It blights lives, and blunts social and economic growth. And the efforts to stamp it out are enforced by some of the severest laws in the world.
Corruption is the broad term we use to describe dishonest conduct or the abuse of power by a person for personal gain. Arguably the best-known form of corruption is bribery.
Every year, the costs of corruption are said to amount to USD$2.6 trillion globally, with an estimated $1 trillion paid in bribes. One estimate indicates that private sector corruption alone accounts for US$515 billion annually.
December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day, a United Nations initiative designed to raise awareness about the risks and consequences of corruption. Sponsored by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Development Program, it attracts widespread engagement and support internationally.
To mark last year’s campaign, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said, “To dismantle corruption’s high walls, I urge every nation to ratify and implement the UN Convention against Corruption.”
“Its ground breaking measures in the areas of prevention, criminalisation, international cooperation and asset recovery have made important inroads, but there is much more to do.”
Everyone has a role to play in stamping out corruption, a point made in a statement released by the UNODC.
It states that “people can – and should – inform themselves about what their Governments are doing to tackle
corruption and hold elected officials responsible for their actions.”
“Actions are also key – reporting incidences of corruption to the authorities, teaching children that corruption is unacceptable and refusing to pay or accept bribes,” it continues.
The costs of engaging in corrupt conduct are huge. One person who knows this more than most is Richard Bistrong. A former sales executive, Richard was sentenced to 18 months in prison for bribery. His crime involved attempting to win contracts from the United Nations and several foreign countries by bribing officials.
Prior to his jail term, Richard spent two and a half years as a US government witness, agreeing to go undercover to expose networks of corruption.
Today, he’s a leading anti-bribery and corruption consultant, speaking regularly about his experience and the toll it took on his life and the lives of his loved ones.
“During the many years when I was working in the field of international sales, I was aware that I was engaging in illegal behaviour,” he says.
“However, at that time in my life, I wasn’t thinking about getting caught and did not think I would get caught.”
The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has continued to attract high-profile international cases. To cite just two cases in 2015, there has been a USD$19 million settlement by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Meyers Squibb and a $14 million case involving Japanese conglomerate Hitachi.
The UK Bribery Act has also drawn scrutiny for its recognition of a broad range of offences. This includes the offence of failing to prevent bribery by a third party, which sits alongside the traditional offences of bribing (including the bribery of foreign public officials) and receiving bribes.
Recently, a Scottish cabling systems supplier Brand-Rex Limited became the first company to fall foul of this offence since the Act took effect in 2011.
Every year, independent body Transparency International publishes a Corruption Perceptions Index which ranks countries in relation to perceptions of corrupt practices from the least to the most corrupt.
While the top of the list tends to remain consistent, the 2014 list contained some surprises. Singapore fell from the top five for the first time to seventh place. Australia slipped out of the top 10 altogether.
As one report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) explains, corruption increases the cost of doing business, leads to waste and the inefficient use of public resources, perpetuates poverty and undermines the rule of law.
Drawing attention to corruption through education and training – equipping people with the practical means to identify what it is exactly, avoid corrupt conduct and report it through the proper channels – is crucial to tackling it.
In the lead-up to International Anti-Corruption Day, GRC Solutions will be offering a range of resources and commentary.