The Panama Papers And The Call For Institutional Transparency and Integrity

On 12 May an International Anti-corruption Summit took place in London aimed at stepping up global action to expose, punish and drive out corruption in all walks of life. World leaders, ministers and senior officials from 42 countries as well as representatives of international organizations, civil society, the business community and sports organizations joined hands to reinvigorate the global movement to defeat corruption.

These countries signed up to a Declaration against corruption that commits them to working together to expose corruption wherever it is found, pursue and punish those who perpetrate it, support communities that suffered from it and ensure that the cancer of corruption does not fester in government institutions, businesses and communities.

On behalf of the UN Secretary General, in the first plenary session on exposing corruption, UNDP administrator Helen Clark stressed the need for ethical leadership, the criticality of effective, accountable and transparent institutions and the importance of engaging civil society in the fight against corruption. She invited the audience to be innovative and use new technologies that can facilitate the exposure of and action against corruption.

Initiatives like this summit are laudable as they intend to speed up anti-corruption measures in areas where there has been limited progress so far. These calls for action remain important for two main reasons:

First, after the Wikileaks, the Panama papers are yet another expression of a new radical transparency movement that aims to expose occult financial, political and economic operations, including the hidden wealth of a politicians, business people, movie stars, sports and other celebrities. The message of the Panama Papers and the subsequent debate caused by them is clear: If governments and international organizations don't prioritize the exposure of corruption and address the impunity behind the financial safe havens, they will fall behind the expectations of their societies, their public opinion and their civil society.

Second, the links between corruption and some of the major challenges the world is facing, in particular the rising inequalities and the threat of terrorism and violent extremism are becoming more obvious. Surveys highlight people's frustrations with the rising inequality as well as with the persistent impunity for various forms of corrupt behavior, including occulting wealth and avoiding tax payments through shell companies and other legal constructs.

We should therefore not only expose corruption, we should continue to expose why corruption is a direct threat to the sustainability of our planet and our peaceful co-existence as human beings.

That concern has certainly inspired the inclusion of corruption in the 2030 Agenda, in particular in Goal 16 on Building Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies that includes targets on reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms, reducing illicit financial flows and strengthening asset recovery and the return of stolen assets.

That concern has inspired the UN for many years now to support member states in creating and strengthening the institutions needed to prevent, expose and combat corruption. And since December 2005, with the coming into force of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), we have an international framework supported by 178 member states who identified a set of behaviours that all signatories to the UNCAC agreed should be criminalised and rooted out.

The UN should not only support the enforcement of these international standards, it also needs to ensure that its own operations meet the standards required as stewards of public resources.

Over the years, UNDP has been improving its internal systems for the promotion of common ethical values and for the detection of fraud and mismanagement. Today, UNDP enforces a zero tolerance policy against fraud and corruption, scrutinised by independent oversight bodies and reported to our Board of Member States. We publish what we fund, and we publish the audits and evaluations of how we use taxpayers' money. For the second year in a row, UNDP has been recognized as the most transparent aid organisation in the 2016 Aid Transparency Index which ranks major donor organisations against the standard established by the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Sixteen other UN agencies, funds and programmes and the World Bank have already published in accordance with IATI standards or are planning to do so in 2016.

Strong transparency, accountability and integrity mechanisms can prevent corruption. Exposing corruption is important but so is the public recognition of an institution's tangible commitment to transparency and integrity.