• 9 December is International Anti-Corruption Day.
  • During COVID-19, corruption has seen funds diverted away from those in need, says the United Nations Secretary-General.
  • From the prevalence of corruption in rich countries to its connection with inequality, here are four myths about corruption exposed.

Corruption thrives in times of crisis. This is the message from the United Nations on International Anti-Corruption Day, 9 December.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement: “Corruption is criminal, immoral and the ultimate betrayal of public trust. It is even more damaging in times of crisis – as the world is experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The response to the virus is creating new opportunities to exploit weak oversight and inadequate transparency, diverting funds away from people in their hour of greatest need.”

Billions of dollars have been mobilized around the world to help those most affected by the pandemic, but the UN says “significant opportunities for corruption” exist where compliance, oversight and accountability have been overlooked in exchange for rapid impact.

Corruption governance trust United Nations
Image: World Economic Forum

Here are four myths about corruption and its impact.

Myth 1. Small corruption has a small impact

Corruption isn’t all multibillion-dollar money laundering. For many, it’s part of daily life: from having to pay bribes to access to public services, to being offered bribes in exchange for votes, which is the case for one in two people in Lebanon.

But small-scale corruption adds up. Between 2008 and 2009, people in Afghanistan paid out $2.5 billion in bribes, with around one in four paying at least one bribe to police and local officials during that time, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. And cumulatively, the constant demand for bribes can push people further into poverty.

Myth 2. Corruption only happens in poor countries

This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) shows corruption by score in countries around the world.
Highest and lowest scoring regions for corruption.
Image: Transparency International

It is more widespread in countries where “big money can flow freely into electoral campaigns and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals”, says Transparency International.

In its Corruptions Perception Index 2019, which uses a scale of zero to 100 (highly corrupt to very clean), more than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of just 43.

Western Europe and the EU was the highest-scoring region, while Sub-Saharan Africa was the lowest.

But even high-scoring, developed countries like Canada (77) are not immune to corruption. It has dropped down by seven places from 2012, due to a bribery conviction involving Libya (18).

Myth 3. You can’t do anything about corruption

Suggestions to improve international trasnsparency.
Recommendations for ending corruption and restoring trust in politics.
Image: Transparency International

Multilateral organizations are doing plenty to raise awareness and encourage best practices.

The UN’s RECOVER with INTEGRITY campaign calls for countries to reduce the risks of mismanagement and corruption during the pandemic and to bring their national anti-corruption frameworks in line with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about corruption?

It hosts the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), the largest global CEO-led anti-corruption initiative.

Realizing that corruption hampers growth and innovation, and increases social inequality, PACI aims to shape the global anti-corruption agenda.

Founded in 2004, it brings together top CEOs, governments and international organizations who develop collective action on corruption, transparency and emerging-marking risks.

PACI uses technology to boost transparency and accountability through its platform, Tech for Integrity.

While the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative serves as the leading business voice on anti-corruption and transparency.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, calls on governments to “urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems.”

Myth 4. Corruption does not affect inequality

“The COVID-19 pandemic risks deepening inequalities unless we strengthen the front-line defences of the global anti-money laundering system,” says Transparency International.

$50 billion flows out of Africa each year – money that could be used to improve lives. Instead, it’s funnelled abroad, often with the help of complicit or negligent banks, lawyers and accountants, says the organization.

And there can be a vicious circle of corruption and inequality because it causes a lack of trust.

“Corruption not only thrives under conditions of high inequality and low trust, but in turn it leads to more inequality (and thus less trust),” writes Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, Eric Uslaner.