The world needs to focus its efforts on combating corruption and repression

High-level panel on post-2015 development agenda
High-level panel on post-2015 development agenda. Image courtesy un photo / eskinder debebe

Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, is a member of the UN High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Here she frames a new approach to corruption and repression:

A new proposal today. The current Millennium Development Goals focus on the symptoms of poverty rather than its causes. We want to change this. The world now needs a development policy agenda that gets to the core and the roots of poverty.

The Arab Spring may be over, but the Tunisian greengrocer Muhammad Bouazizi is not forgotten. His self-immolation was a protest against the authorities’ harassment and corruption that ignited a whole wave of revolts and mass protests against corrupt regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.

Millions of young people recognised their own situation and felt that government corruption was preventing them, too, from living a decent life, and they took to the streets to vent their anger.

We must take their desperation seriously. Today, my colleagues and I on the United Nations High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda will present our final report in New York.

Almost one year ago, we were asked by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to give our recommendations ahead of the next Millennium Development Goals, which are due to take effect when the current goals reach their target date in 2015. On the Panel, I have worked with women and men from all over the world, including politicians, entrepreneurs and activists, and with three people from three different parts of the world as co-chairs: Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.

We all have different experiences and backgrounds, but we have been able to agree that corruption and repression are two of the greatest threats to development, peace and prosperity in all parts of the world. In our proposed development goals, we have included a goal on good policies and effective institutions, with sub-goals on reducing corruption in the world and a goal on stable and peaceful societies.

The current Millennium Development Goals are primarily about poor countries and focus on the symptoms of poverty rather than its causes. We want to change this. The world now needs a development policy agenda that gets to the core and the roots of poverty, so as to tackle problems that are shared by all countries of the world.

Corruption and political repression are clear and strong examples. When I travel to different countries and meet people living in poverty, it is rarely the traditional focus areas of aid that are brought up in conversation. Instead, corruption and poor policies are often mentioned as the greatest obstacles to people lifting themselves out of poverty. Numerous people in developing countries in all parts of the world describe how corruption prevents them from running a business, blocks their access to the social services they have already paid for, and stops them from realising their ambitions and ideas.

Corruption is an obstacle to development, but anti-corruption efforts are not only needed in developing countries. On the Panel, we have often discussed the importance of the corruption issue in building peaceful and stable societies, free from violence and war.

Conflicts occur in all societies, but in democratic countries in which people trust the state, these conflicts can be dealt with using peaceful means and dialogue. This requires that the citizens have confidence in the state – a confidence that is shattered when corruption is part of everyday life and citizens do not have any political influence. When confidence is gone, people eventually find other ways of channelling their dissatisfaction.

This is why democratic institutions and anti-corruption efforts are an important prerequisite not only for development, but also for peace, security and stability.

We can go a long way with tools that we in Sweden often take for granted, such as the right to request information and documents from our authorities. Transparency in the activities of central government and government agencies is a powerful tool for ensuring that resources are used in the right way and that those in power do not use resources to make themselves richer at the citizens’ expense. When the state budget and other documents can be scrutinised freely, there is greater pressure on those in a position of power, and corruption can be brought to light.

We owe it to the people living in poverty to draw attention to development obstacles such as corruption and repression and to do what we can to combat them. This is how we create development and prosperity, and this is how we create the conditions for long-term peace. I hope that the High-level Panel’s recommendations can kick-start a concerted global effort on these issues.

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