A victory over corruption every now and then can provide a false sense of assurance that graft, bribery and fraud are on the retreat. This may be the temptation among good government advocates now that Romania has rescinded a controversial decree that threatened to decriminalize certain forms of corruption, but I would caution reformers that now is not the time to rest on our laurels.
The 600,000 citizens who took to the streets in Bucharest against the decree last month not only represented the largest political demonstrations in Romania since the fall of communism, but also provided a much-needed human face for the sometimes abstract issue of corruption. It was not a shady backroom deal between a government minister and an energy company that led to the protests but a move by their government to give a free pass to abuses of power, and hopefully the rescinding of this decree reminds us all of the power of ordinary people in standing up to fraud and ensuring accountability in our governments.
Last year, as a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – which brings together some 300 parliamentarians from North America, Europe and Central Asia three times a year for debates on political affairs, economics, the environment and human rights – I sponsored a resolution noting that corruption poses a serious threat to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The resolution further emphasized the importance of all acts of active and passive corruption being criminalized and offences relating to corruption being clearly defined and distinguished from other offences.
As a lawmaker in Sweden, where we have developed a strong system of legislation, law enforcement and judicial authorities to deal with corruption, I know that the prevention of corruption is notoriously complex work for many reasons. As is the case with many issues within the social sphere there is no simple solution to the problem at hand. Corruption itself can take many shapes and forms, which further complicates the matter. The complexity of the issue can be disheartening. Nevertheless, we must persevere as the fight against corruption is of the utmost importance as we strive to build a better future.
Even nations that are considered to be among the least corrupt nations in the world can have their issues to deal with. A low level of corruption according to various indexes, such as the barometer published by Transparency International every year, does not mean that we are free from corruption in all of its shapes and forms. If we widen the view on corruption various forms of favouritism, partiality or general biases can be considered damning. Research on corruption shows that even suspicions of important positions going to people based on other, more ominous, criteria than their competence or suitability can seriously harm citizens’ trust in society. This underlines both the importance of transparency and that we cannot settle for a minimum level of corruption.
It is not possible to simply state that we are finished with our work on anti-corruption and settle after a string of projects. We must fight corruption continuously to ensure that it is not given room to grow. By doing so we instead provide democracy, human rights, and rule of law the necessary room to flourish.
As my resolution urged OSCE countries last year, all governments should review their legislation when it comes to the fight against corruption while keeping in mind that national legislation should ensure maximum transparency in political, administrative, and economic life. This is as pertinent now, as it was then.
Another important aspect of the international fight against corruption is effective tracking of the “money trail” left by electronic transfers. This in order to help each other to recover funds generated by corrupt practices, and subsequently take action against banks which assist in the concealment of unlawful gains. Through this call for co-operation we hope to be able to make sure that corruption is widely investigated and that perpetrators face just punishments.
Corruption has a negative impact on all parts of society from the highest level to people’s everyday lives. It can encompass high level corruption, such as involving the misuse of public funds, as well as commonplace corruption such as parents having to bribe officials in order to get the service they should be guaranteed. No matter the level, corruption brings with it a wealth of unwelcome problems. In the worst of cases it can lead to violence and crime, endangering the very heart of democratic states. In order to safeguard democracy we can and we must support efforts to ensure good governance and transparency.
Therefore, the battle against corruption must take place on all levels of society and cannot be dealt with as a separate issue. Since corruption can infect all levels it follows that work to prevent it should become a natural aspect of any project. This holds true no matter the venture, anti-corruption needs to be a component in all of our work. Similarly, it is important to bear in mind the gender, social, and racial dimensions of corruption as it affects people in different ways. These perspectives must also be taken into consideration in the anti-corruption work if it is to be truly effective.
Another essential recipe for truly effective anti-corruption measures is the co-operation between governments, civil society, the business community, academia, and indeed the media. When we pull together we can bring about a much needed consensus on the non-tolerance of corruption. Often it is not enough that corruption is legally prohibited, it must also be considered morally reprehensible. Such a change, of norms and values, must be brought about through the hard work of everyday champions in all parts of society.
Moving forward we must continue to work together across borders to learn from each other and the progress being made in other nations. Through sharing and promoting good practices we are reminded that progress can be made as long as we persevere.