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Tackling corruption must remain at the core of UK government’s drive for prosperous, stable and secure societies

Written by Maggie Murphy on Thursday, 4 August 2016

On taking up her post in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Government, Priti Patel, the new Secretary of State for International Development called for “securing the UK’s place in the world by supporting economic prosperity, stability and security overseas”.

This is precisely what is needed to ensure that the new UN’s new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goals are achieved, and particularly the Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, the adoption of which was championed by the UK. This will require a continued commitment to a strong anti-corruption agenda to increase prosperity and growth, to stabilise fragile states and to reduce inequality and waste. These are the facts to back this up.

Economic prosperity

Where countries are perceived to have high corruption risks, they receive less inward investment, impacting on their ability to grow. In a survey of more than 390 senior business executives, almost 45 per cent said corruption risks led them to not enter a market or pursue a business opportunity. Countries need to continue to receive support to reduce corruption levels to demonstrate their economic stability so as to attract inward investment.

Corruption also undermines a level playing field which suits the best, most competitive, innovative businesses. A ten per cent reduction in corruption has been found to raise productivity by 4 per cent of GDP and increase net annual capital inflows by 0.5 per cent of GDP.

It’s also important that the UK’s overseas aid is used to promote investment and economic growth, and not inadvertently allowed to line the pockets of corrupt officials.  The Department of International Development has one of the best track records on this – but it is vital to recognise that investment in good governance and anti-corruption mechanisms must go hand in hand with international aid.  As we outlined in the Daily Telegraph there are proven ways for doing so.

Stability

Helping countries to tackle corruption head-on can help them establish stable and reliable foundations for growth and prosperity. Corruption impacts on a country’s ability to collect and spend revenues in the best, most efficient way possible. Countries with high levels of corruption tend to collect fewer tax revenues, have higher public spending and larger fiscal deficits. Supporting countries to establish strong institutions means they will be more likely to gather the resources they need internally and rely less on aid in the future.

Capital flight from countries where corruption is rife destabilises them further.  The UK and other global financial centres can be complicit in this by providing safe havens – for example, when a public health official steals part of the hospital budget and uses it to buy a house in London.   The National Crime Agency estimates that over £100 billion is laundered through the UK each year.  This is of marginal benefit to the UK, but has a devastating impact on the countries from which is it stolen.

Security

Corruption in the security sector has a truly deadly impact, rendering governments much less fit to provide their primary purpose – protection to citizens. In Iraq corruption in the military allowed 50,000 “ghost soldiers” to sit on the payroll. Senior officers, who often occupy those positions through bribes not merit, were creaming off salaries at the expense of protection; only a third of soldiers were on duty in Mosul the night it fell to ISIL.

In addition, global defence spending which reached $1,776bn in 2014 is ripe for corruption because of the huge sums at play, low levels of accountability and high levels of secrecy. Any reduction in corruption in defence budgets would free up large amounts of money that can be reinvested into the national purse for use in health or education or infrastructure sectors.

Corruption has also been said to feed the narrative for terrorist recruiters, providing the rationale that contributes to unrest, distrust and conflict so it is crucial for the UK’s contribution to tackling unrest and helping establish secure societies, that tackling corruption is at the forefront of its work ahead. The UK has so far led on accountability and transparency over the actions of its military amongst G20 nations and must continue to do so, as well as support others to adhere to the same standards.

Earlier this year, the UK convened more than 40 governments in London for the first ever global Anti-Corruption Summit, generating more than 600 country-level commitments. Both Priti Patel and new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have said the UK needs to be more “outward looking”, especially in light of Brexit. The UK has already established a global leadership role in tackling corruption, which is so fundamental to developing strong, healthy, secure and more just societies. The key test for the new secretary of state will be whether she picks up the baton.

Photo: Flickr / DFID.

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Read 251 times Last modified on Thursday, 04 August 2016 10:04
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Maggie Murphy

Maggie is Transparency International's Senior Global Advocacy Manager. You can view her bio here and tweet her @magranna.

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