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Corruption and (Under)development

Written by Jameela Raymond on Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Corruption affects millions of people, and is deeply linked to inequality and underdevelopment around the world. Yet rooting out corruption should not just be the priority and duty of the developing country. Countries like the UK have a major role to play.


Corruption affects millions of people, and is deeply linked to inequality and underdevelopment around the world. But the cost of corruption goes beyond the bribe paid, the law broken or the money laundered. In countries where there is more bribery, more women die during child birth, more children die before the age of five and fewer children complete primary corruption-resources-corruption-resources-education.  More than one in three people in countries with high bribery rates live in poverty, and girls are 20% more likely to miss out on secondary corruption-resources-corruption-resources-education in countries with high levels of bribery. The pattern is clear – where bribery is common, progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is slower, depriving people of the most basic services. 

Transparency International (TI) pushed for Goal 16 of the SDGs a stand-alone goal on governance and participation: the more detailed goals to reducing illicit financial and arms flows, recovering the return of stolen assets and combatting organised crime (Goal 16.4) and to substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all forms (Goal 16.5) demonstrate that corruption of any form is being recognised as a hindrance to development.

Yet overcoming corruption and increasing development ought not to simply be the priority and duty of the developing country. In a globalised world corruption is an increasingly transnational phenomenon and wealthier and more developed countries have a responsibility to ensure that they do not facilitate or tolerate any form or level of corruption at home or abroad. At Transparency International UK (TI-UK) we focus on corruption in the UK and the UK’s role in corruption overseas as well as hosting two sector-specific global initiatives: the Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Programme (PHP) and the Defence and Security Programme (DSP).

Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare

Whether we focus on the fact that a patient may be denied access to treatment because they can’t afford to bribe, or the effect of counterfeit drugs with no medicinal value, or the theft of a national corruption-resources-corruption-resources-health budget by a corrupt public official, corruption in the pharmaceutical and corruption-resources-corruption-resources-health sector can have deadly effects. Corruption in India’s corruption-resources-corruption-resources-health sector contributes to persistently high levels of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and an upcoming paper, Understanding the role of corruption and the Ebola Crisis, addresses the corruption taking place in West Africa during and in the years preceding the ongoing Ebola crisis.

Defence and Security

The worldwide defence and security sector, globally spread and with such high levels of wealth yet such low levels of transparency, is prone to unique corruption risks, damaging trust in the armed forces and putting soldiers and civilian lives at risk. Corruption in the defence and security sector can lead to destabilisation and security threats: our research on corruption in the international mission in Afghanistan picks up on how efforts to fight corruption can be contradicted by other simultaneous international efforts. The 50000 ghost soldiers on the payroll of the Iraqi army allowed some army officials to pocket their salaries, and in the longer term this distortion has arguably weakened Iraq’s ability to defend itself against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  

What Role for Developed Countries?

But what is the responsibility of a developed country like the UK in all of this? Money stolen from vital areas of a country’s public spending can easily be laundered and hidden in global safe havens, of which the UK is one. This laundered money represents misery and lost opportunity for millions around the world – let’s remember that Goal 16.4 requires the UK to fulfill our duty to the international community and do everything within our power to stop illicit financial flows from entering our systems. Our recent research, Corruption on your Doorstep touches on the scale of corrupt money in UK property: General Sani Abacha and his conspirators are believed to have laundered an estimated £780m through UK banks while he was dictator of Nigeria, and James Ibori, ex-Governor of Delta State in Nigeria, is estimated by to have embezzled £150m of Nigerian public funds. Some of Ibori’s stolen money ended up in a £2.2m house in Hampsted in North London, not far from the £10m house owned by Saadi Gadaffi while his father was dictator of Libya. Establishing transparency over UK property ownership would be just one step towards the UK making a clear statement that we will not be tolerant of the global corrupt.

We believe that global financial centres like the UK have the opportunity to play a role in international corruption by deterring the money that is so easily laundered through our systems and, in turn, contributing to sustainable international development. When we build relationships with the corrupt, we become complicit in deepening the endemic corruption hindering another country’s development. And unless we strive to confront corruption as the problem at the heart of many development problems, we will struggle to achieve the sustainable development goals that would benefit some of the world’s most vulnerable.

*This blog was first published on London International Development Centre’s blog and can be accessed here.


Read 2935 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2015 10:07

Jameela Raymond

Jameela is Transparency International UK's Senior Policy Officer. You can follow her on Twitter @jameelaraymond

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