Poverty. Inequality. Broken public services. Self-serving politicians who loot state coffers with impunity. Company directors who abuse their power. From New Delhi to Athens, from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring – all over the world people are taking to the streets to protest against these injustices. Their grievances are particular to each country, but there is a common thread linking them - corruption.
Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority. Corruption holds back economic development, prevents a free market operating for businesses and consumers, and further exploits already marginalised groups.
It is striking that the spotlight on corruption is often shone overseas. However, in 2011 Transparency International UK ’s report ‘Corruption in the UK’ found that the growing threat of UK corruption is often met with complacency, and that key institutions are refusing or slow to confront the problem. Mounting evidence leaves no room for denying the UK has its own corruption problems. These may not be as widespread as in some other countries where the problem is entrenched, but any level of corruption in our public institutions is too much. Furthermore, there is a big problem with public mistrust of government and politics in the UK; as displayed by Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Russell Brand going viral on YouTube. In fact, Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer found that 90% of respondents believe that the UK Government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest.
Over and above corruption within the UK itself, this country plays a part in the global human tragedy of corruption. Corruption is ‘exported’ every time a British company pays a bribe overseas – further embedding the corruption in that country and reinforcing the power of corrupt elites. And chinks in the defences against money laundering in the City of London and the UK’s Overseas Territories allow corrupt dictators to find a safe haven for their illicit wealth.
The statistics about corruption make sober reading. For example, in developing countries, corruption raises the cost of connecting a rural household to a water network by as much as 30%, inflating the cost of achieving the Millennium Development Goal on water and sanitation by more than US $48 billion. The cost of bribes paid by low-income Mexican homes was estimated at 24 per cent of household earnings. Closer to home, the Council of Europe estimates that corruption costs the European Union around 120 billion euros a year.
At Transparency International (TI), we believe there should be zero tolerance for corruption wherever it is found. But despite the progress we have made since TI was founded 20 years ago, including the UK’s recent commitment to tackling money laundering by implementing a public register of company owners, it is not easy to fight corruption.
Many of our 100-odd chapters throughout the world are often the subject of threats, intimidation and violence. TI Russia has been operating in an environment which has become increasingly dangerous for those who are vocal in their criticism of the authorities. The safety of Transparency Maldives has also come to the attention of the movement as several staff members received telephone threats and a volunteer was attacked. These incidents are of particular concern as in July of this year, the first murder of a member of the movement suspected to be related to their work occurred at TI Rwanda. Gustave Sharangabo Makonene 33, was working as a coordinator of an Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, and his job was to help people who complained about corruption in their lives.
This is why we need countries like the UK to put their own houses in order so as to be more effective in contributing to global efforts to combat corruption.