Can the World Bank Actually Stop Corruption?
It seems that every few months, we begin to hear the rumblings over new and potentially revolutionary developments in the corruption space that “experts” believe will help shape both the political and financial sectors for years to come. Unfortunately, the true pervasiveness of the corruption epidemic at the global level is often downplayed, with the vast majority of the countries across the world that have been deemed “corrupt” in the past making limited headway in amending their deficiencies in this regard. The latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index has also done little to make one think that brighter days are ahead, as of the 180 countries and territories surveyed (ranked via their perceived levels of corruption in the public sector), more than two-thirds were found to have legitimate lingering issues with this form of misconduct in 2017. A troubling correlation was also discovered through this examination, as the countries with the highest corruption rates have been found to have the lowest protections for non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), civil liberties in general, and the media. Working alongside the World Justice Project, a multidisciplinary organization that promotes the rule of law worldwide for the purposes of combatting corruption, poverty, and other injustices, Transparency International believes that “smear campaigns, harassment, lawsuits and bureaucratic red tape are all tools used by certain governments in an effort to quiet those who drive anti-corruption efforts” (Pollakusky & Hornsby, 2018). Thus the harsh restrictions placed on individuals and groups operating in these realms works to the advantage of the corrupt administrations overseeing them.
Another common theme in the anti-corruption movement is “increasing global cooperation” to help hinder further progressions. However, calling for expansions in cross-border partnerships is one thing, following through on it for the promotion of greater good is another. Yet while national governments continue to sit back and make empty promises to their distressed citizens, one group is taking matters into their own hands, taking a true proactive approach to combatting corruption. Over the course of the past week, representatives from international governments, business, technology, media and law enforcement agencies from far and wide assembled to hold an open discussion about changes that could be made in their management of corruption in their respective regions, with the World Bank acting as the intermediary. Comprised of some of the top developmental and finance institutions in the world, the World Bank is arguably the largest source of funding, knowledge, and resources for developing countries committed to reducing poverty and creating sustainable development and infrastructure. One of the key points of the World Bank’s “Spring Meetings” was that the funds being paid by taxpayers to their governments, as well as those brought forth through donations and fund-raising efforts, must go to the areas they are supposed to, rather than into the pockets of political officials or to other means. In the meetings, Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank Kristalina Georgieva voiced a strong opinion that “every penny that is going away from the purpose for which donors and taxpayers put it … erodes trust in institutions and when institutions are not trusted they are not strong enough to do their job for citizens” (Edwards, 2018). The World Bank has recognized that illicit financial flows, divergence of public funds and government kickbacks account for multi-trillion dollar annual losses for the global economy. As a result, the group has recently begun to strictly analyze and investigate government contracts and “developmental” agreements in various jurisdictions, handing down sanctions to 100+ entities since 2016 alone. The group is also actively searching for ways to empower citizens in corruption-plagued countries to continue their efforts to make their voices heard.
The article “Tackling corruption: 6 takeaways from the World Bank Spring Meetings”, cited in BSA News Now on April 20th, 2018, discusses some of the main talking-points from the meeting on halting corruption, documenting the deliberations in detail. These points included encouraging not just citizens, but also financial institutions and other prominent companies to report corruption themselves, as contrary to popular belief, corruption is in fact bad for both local and national business and economies altogether. In order for this to happen, former general counsel of Siemens AG Peter Solmssen believes that “banks needs to work with companies to make reporting corruption ‘safe’ and free from penalties. He also said in countries where the government is part of the corruption problem, then companies need to ‘engage in collective action’ and ‘collude’ with their competitors to ‘keep the bad guys out’ (Edwards, 2018). Also discussed was the potential of technology to help counter corruption and analyze data to identify and eliminate negative trends. The downside is that potent solutions and artificial intelligence, as well as the manpower and training needed to operate this machinery, can be quite costly for governments of any size, let alone that of already impoverished countries. Thus promotion of these measures may need to be facilitated directly by the World Bank if they are to be incorporated any time in the near future.
Other matters discussed were the use of social media platforms to expand the reach of social activism and fundraising for anti-corruption groups, although the aforementioned issues with the silencing of the media were also discussed. The financial support of civil liberty groups by the World Bank – which has been accused of purposefully leaving NGO’s out of the process thus far – was backed by many at the proceedings, as the Bank can clearly create a more favorable environment for these groups to succeed in their various efforts. Perhaps the most crucial point raised throughout the debate however came from an academic on hand. Lester Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University stated that “citizens will not get serious about working on corruption unless they see a better result coming from the capture of corrupt assets than they are seeing now” (Edwards, 2018). In many cases, assets seized in successful investigations (crime, corruption, etc.) are placed directly back into government agencies that are themselves corrupt, furthering the issues at hand. While there is a fair amount of work to be done in order to correct some of these insufficiencies, the primary step of analyzing the key problems has been taken. Now we will simply have to wait to see just how far the World Bank can go to help resolve these issues on the global stage.