Remarks by Angel Gurría
1 September 2020 - Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to participate in this High-level Panel on Corruption and Sustainable Development at this year’s European Forum Alpbach. I would like to thank the International Anti-Corruption Academy for organising this important event under these exceptional circumstances.
Corruption is a threat to inclusive growth, widens economic and social inequalities, impedes the effective delivery of public services and undermines the values of democracy. No one country nor sector is immune to corruption. It is by definition the way to perpetuate a privileged position, and it comes at the expense of those already greatly disadvantaged and most vulnerable.
If we are to “Leave No-One Behind” and make good on our commitments on the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to promote integrity in governments, businesses and societies together.
The OECD’s work on integrity and anti-corruption lies at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goal on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (the SDG 16), which is a foundation for the achievement of all the SDGs. The bricks and mortar of any fair and inclusive system, structure or institution – be it in government, business or civil society – is promoting integrity practices and anti-corruption.
But this is not limited to SDG 16. Integrity in public decision-making is essential to implement effective policies and achieve sustainable, comprehensive reforms in many sectors, including in health, education, infrastructure, and the environment.
Making integrity strategies a key part of wider national governance structures is vital to achieve progress on all SDGs.
Today, corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost developing countries around USD 1.26 trillion annually. Indeed, corruption has a weakening effect on a country’s capacity to promote structural change; and in the current global health emergency, this has, in some cases, led to greater pain and unnecessary casualties.
The COVID-19 has exposed the urgency of this challenge. Fighting corruption has become a matter of survival. Survival for governments, survival for businesses, and survival for citizens. Governments have been forced to take rapid and drastic measures as emergency responses to COVID-19. They have sometimes led to bypassing regulations and procedures, leaving many services exposed to a heightened risk of corruption.
Achieving many of the SDGs, however, relies precisely on the successful delivery of public services. Policy capture of health, as we have seen, can restrict equitable access to, and undermine the quantity and quality of, such services, thus contributing to a vicious cycle of economic and social inequalities.
Effective public health also requires sufficient public funding, making domestic resource mobilisation all the more important. Tax crimes and other financial crimes, including corruption, divert funds away from the public at a time when they are sorely needed.
To deal with this challenge, the OECD’s Task Force on Tax Crimes and Other Crimes has developed tools, such as the Ten Global Principles for Fighting Tax Crime, to help tax administrations harness the power of inter-agency and international co-operation. These tools can become valuable resources as countries focus on replenishing their public coffers in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 crisis is also bearing grim testimony to the tremendous role whistle-blowers have in upholding transparency and accountability. The OECD has been working for twenty years on whistle-blower protection, notably creating the Anti-Bribery Convention, the 2009 Anti-Bribery Recommendation, and more recently the Recommendation on Public Integrity.
Countries are asked to enact laws to protect those who report corruption, and both public and private sectors are called to instil and promote an open organisational culture. Strong legal frameworks – coupled with reliable reporting mechanisms – are key to building trust with those who seek to report wrongdoing, uncovering corruption that would otherwise go undetected.
OECD’s work in the G20, through the Anti-Corruption Working Group, as well as other global governance fora, is instrumental in fostering a convergence of views and promoting the application of OECD standards by developed and developing countries across the world. Since 2010, G20 countries have committed to leading by example in the fight against corruption. The adoption last year of the High Level Principles for Effective Protection of Whistle-blowers is an important example of this work. The OECD will continue to lead and support global efforts to combat corruption and promote whistle-blower protection.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Integrity and trust during the COVID-19 crisis gain even greater importance in rebuilding our economies. They are also a critical component of the 2030 Agenda, not only for preventing corruption and safeguarding democratic institutions, but in shaping more efficient public sectors, more productive economies and more inclusive societies.
Knowing that corruption is a moving target, we must keep running, we must keep fighting, we must keep joining forces. The OECD and the United Nations are longstanding partners. Working closely together with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), we strive to raise the standards on integrity and anti-corruption.
In this respect, the 2021 Special Session of the UN General Assembly devoted to the fight against corruption represents a great opportunity to take even bigger steps to end corruption.
Let’s keep this commitment, let’s be more effective, let’s expand this effort. Remember the words of Delia Ferreira, chair of Transparency International: “People’s indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow.”
The OECD stands ready to work with all stakeholders and continue to champion integrity and anti-corruption efforts. Thank you.