Why governance matters for development: critics listen up!

The framing is simple but the implications are huge: to end poverty, you have to end corruption. Transparency International has been using this argument since it was founded over 20 years ago. There now appears to be a ground swell of people from the countries which donate the most to development, who agree with us.

A recent survey conducted as part of an initiative supported by the Gates Foundation, Oxfam, Save the Children and others showed that while people in France, Germany, the US and UK believed giving aid was the right thing to do, they also felt corruption and lack of governance wasted aid.

This is important now because it comes at a time when the United Nations is considering what to make key priorities to end extreme poverty. We’re coming to the end of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and a new set of post-2015 goals will be chosen soon.

At the moment, there is an agreement between countries to include a governance goal and target on fighting corruption, among proposed UN recommendations for new sustainable development goals. But there is no guarantee that this goal will make it through the fervent negotiations that will continue to take place in an effort to reach a global consensus.

Times have changed

Back in 2000 when global development goals were first proposed and adopted, governance was touted as being critical to end poverty, but countries objected to making it a goal or even a target to aim for. Corruption was not even discussed.

Some argued governance could not be measured. Others said it did not affect development outcomes. Others said governance was a matter only for states to worry about.

Fifteen years later, the arguments have changed. We strongly believe that fighting corruption must be part of this and we have the evidence to back this up.

First, our research shows corruption is an impediment to meeting essential global development milestones for health, education and access to water and sanitation. When corruption is tackled, people lead better lives.

Second, governance can and is being measured. It is now possible to report bribes paid in real time and measure levels of public sector corruption. We can also assess public access to information – a key indicator of how people can hold their governments to account and follow the money.

We can also see how well countries are doing in implementing the UN Convention against Corruption because there are systematic evaluations. There is also a UN-sponsored initiative working with national statistical agencies in various African countries to include corruption- and governance-related questions in the official public surveys that these agencies are doing.

Transparency International has been tracking such information since 2003 as part of its Global Corruption Barometer.

Third, people are demanding better governance as a pre-requisite for better development. More than three million people globally told the UN that “an honest and responsive government” is among their top four development priorities they want to see in the future.

Fourth, governance and fighting corruption is about people and results, not ideologies. There has been a real, positive shift in seeing governance as a renewed compact between people and those who they elect. Governments are being called on to be more open, accountable and responsive to individual and community needs.

More than 64 countries, for example, have come together in this belief through the Open Government Partnership, each creating their own national action plans with civil society to deliver on local demands.

There are some influential naysayers in this debate, including Bill Gates, but his foundation’s new survey should reinforce the arguments we and others have used to show how tackling corruption helps development.

We strongly believe now is the time to put governance and anti-corruption at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda. Tell your leaders you want this and tell them now.

Carousel image: Flickr, USAID

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