SDGs at risk – the corruption factor

A strong, relentless fight against corruption is a conditio sine qua non for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

By Martin Kreutner, Dean and Executive Secretary, International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA)

It is a historic opportunity: to realise the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and secure a better future for us, the peoples on this planet. But this inspiring vision is challenged by risks, the most serious of which is that all 17 unanimously adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could be severely undermined by corruption.

The scale and impact of corruption are alarming. This menace costs more than 5% of global GDP, hits the world’s most vulnerable groups the hardest, affects all states, societies and sectors, and contributes to the collapse of entire countries and economies. Corruption is the antithesis vis-à-vis human rights, the venom vis-à-vis the rule of law, the poison for prosperity and development, and the reverse of equity and equality.

A strong, relentless fight against corruption is therefore a conditio sine qua non for realising the 2030 Agenda. However, it calls for more than just warm words and tepid expressions of support. It requires shared ownership by all, with leadership from the top, nationally and internationally, both from the political and corporate worlds.

And yes, conditions are tough. The world faces other daunting challenges, such as increasing distrust and dispute among leading powers, stern security trials, economic uncertainty and climate change. Furthermore, citizens’ confidence in leaders’ ability to tackle global issues is declining.

But there are reasons for optimism too, as I said at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York when the General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda.

One cause for hope is the growing awareness of corruption’s horrific impact. Another is the explicit language under Goal 16, which aims, inter alia, to “substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms”. A third is the recognition in the 2030 Agenda that daily implementation is crucial if the SDGs are to become a fruitful reality.

The day-to-day actions against corruption must not rely on traditional criminal law and enforcement alone. It also requires prevention, education and international cooperation – three of the key areas in which IACA, an international organisation covering more than five billion people, is empowering anti-corruption and compliance professionals across the globe.

Preventing and fighting corruption is about sustained hard work, not quick cursory plasters. Let us thus be guided by recalling that investing and engaging in anti-corruption education and empowerment is the smart way towards sustainable development, safeguarding human rights, and strengthening the rule of law; on the road to 2030 and beyond.