Corruption is a global scourge that causes great human suffering and whose costs go far beyond the money lost to bribery, embezzlement, or fraud. Counterfeit medical drugs at best do no good and at worst can kill; bridges built with substandard materials at best cost more to maintain and repair, and at worst may collapse, injuring and killing people.
Corruption covers a wide range of activities. There is the multinational company whose bribe wins the contract to build a local highway. Or the local official who demands a bribe in exchange for a driving license. In both cases it is ultimately the individual taxpayer or customer who foots the bill. At the end of the day, those hurt most by corruption are the world’s weakest and most vulnerable.
Momentum is building for a new push against corruption as citizens around the world are no longer willing to bear the burden of corrupt regimes. The Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as protests around the world, from Brazil to India via Spain, are a clear sign of growing public frustration and impatience with current political structures and their perceived inability or reluctance to address issues of unfairness and corruption. At the same time, the tight budget constraints imposed by the crisis are increasing pressure on governments and companies to use available resources more efficiently.
All of these elements underline the need to intensify the global fight against corruption in the interest of economic recovery, achieving better services with tax-payers’ money and re-establishing public trust in institutions, governments and markets.
The OECD has a good track record of helping government and business fight corruption and improve integrity. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which dates back to 1997, was the first instrument of its kind to tackle the offer or payment of a bribe, making it a criminal offence to bribe a foreign public official in order to win a contract. Other initiatives such as the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the Corporate Governance Guidelines set an ethical framework for private companies’ practices that cover more than just the boardroom stretching to include subcontractors and suppliers on the other side of the world.
OECD guidelines and recommendations also help governments improve integrity in public service, comprising areas from public procurement to transparent budgeting, so that people can see how their taxes are being spent. And the organisation’s work on combating illegal tax evasion has enabled governments to collect €14 billion in additional revenues from more than 100,000 wealthy taxpayers.
But corruption is a complex multi-headed monster, which needs to be tackled in a comprehensive approach if it is to be conquered. For this reason, the OECD developed the CleanGovBiz initiative, which for the first time draws together under a single umbrella OECD’s existing anti-corruption tools which ministers identified in the Declaration on Propriety Integrity and Transparency in 2009, offering easy access and user-friendly advice on how to make the best use of them. CleanGovBiz’s comprehensive Toolkit for Integrity provides priority policy measures, guidance how to implement them and a rich set of examples of good practices on how to tackle corruption and build integrity in multiple different policy areas, such as regulatory and competition policy, public financial management, lobbying, tax administration and criminalising bribery, to name a few.
In addition to OECD instruments, the new toolkit also contains the instruments of the other most important organisations involved in the fight against corruption: the United Nations, the World Bank, the Financial Action Task Force, Transparency International, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the World Economic Forum.
CleanGovBiz also provides Integrity Scans, which are like “stress tests” to support governments in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their legal, administrative and economic frameworks, and in identifying the steps necessary to improve integrity in a quick but comprehensive way.
©OECD Observer No 290-291, Q1-Q2 2012