As the world looks to chart a course for ending poverty and ensuring sustainable development by 2030, one thing is certain: stopping corruption must be at the top of the agenda.

In 2000, global leaders made eight development promises to be reached by 2015, known as the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). With a year left, only four of the MDG targets have been achieved globally. Findings from Transparency International show that high levels of corruption and low levels of governance are to blame for this.

If we really want to end poverty by 2030, good governance and anti-corruption, which were not included in the original MDGs, should be considered as a goal in the new commitments, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals are to be met by all countries and are universally applicable. As has been seen, no country is free of corruption or has perfected governance.

What the world wants

Accountable and inclusive institutions are not only critical to the success of the SDGs, they also have widespread grassroots support. The UN My World survey, which has gathered the views of more than 7 million people, shows governance to be consistently one of four top demands from people around the world. Public support for this goal is crucial, as it will shape the global social agenda for a long time.

Findings from Transparency International show that access to information, strong rule of law and anti-corruption legislation have a positive effect on MDG achievements in maternal health, literacy and clean water. High levels of corruption, however, correlate with many of the targets being missed. This relationship holds across all the development goals related to poverty and hunger, education, maternal and child health, communicable diseases, water and sanitation.

Why bribery bites

Research in more than 100 countries clearly shows that the level of corruption in any given country has a direct and significant correlation with that country’s development. For example, in countries where more than 60% of people report paying a bribe, almost five times more people live on less than $1 a day than in countries where less than 30% of the population reports paying bribes.

In countries where more people paid more bribes for basic services, more women died during childbirth, fewer children lived beyond five years of age, more people went without clean drinking water or toilets, and fewer girls finished secondary school.

Bribery also wipes out the benefits of economic growth. For example, any gains made in improving access to safe drinking water when family incomes rise are offset by the negative effect of bribery.

Many different forms of public sector corruption can hurt development. Our research shows that 50% of school children do not complete primary school in countries where bribery is common. Teacher absenteeism, the lack of availability of text books due to corruption and the poor quality of facilities such as classrooms – often left in disrepair because funds for building get diverted due to corruption – prevent children from finishing primary school.

Transparent and accountable governance can help development. In countries where the rule of law is strong, progress has been made towards achieving the MDGs. Indeed, rule of law is just as important as economic growth. The research compared MDG achievements with the aggregated value of scores given to countries in the section of the 2011 Global Integrity Report covering anti-corruption. It also compared MDG achievement with per capita GPD growth. The results showed that good governance is just as important as economic growth in reducing poverty.

Ensuring a more comprehensive, comparable and timely data for all post-2015 indicators, including developing indicators that measure levels of transparency and accountability, is key to success. And developing a monitoring system for post-2015 goals that is based on and promotes transparency, accountability and participation is equally important.

We can’t win the war against poverty without first winning the battle against corruption.

Author: Cobus de Swardt is the Managing Director of Transparency International

Image: A pawn shop worker counts Thai Baht banknotes before she purchase items from a customer at Easy Money Pawn shop in Bangkok, August 27, 2013. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha