What is the cost of corruption to you? An interviewer asked me this question at the Anticorruption for Development (AC4D) Global Forum held in Washington, DC, on June 26 and 27, 2023. In the past, World Leaders vaguely estimated that more than 5% of global GDP, or $2.6 trillion, is lost to corruption annually around the world. This is not untrue. However, we cannot reduce the cost of corruption to a monetary value. Corruption destroys human lives and society at its roots and very existence, ultimately hindering growth and development. This year, the World Bank brought together the public, private sector, academia, civil society, donors, and media stakeholders to explore various anticorruption efforts and harness global momentum into country actions that could bring about development and ultimately advance norms and societal beliefs. This year’s theme is “Restoring Trust,” to discuss and encourage meaningful relationships to restore the erosion of citizens’ trust in government as well as how to ensure lasting progress.
The discussions were wide-ranging and informative, and they highlighted the importance of international cooperation in the fight against corruption and how to build lasting institutional changes to enhance anticorruption efforts. The event had notable speakers such as Dr. Francis Fukuyama, Director of the FSI Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University; Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of Open Government Partnership; John Brandolino, Director, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC; and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Director of the European Research Centre for Anticorruption and Massimo Tommasoli, Director of Global Programs, International IDEA, among others.
Nigerian representatives with Erin Sines, Co-Director of the MacArthur Foundation
BudgIT with support from the MacArthur Foundation, ensured the representation of public actors and civil society organizations from Nigeria at the forum. Attendees from Nigeria included Alhaji Garba Abubakar, Registrar-General, Corporate Affairs Commission, Special Assistant Terver Ayua-jor, Country Director, ONE Campaign; Stanley Achonu, Abayomi Akinbo, Ministry of Justice, and Zainab Abdulallahi-Madhi of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA). They also had the opportunity to share their experience and efforts to curb corruption in Nigeria. Based on my engagement with the forum, here are four lessons that I believe require deeper interrogation:
- Corruption hurts us all, but it doesn’t affect us all equally: The poor and marginalized are often the most vulnerable to corruption, as they are more likely to be denied access to essential services, such as water, healthcare, and education, because of government or private sector corruption. They are also more prone to exploitation. Zainab Abdullahi-Mahdi, a representative of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), shared gory stories of women living in the rural areas of the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja, whose value is intrinsically tied to the amount of water they can fetch from the stream. Despite several water interventions and projects in the area, she shared that the projects are usually not lasting and subpar, which makes it difficult to access clean water during dry seasons.
- We need all hands on deck in the fight against corruption: “Anticorruption efforts is a team sport, and they are essential to national security and global human rights”– Jeffrey Sallett, Forensic & Integrity Services Partner, Ernst & Young LLP (EY). Corruption is a complex problem, but it is one that we can solve if we collaborate and do our parts to make the world—a just and equitable place. Anticorruption efforts are continuous and require extended time, resources, and investment to ensure they are lasting and effective, and everyone has a part to play, including citizens, civil society organizations, government institutions, the private sector, and donors; there is always something to do.
- Trust is the foundation of good governance: When people trust their government, they are more likely to obey the law, participate in civic life, and support the government’s efforts. Governments must deliberately build trust by being open, transparent, and accountable. Doing this brings about increased economic growth, improved public service delivery, and ultimately impedes corruption. Civil society organizations like BudgIT are invested in promoting good governance and deepening trust across Africa, with offices in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. BudgIT promotes citizen engagement with the government through Tracka, a citizen-driven platform in Nigeria that aims to reduce corruption and promote accountability in governance by engaging citizens to actively participate in monitoring government projects and public funds in their respective communities. Organizations such as ours and others that do meaningful work should be supported, as they contribute to a well-functioning society where citizens are empowered to hold the government accountable.
- Local partners and reformers are the best to drive anticorruption efforts: Local media, institutions, civil society, and the private sector know the local context and relationships with the people most affected by corruption. They are also more likely to be trusted by the people, which is essential for any anticorruption campaign; they are best positioned to raise awareness about corruption and educate the citizens about the different forms of corruption and their impacts on society. These groups bring immense value to anticorruption efforts and should not be overlooked.
The Anticorruption for Development Global Forum was a major success. It raised awareness about practical anticorruption efforts in different countries and helped mainstream collective measures and actions that could be immensely beneficial to other countries. We must always remember that corruption is not just a problem for the poor and marginalized. It is a problem for everyone. Corruption undermines the rule of law, erodes trust in government, and stifles economic growth. It is cancerous and must be fought to create a more just and equitable world.
We are grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for supporting representatives from Nigeria to join the forum and contribute to the discussion against corruption. If interested, you can watch videos from the plenary discussions here.
Abiola Afolabi is the International Growth Lead at BudgIT, and she writes from Chicago, USA.