Why Tackling Corruption Matters in Development Aid

Corruption is not just the bribery that happens when a mother tries to enroll her daughter in school. It is also the grand corruption that plagues government and makes institutions dishonest and ineffective.
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The annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates on development is a powerful agenda-setting document. The Gates Foundation has changed the game when it comes to aid, bringing money, energy and innovation to fight poverty at a time when government commitments have fallen.

Billions of people have better prospects and better lives today because of development aid spending and the work of the Gates Foundation on programs such as immunization, agriculture, and water and sanitation. Development aid is essential.

While the Gates Foundation is right to dispel the myths that have undermined the good work of international development aid, we believe that, fighting corruption, including in development aid, also matters when it comes to changing the world that we live in. This is a world where 1.2 billion people live on less than US$1.25 each day. The emerging global pledge, from the World Bank and others, to reduce this number to zero by 2030 will not be possible without tackling corruption.

Corruption is thwarting our ability to make many of the targets set for 2015 by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight global commitments to better lives. Findings by Transparency International show that where day-to-day bribery is high, progress is stalled on fighting maternal mortality, illiteracy and poor sanitation.

Corruption and the lack of governance will also threaten the ability of countries to meet any new global pledges after 2015 which the United Nations is in the process of identifying.

This is one of the reasons that the World Bank and other organizations -- from ONE to Oxfam -- have recognized that to end poverty you have to end corruption. The two are inextricably linked.

Corruption is not just the bribery that happens when a mother tries to enroll her daughter in school. It is also the grand corruption that plagues government and makes institutions dishonest and ineffective. It is the corruption that allows land grabs from communities and which sees too much of a country's natural resource wealth flowing not into government coffers but into private hands.

In the 2013 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions index that measures how corrupt the public sector is perceived to be, two-thirds of the 177 countries ranked scored less than 50 on a scale where 100 is considered clean. This shows how corruption is a universal problem, not just a developing world problem. But corruption can hurt the poor the most. The average score of the world's least developed countries is 28 and our 2013 Global Corruption Barometer showed that in 23 poor countries almost every second person reported paying a bribe for a public service.

Since the founding 20 years ago of Transparency International, the organization that I chair, we have fought a hard battle to put corruption on the agenda when it comes to aid and development. We have realized that ending poverty and ending corruption mean rebuilding the public trust and space that corruption destroys.

Companies used to refer to the argument that corruption was part of doing business and therefore permissible. History shows that this is not the case and laws, including important international conventions, have made such actions illegal.

The same arguments must apply to aid and development. Accepting low levels of corruption as a pragmatic fact of life will not only hurt the poorest, but it will also have long-term negative consequences in the battle to defeat poverty and in the quest to fight corruption everywhere.

That is one reason why Transparency International advocates making good governance a goal for the post-2015 Millennium Development agenda so that anti-corruption measures are embedded into policies and practices for the delivery of education, health, clean water and other development issues. This applies to developed and less developed countries alike.

Zero-tolerance for corruption needs strong advocates. If we fail to join our efforts, governments and business will stop making the fight against corruption a priority, leaving the poor to suffer the consequences. This should not be allowed to happen.

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