Corruption, information and post-2015 development

8 December 2014, by David Banisar, ARTICLE 19.

Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a long-awaited report setting the agenda for fighting global poverty and promoting development for the next 15 years. The report “The Road to Dignity by 2030” summarises the debates that have been on-going at the UN in New York, in cities around the world, and online for the past two years. It provides the Secretary General’s recommendations on how to move forward in replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with new set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A key element highlighted was the importance of access to information and related rights to ensure that the agenda succeed stating, “Press freedom and access to information, freedom of expression, assembly and association are enablers of sustainable development”. The Secretary General also emphasised the need for rule of law as part of “an enabling environment… for the free, active and meaningful engagement of civil society”.

Throughout the debates, anti-corruption and access to information, as well good governance, rule of law, transparency and participation were raised as essential to the new agenda by civil society groups, countries and many UN delegations. A High Level Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by Ban Ki-moon highlighted their importance in a crucial report released last year stating, “Good governance and the fight against corruption are universal issues. Everywhere, institutions could be more fair and accountable. The key is transparency”.

The Panel recommended a goal with targets on basic freedoms and good governance. Following this, an Open Working Group of 70 nations developed draft goals, which also included targets on access to information and anti-corruption. These have been endorsed by the entire UN General Assembly, but many nations are still calling for their removal. The Secretary General took this one step further, stating “we must maximize our commitment to public transparency, information sharing, participatory monitoring and open data”.

As the debate moves forward to the General Assembly for final approval next year, it is crucially important that the goals sought in the anti-corruption and sustainable development worlds synch up to benefit those who need them most. As the Secretary General said on World Anti-corruption Day in 2009:

“When public money is stolen for private gain, it means fewer resources to build schools, hospitals, roads and water treatment facilities. When foreign aid is diverted into private bank accounts, major infrastructure projects come to a halt. Corruption enables fake or substandard medicines to be dumped on the market, and hazardous waste to be dumped in landfill sites and in oceans. The vulnerable suffer first and worst.”

A starting point is to ensure that UNCAC, though UNODC and the review mechanism, takes up the this call for cooperation and fully engages with individuals and civil society nationally and internationally to discuss, debate, and yes, even criticise governments when they allow corruption to undermine their obligations to their citizens to eliminate poverty, and ensure their rights to clean water and sanitation, enough food to eat, safe houses and communities to live in, good schools for their children and good heath care. At the global level, UNCAC must allow civil society to participate in the working groups, as civil society organisations already do across the rest of the UN system in areas including development, environment and human rights.

This also means that governments need to ensure civil society and the media are able to effectively engage in countries to advocate. They must stop trying to limit civil society from forming and organising, from receiving funds, from being labelled as “foreign agents”, and from operating without interference. Often, these are just pretexts to protect their own interests. And serve to hide corruption.

The fight for sustainable development is the most important agenda the UN and nations face in the 21st century. Cooperation is essential for its success. The SDGs can create the platform to solve many of the problems and UNCAC can be a key pillar to hold it up.