LONDON, Sept 16 (TrustLaw) - Corruption and breakdowns in governance are major reasons why many countries are struggling to reach the Millennium Development Goals, says watchdog Transparency International in a report released ahead of a world summit next week to discuss progress on the U.N. targets. But what does that mean in practice?
A bribe demanded by a teacher to enrol a girl at a "free" elementary school could irreversibly block that girl's education and future opportunities. Or a hike in the local cost of drugs by newly elected parliamentarians whose campaigns were supported by pharmaceutical firms might put treatment out of reach of sick people, leaving them unable to work and earn a living, says the Berlin-based anti-graft group.
The research doesn't stop at hypothetical situations. Transparency International (TI) serves up hard facts and figures to support its call for governments, donors and non-governmental organisations to adopt anti-corruption measures in their action plans to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
The eight promises include cutting the proportions of poor and hungry people by half, getting all children into school and eliminating gender inequality in education, reducing the death rate among mothers by three quarters, and halving the proportion of people without access to better drinking water.
TI’s statistical analysis of data from 42 countries found that where more bribes are paid, there is a lower literacy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds - one of the indicators used to track progress on the education MDG. And, it says, a rise in reported bribery is associated with higher maternal deaths in 64 states, regardless of a country's wealth or how much it invests in health.
Finally, data for 51 countries shows that people's access to safe drinking water falls as bribery increases. TI says reducing bribery has the same statistical impact on access to clean water as boosting incomes.
Poor families suffer more than richer households from demands for small bribes, the report notes. "Corruption is turned into a regressive tax on needy households that sabotages attempts to eradicate poverty as part of meeting the MDGs," it says.
For example, TI's Mexico branch estimates that poor families spend almost a fifth of their income on petty bribes, compared with 8 percent for a typical family.
And TI surveys in India reveal that poor people have paid more than $200 million each year to access 11 supposedly free services, including the police, hospitals, schools and employment benefits. Some have even had to pay bribes when obtaining cards that certify their income is below the national poverty line, according to TI.
The report contains much local evidence in support of the wider assertion that a lack of transparency, integrity and accountability is holding back progress on reducing poverty in many developing nations.
According to a survey by TI Kenya, 87 percent of respondents had witnessed the payment of bribes to connect to the capital city's water network. And a seven-country study in Africa showed that 44 percent of parents canvassed had to pay illegal fees to send their children to school.
Unchecked bribery and other forms of corruption lead to high costs that can be explicit, like embezzlement of funds by staff in a school or clinic; implicit in the sense that people cannot afford to pay for services; or hidden, as when absenteeism among teachers and doctors harms the provision of education and health care.
Conversely, TI's analysis found that higher levels of transparency (measured by public access to information), integrity (measured by the rule of law and anti-corruption initiatives) and government accountability correlated with better scores on literacy, maternal death rates and access to water respectively.
"Introduce greater transparency and you have a chance to eradicate corruption and help the poor and marginalised," said TI Chair Huguette Labelle in a statement. "It is time for anti-corruption to be accepted as an integral part of all MDG initiatives rather than addressed through separate, piecemeal approaches."
BETTER ACCESS TO INFORMATION
The anti-graft organisation says governments should take a first step towards solving the problem by implementing the 2003 U.N. Convention against Corruption, ratified by 145 countries.
It is also essential to understand where the weaknesses on governance and corruption lie with relation to the MDGs, and work out what resources are needed to address them, TI says.
To improve transparency, the watchdog recommends that regular information be published on how governance and anti-corruption efforts are being implemented to achieve progress on the MDGs - perhaps in national MDG reports.
Transparency initiatives could also include national-level access to information laws, information campaigns on citizens' rights, and joining international initiatives to publish information on particular sectors, such as natural resource revenues.
Accountability on MDG progress can be promoted through measures to increase the involvement of community members, including women and other vulnerable groups, in monitoring government pledges and aid projects, and even setting budgets. Tools like shadow reports and scorecards can be used to rate governments against their commitments.
In Bangladesh, the organisation has worked with local people to set up committees that monitor breakdowns in services like education and health. In one hospital, they campaigned to stop patients being short-changed on the official entry fee, leading to a slightly higher but correctly charged tariff, with the difference going into a fund for poor clients.
"We take information to the people at the doorstep of the hospital where they're coming and inform them that these are their basic rights, these are the range of services that are available in this hospital... And that starts the process of people ... ask(ing) themselves and also the service providers, 'Well, I know that this is free, why are you asking (for money)?'," the report quotes Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of TI Bangladesh, as saying.
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