The Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC has emphasized the urgent need for decisive action to address the escalating global cost of corruption. With the current strain on resources, Scotland stressed that curbing corruption has become “more important than ever.”
Speaking from Seychelles, she called for efforts to curb the illicit flow of money out of Commonwealth countries and to rebuild confidence in corruption-free institutions and systems.
The COVID-19 pandemic created fertile ground for embezzlement, false claims, kickbacks, and various other forms of corruption. As the world faces a post-pandemic economic downturn and escalating costs, Commonwealth countries, particularly small states and developing nations, are even more susceptible to the damaging effects of corruption. Aid money lost to corrupt practices undermines social and economic development, exacerbating poverty and hindering progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
On Monday, the Secretary-General joined heads of anti-corruption agencies from across Commonwealth Africa at the 13th Annual Commonwealth Regional Anti-Corruption Conference in Seychelles. The conference, organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat in partnership with the Seychelles Anti-Corruption Commission, serves as a platform for collaboration, discussion, and the formulation of joint actions to combat systemic corruption and the illicit flow of funds out of the continent.
Addressing the conference, Scotland highlighted the far-reaching impact of corruption, noting that it detrimentally affects education, health, justice, democracy, prosperity, and overall development. She emphasized that tackling corruption brings multiple benefits, including poverty reduction, economic stability, and improved standards of living.
“It damages education, health, justice, democracy, prosperity and development – and it is one of the biggest impediments to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Tackling corruption brings multiple benefits; poverty is reduced, economic stability and growth are increased, and standards of living are raised,” she said.
According to the United Nations, corruption and illicit financial flows cost the global economy a staggering $3.6 trillion annually. This comprises $1 trillion in bribes and an estimated $2.6 trillion stolen through corrupt practices, accounting for more than five percent of the global GDP. In developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated to be ten times the amount of official development assistance received, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
It was estimated that Africa loses more than US$50 billion a year to illicit flows, although this could be as high as $89 billion a year, or 3.7% of its GDP, according to UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report 2020.
Over the past 50 years, Africa has lost over $1 trillion, equivalent to all the official development assistance received during the same period. The impact of corruption on aid budgets and government spending disproportionately affects women and girls, who often have limited access to healthcare and education.
To combat corruption effectively, Scotland called for swift and decisive action to enhance transparency, accountability, and confidence in corruption-free institutions and systems within the Commonwealth.
“Together, we can work towards… an approach which allows us to examine how tax authorities, anti-money laundering authorities and anti-corruption agencies can collaborate to solve this monumental challenge. And an approach which can enable international collaboration to track ill-gotten money and following through more opaque jurisdictions,” Secretary Scotland added.
The conference’s opening ceremony was attended by the President of Seychelles, HE Wavel Ramkalawan, who emphasized the importance of collaboration in the fight against corruption. May de Silva, Head of Seychelles’ Anti-Corruption Commission, highlighted the significance of unity and the sharing of experience, skills, and resources to combat corruption effectively.
The Commonwealth Secretariat has been actively supporting national anti-corruption agencies in Commonwealth countries since 2013. This support includes providing technical assistance and development support to enhance the agencies’ effectiveness in combating corruption.
The Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa was established in 2013 to facilitate the collaborative sharing of expertise and best practices. In the same year, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Botswana inaugurated the first continent-wide Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Centre in Gaborone, offering practical guidance.