The obligation to curb corruption and its many negative effects does not rest solely on the government and its employees.
CORRUPTION is found in rich and poor countries alike. It comes in different forms. And its magnitude varies. Unfortunately, it also often comes with a perception that nothing can be done to curb it. Sometimes this perception is nearly as pervasive as corruption itself.
Corruption continues to undermine development in many countries across Southeast Asia. It is therefore necessary to dispel this myth and address corruption squarely. Doing this remains the responsibility of us all – from governments, to development partners, to nongovernmental organisations, the private sector and, ultimately, all of civil society.
Today the world marks International Anticorruption Day. And this provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the impact corruption can have on preventing us from reaching the human development targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals.
Evidence confirms that corruption hurts the poor disproportionately and hinders human development by diverting resources away from investment in infrastructure, institutions and social services.
Corruption also undermines democracy and the rule of law – leading to violations of human rights, distorted markets and diminished quality of life. In the worst cases, it allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.
There is a large body of evidence now in place to show, quite clearly, that in those countries with high levels of corruption, immunisation rates are lower and child mortality rates are higher. In the area of education, higher levels of corruption are strongly correlated with fewer children attending schools and higher dropout and illiteracy rates, meaning that corruption blocks key routes out of poverty.
Building infrastructure and extending water, sanitation and electricity supplies are expensive tasks, requiring large-scale investments – yet, according to the UN Development Programme’s 2008 Regional Human Development Report, “Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives:
Accelerating Human Development in Asia and the Pacific”, on average in the Asia-Pacific region, up to 40 percent of these efforts are being dissipated through corrupt practices.
However, in the Mekong sub-region, some positive steps are being taken. Regulatory authorities have improved communication across borders to notify each other about the existence of fake drugs in order to more quickly remove them from circulation.
In Cambodia, the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority has implemented a performance-based pay scheme for its staff. Between 1999 and 2006, the UNDP regional report also noted that access to water in the city was transformed, jumping from 25 percent to 90 percent, while the number of household connections for the poorest people in the city rose from 100 to more than 13,000.
In Battambang and Siem Reap provinces, One Window Service Offices have been opened, which serve as one-stop-shops for public service administrative procedures, where fees for all services are transparently displayed on a board inside the office.
In addition, Provincial Accountability Working Groups, consisting of senior civil servants, representatives of NGOs and commune councils and private contractors have been set up in all provinces. More than 2,000 boxes have been placed in schools, pagodas and council offices, where citizens can express complaints about abuses of power or corruption by civil servants and their institutions at commune, district or provincial levels.
These are steps in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. Globally, UNDP and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have united to develop the “Your No Counts” campaign (www.yournocounts.org), which in 2009 focuses on how corruption hinders development.
Central to this campaign is raising awareness about the UN Convention Against Corruption, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2003. This legally binding convention obliges 142 countries to prevent and criminalise corruption, promote international cooperation, recover stolen assets and improve technical assistance and information exchange. The Royal Government of Cambodia ratified the UNCAC on September 5, 2007.
Through this campaign, and through our work on the ground, UNODC and UNDP are committed to keep working hand-in-hand with the government and the people of Cambodia, in the firm belief that everyone has a role to play, not only governments, but also parliamentarians, businesses, civil society, the media and the average citizen.
Corruption hurts us all, therefore fighting it is a shared responsibility.
Jo Scheuer is country director for the UN Development Programme and Gary Lewis is regional representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.