Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

Collective Action to Fight Corruption - by OECD Secretary General Mr Angel Gurría (DACNews October 2006)


By OECD Secretary General Mr Angel Gurría

There is a growing consensus amongst governments and donors that without a solid foundation of good governance, all other efforts to reduce global poverty will have limited impact; and one of the most destructive outcomes of bad governance is corruption. The use of public office for personal gain not only stands in the way of poverty reduction outcomes, but also erodes trust and faith in the government. That fundamental consensus was present at the recent Annual Meeting of the World Bank and the IMF in Singapore. There was an emphasis too on making the fight against corruption an integral part of the development process, rather than a reason for winding down development cooperation programmes. With that understanding, the launch of the World Bank’s governance and anti-corruption strategy was a welcome step, and sends a strong message to donors and developing countries alike.

The World Bank’s strategy coincides with the finalisation of a new Policy Paper on corruption by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee that promotes a collective approach by donors and recommends that donors do more to encourage the public demand to deal with corruption.  Donors have traditionally focused on strengthening governments’ capacity in areas such as financial management and administrative reform. This is important work. But they need to do more in terms of building broader constituencies and alliances for the fight against corruption. This is part of a wider approach to help build governance systems with stronger accountability mechanisms, which could mean more support for media, civil society, an independent judiciary, and parliaments.

This collective approach by donors also includes an agreement to facilitate joint assessments of corruption and good governance in developing countries where aid is disbursed; to support the introduction of anti-corruption benchmarks and targets; and to develop a set of good practice principles for donors to follow when working in an increasingly corrupt environment. A first such joint assessment was conducted in Cameroon last July with the strong support of the Cameroonian Government.

Three things have impressed me in the fight against corruption. 

First, the OECD has played a critical role over the past 15 years in developing instruments that target both the supply and demand sides of corruption.  Our most recognised ‘tool’ has been the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, and one of my personal commitments will be to push for its tougher enforcement. 

But secondly, I have also been impressed by how enforcement lags behind the rhetoric. According to Transparency International, only 12 of the 36 countries that are signatories of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention actually enforce it rigorously.

Thirdly, it is clear to me that corruption is not just a developing country problem.  Developing and developed countries alike share the responsibility to fight corruption. Bribery, money laundering, tax havens, and counterfeiting, all involve illegal activities that operate across borders in our countries. Therefore working together and joining forces is the key to reducing corruption successfully. At the OECD we deal with this thorny issue in many policy areas. We have introduced tools to deal with corrupt practice in tax systems, governance, investment, and to promote ethical standards in public administration. These tools, described in our new brochure “The OECD Fights Corruption”, can all contribute to a more collective and coherent action agenda.

I believe that poverty is the ultimate systemic threat, and where governance fails and corruption flourishes, poverty is never far away.  We at the OECD are determined to do what we can in the fight against poverty, and support developing countries in their search for a higher quality of life.

In summary then, OECD’s goals in the fight against corruption are:

  • The application of the range of OECD anti-corruption and governance instruments set out in the “OECD Fights Corruption” brochure.
  • Push for tougher enforcement of the Anti-Bribery Convention and encourage other economies to join the Convention
  • Encourage more exchanges and peer review learning between OECD and non-OECD countries on how to improve governance systems to prevent corruption in the public sector.
  • Strongly support greater policy coherence to connect the development agenda with actions within OECD governments to tackle corruption. Interactions between the North and South must be accompanied by greater collaboration with civil society and the private sector and by increased co-operation and co-ordination with the World Bank, Regional Development Banks and other international players.
  • Give strong support for the United Nations in its efforts to implement UNCAC (United Nations Convention Against Corruption). We consider UNCAC and our own work at the OECD as complementary and mutually reinforcing.
  • Strengthen mutual accountability with emerging economies in the global fight against corruption.
  • Couch our approach to tackling corruption in the wider context of institutional capacity building, good governance and global security. 
  • Develop an agenda for collective donor action, building on the current work in the OECD DAC.

While the main discussion item at the Development Committee Meeting was governance and corruption, I did not miss the opportunity to highlight two major current concerns in international cooperation more generally. First, we must continue to reinforce our commitments to increase aid and to improve its effectiveness.  Second, on the trade front we cannot give up on the Doha agenda. If we cannot conclude Doha successfully, the risks of renewed protectionism – and the realities of loss of welfare and growth – will soon confront us.