By John D. Sullivan
Corruption is an issue too big for any one group, organization or country to tackle alone. The global prevalence of corruption is indicated by the World Bank’s conservative estimates of the annual total of bribes paid worldwide ($1 trillion) and economic losses to developing and transition countries due to corruption (between $20 billion and $40 billion a year). The explosive growth of transnational organized crime facilitated by corruption makes cooperative effort among different stakeholders at all levels even more urgent.
Thus partnerships that draw on the expertise and resources of all partners are essential in the global fight against corruption. Anti-corruption goals pursued by international partnerships, as well as by coalitions among in-country stakeholders — such as governments, the private sector and civil society — are more likely to succeed than efforts undertaken by individual stakeholders acting on their own.
GOVERNMENTS NEED PARTNERS
International agreements, such as the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, help create conditions for partnerships among governments of signatory countries and multinational institutions. Anti-corruption conventions can help foster consensus against corruption and allow those countries to share best practices while putting pressure on governments to act on their anti-corruption commitments.
For international cooperation to be effective, ultimately each country must translate broad anti-corruption goals into concrete policies and enforcement. Many governments are trying to overcome bureaucratic walls separating different agencies involved in anti-crime and anti-corruption efforts. Some countries have engaged in international cooperation and coordinated their anti-corruption efforts with others. More intra- and inter-governmental cooperation on all levels is needed.
But anti-corruption reforms cannot be left to governments only — grass-roots involvement is crucial. Broad coalitions can be created ad hoc to further specific reforms and then dissolved to allow partners to pursue their individual goals. But sustained relationships among partners make their anti-corruption efforts more consistent and help forge a common front against corruption, a force to be reckoned with. Electronic social media can help partners stay connected and well informed and reach out to the general public.
International nongovernmental (NGO) anti-corruption groups such as Transparency International (TI) and Global Integrity are in the position to take the lead. But despite their global reach, they often lack resources. Multilateral institutions can help. For example, the World Bank Institute (WBI) partnered in 2007 with TI, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Siemens, and other civil society and business groups to develop www.fightingcorruption.org, a comprehensive resource for collective action. This website promotes action taken by businesses together with other stakeholders to improve transparency, integrity and accountability of business projects and provides related information materials, including guidelines and best practices.
REDUCE CORRUPTION TO DO BUSINESS
The private sector — as both part of the corruption problem and its victim — must be a part of any effective solution. CIPE works to enlist the help of private institutions in combating corruption. CIPE recognizes that corruption is an institutional problem with demand and supply sides that can only be addressed through coordinated efforts by multiple stakeholders.
Demand-side reforms address systemic conditions that create opportunities for corruption, such as unclear laws and regulations or complex tax codes. In Armenia, CIPE and a local nongovernmental group established a coalition of business associations, chambers of commerce, and NGOs to be the engine of anti-corruption advocacy. The coalition developed tax policy recommendations and engaged legislators and tax officials in a dialogue on reforms. The implementation of these reforms reduced tax-related costs for businesses, such as demands by authorities for facilitation payments, helping Armenia reduce corruption and improve the business climate. In Russia, working with 17 regional coalitions of business associations, CIPE has conducted advocacy efforts related to 138 regional legislative changes, many of them focused on preventing corruption. Similarly, CIPE and the Colombian Confederation of Chambers of Commerce (Confecámaras) through joint efforts with other local groups helped improve transparency in government procurement of goods and services.
On the supply side, private enterprises can introduce reforms such as strengthening corporate governance or introducing codes of ethics that encourage greater transparency. Cooperation among private sector stakeholders is essential to encouraging businesses to share best practices and introduce them into their operations. One example with a significant global reach is Business Principles for Countering Bribery, which was created in 2002 through a multistakeholder initiative led by TI. These principles have since been adopted by many leading companies to benchmark their anti-bribery policies and procedures, and influenced the development of other initiatives such as the World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption Initiative.
One of the biggest challenges for all partnership-based anti-corruption efforts is to create mutual trust among the participants and platforms for constructive dialogue. International forums are important to fostering trust, but they must be complemented by domestic action.
The key to successful anti-corruption alliances is creating institutional mechanisms for information sharing and policy consultations between government officials and private sector and civil society players. The goal is to encourage mutual dialogue that gives all stakeholders a voice in developing reforms and finding solutions. Only then can governments, private enterprise and civil society stakeholders join forces to combat corruption effectively.
John D. Sullivan, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Center for International Private Enterprise, one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy and an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.