by Harold Elletson
Corruption, in its many forms, remains one of the most significant obstacles to progress in the modern world, just as it has throughout much of human history. Its link to terrorism and organised crime has long been widely recognised and well documented. The role it plays in undermining international aid, humanitarian relief efforts and the work of countless voluntary agencies and non-governmental organisations is, sadly, almost taken for granted. And its connection to some of the world’s most tyrannical regimes and their brutal leaders is not only well understood but, unfortunately, also often widely tolerated and even supported by those companies and governments who otherwise claim to endorse the highest ethical standards.
Yet “the times, they are a-changing” or, at least, there may be grounds for some cautious optimism. Technology now offers the opportunity to make major advances in the fight against corruption.
The connection between popular resentment of corruption and revolution is a well-established historical phenomenon. The French revolution against the Bourbons and the Russian revolution against the Romanovs both fed on popular disgust at regimes that were not only autocratic but also corrupt. More recently, the anti-communist revolutions in Europe were nurtured in part by loathing of the various pampered and privileged ‘nomenklatura,’ which made up the elite cadres of the Communist Party in Europe’s various captive nations.
Now the Arab world has been convulsed by a series of revolutions and it is clear that one of the most significant factors in encouraging popular defiance of tyranny has once again been popular resentment of corruption. What has been different this time, however, has not been the scale of corruption (the tales of billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts or gold bars in presidential cupboards) but the speed with which popular anger has emerged and been channelled onto the streets.
This fact alone should be a significant cause of concern to those who for decades have, at best, turned a blind eye to corruption and, at worst, connived in it. Indeed, it should constitute a very loud and piercing wake-up call for them. Technology now offers the prospect of a new popular oversight of both government and management, bringing with it the transfer of effective control away from secretive and corrupt authorities to the people. Nothing will be the same again.
The United Nations has long recognised the devastating effect corruption has had on some of the world’s most disadvantaged and unstable regions. Since the turn of the new millennium, it has actively campaigned for change and has sought to cajole both governments and private sector companies into changing their ways and joining the fight against corruption. In 2003 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on Corruption, which binds governments to cooperate in stamping out corruption. In adopting a ‘10th Principle’ the UN Global Compact sought to bind businesses in a similar way. Now the UNODC (the UN Office on Drugs and Corruption) is leading the charge and much of its effort is centred on web-based campaigning.
All this effort is making a difference. National governments have been obliged to introduce anti-corruption legislation with real teeth and companies are under pressure to develop effective compliance and corporate governance strategies. This in turn requires a great deal of awareness, learning and training. Much of this is being facilitated and delivered online. So too are new reporting systems and whistleblower schemes, all of which will continue to make a difference.
It is clear that much is being achieved and that the tide may at last be beginning to turn. Much remains to be done, however, and technology will play a leading role in providing new methods of shedding light on corruption and helping to eradicate it once and for all.