreign markets go largely unpunished, and victims' compensation is rare. Our globalised world means companies can do business across borders - often to societies' benefit. But what if your electricity bill is criminally inflated thanks to a backroom business deal? The chances of this are higher if you live in a country with high levels of government corruption." In this regard it has also been acknowledged that not only some in the public and private sectors are involved but in many cases foreign multinational companies, often with headquarters in countries with low levels of corruption are also part of that unfortunate paradigm.
Strategic analysts in this regard have also been referring to the fact that twenty-five years ago, the international community had agreed that trading countries have an obligation to punish companies that bribe foreign public officials to win government contracts, mining licences and other deals - in other words, engage in foreign bribery. Yet few countries have kept up with their commitments.
Excluding companies with a track record of corruption from participating in seeking contracts, could be a form of sanctioning that can be applied by procurement agencies to ensure compliance to external and internal anti-corruption rules. This aspect is of specific importance, as public procurement, both in volume and frequency, is particularly susceptible to corruption. In addition to setting incentives for companies to comply with anti-corruption standards by threatening their exclusion from future contracts, the internal compliance to anti-corruption rules by the procurement agency will have particular importance. Such a step, however, needs to be precise and unambiguous in terms of wording.
We have already seen how functional protection and support is generated within this paradigm by whistleblowers who take the required objective step to notify supervisors early about the potential dangers of conflicts of interest or corruption-related incidents.
An example for a more inclusive approach to combating corruption that goes beyond the framework set by lawmakers and the foremost role taken by representatives of the civil society is the monitoring of governments, politicians, public officials, and others to enhance transparency that will facilitate accountability.. Other means to this end might include pressure campaigns against certain organisations, institutions, or companies. Monitoring can also be carried out through the help of investigative journalism and that will assist in identifying potentially corrupt dealings by officials.
One also needs to take into consideration that precise and comprehensive definitions of corrupt actions are lacking. This gives rise to difficulties pertaining to the legal perspective. Combined with a significant variety in national laws, frequently changing regulations, and ambiguously worded laws, it is argued that non-state actors are needed to complement the fight against corruption and structure it in a more holistic way. Consequently many involved get proportionally punished, if anytime, after extremely lengthy and mostly unfruitful legal processing.
In this regard the World Bank has warned that much of the world's costliest forms of corruption could not happen without institutions in wealthy nations-- the private sector firms that give large bribes, the financial institutions that accept corrupt proceeds, and the lawyers, bankers, and accountants who facilitate corrupt transactions.
Corruption erodes trust in government and undermines the social contract. This is the cause for concern across the globe, but particularly in contexts of fragility and violence, as corruption fuels and perpetuates the inequalities and discontent that lead to fragility, violent extremism, and conflict. Corruption impedes investment, with consequent effects on growth and jobs. On the other hand, countries capable of confronting corruption use their human and financial resources more efficiently, attract more investment, and grow more rapidly.
The World Bank Group has also made some other significant observations. It recognises that corruption comes in different forms. It might impact service delivery, such as when an official asks for bribes to perform routine services. Corruption might also unfairly determine the winners of government contracts, with awards favouring friends, relatives, or business associates of government officials. Each type of corruption is important and tackling all of them is critical for achieving progress and sustainable change.
The World Bank has also importantly observed that "making inroads against corruption often requires determined efforts to overcome vested interests. Transparency and open governance are typically part of the story, but rarely the whole story. When popular disaffection with corruption and cronyism reaches a boiling point, the political rewards to addressing corruption can exceed the costs of upsetting interests. Short of sweeping reform efforts, progress can be achieved through better and more open processes, professional accountability systems, and the use of the latest advanced innovative technologies to capture, analyse, and share data to prevent, detect, and deter corrupt behaviour".
To date, the World Bank Group has publicly debarred or otherwise sanctioned more than 1,000 firms and individuals for being associated with unlawful courses of action. In fiscal year 2020, the World Bank Group debarred or otherwise sanctioned 49 firms and individuals and recognised 72 cross-debarments from other multilateral development banks. At the end of fiscal year 2020, 372 entities have been sanctioned with conditional release, a process by which firms are afforded the opportunity to improve their internal compliance programs as part of their sanction.
Such views by the World Bank have led to financial and economic analysts observing that when approaching anticorruption at the country level, it is important to put in place institutional systems and incentives to prevent corruption from occurring in the first place. Prevention also calls for credible deterrence, relying on accountability and enforcement mechanisms sufficiently strong to send a message to potential wrongdoers of the potential cost of their misconduct.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.