Over the past 15 years I have watched—and tried to influence—how countries, institutions and citizens respond to the problem of corruption. As the world continues to struggle to stamp out this societal ill, one lesson that seems hardest for everyone to learn is that cultivating and maintaining public trust must play equally important a role as implementing sound policies or enforcing laws.
On paper we have made great strides in fighting corruption, having signed global treaties and put tough anti-bribery legislation on the books in countries in all hemispheres. These laws are enforced to varying degrees and with varying success. Nonetheless, citizens feel a disconnect. Why does it seem the corporate or political elite are playing by a different set of rules, rules which bear no consequences?
Following last week’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London and the numerous major scandals that preceded it, corruption is the dirty word on everybody’s lips. Leaders around the world are finally starting to engage in a more honest dialogue about how we all are enabling corruption, whether it is governments that turn a blind eye to corrupt funds flowing through their financial systems, corporations that prioritize short-term profits regardless of the long-term cost, or international organizations that need to better scrutinize what happens to their development funds.
We have a small window of opportunity to turn talk into action. Our failure to respond appropriately to the many serious issues that have come to light would lead to an insurmountable deficit of public trust.
Support for the anti-corruption agenda goes in cycles, vacillating between optimism and gloom. The latest uptick in momentum, however, coincides with what World Bank Group President Jim Kim has dubbed a new era of “radical transparency.” On the one hand, it means we now have less control over what information we choose to make public and when—an uncomfortable prospect for many. On the other hand, it creates positive social pressure to make decisions in a more transparent manner and opens up other opportunities to fight corruption effectively.
Quick wins that are both relatively easy to implement and provide quantifiable results would keep things moving in the right direction. For example, an open source database that draws from publicly available administrative sanctions and corrective decisions imposed by countries and multilateral entities would improve global due diligence. Sanctions would also be imbued with a greater deterrent effect.
Likewise, developing a streamlined mechanism for sharing investigative information would allow law enforcement authorities to act faster and identify linages that might otherwise go unnoticed. The importance of strong cooperation cannot be underestimated; many of the World Bank Group’s most important investigations have benefited from solid partnerships with national authorities.
More than 60 years ago London was again the setting for tough talk, difficult choices and inspiration. Winston Churchill’s address to the House of Commons still serves as a reminder to leaders everywhere. “Statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions. These often settle themselves. It is where the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for world-saving decisions presents itself.”
The report, Partnering Against Corruption Initiative - Infrastructure & Urban Development, is available here.