Corruption can manifest in many different forms, including cronyism, embezzlement, extortion, and bribery, and taints industries and jurisdictions arounds the world on a daily basis. It slows economic growth, thwarts development, and causes inequality. Corruption can also lead to the distorted allocation of public services, such as healthcare, which is vital in times of “normalcy”—and even more essential during a global pandemic.
Corruption and emergencies tend to feed off one another, creating a cycle of mismanagement and deepening an already dire situation. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, a number of governments have violated democratic standards during the pandemic, and countries with higher levels of corruption have tended to be the worst violators of both human rights and democratic standards in their pandemic responses. However, governments of countries considered the most developed have also been found to have used the pandemic to make personal gains—the UK government’s “Covid contracts scandal” being an example of this. Therefore, governments globally have been fighting two pandemics simultaneously: Covid-19 and corruption. Examples include the following:
- United Kingdom: It has been reported that one-fifth of UK Covid contracts raised red flags for possible corruption and required urgent further investigation. This news came just after the release of a Transparency International UK report that stated that the UK government has a “seriously flawed” arrangement whereby companies bidding for contracts were prioritized if they were referred into a “VIP lane” by their political connections.
- Africa: A number of countries reported the misuse or theft of funds meant for the pandemic response. An audit report in Malawi found that government officers and the private sector had misspent $1.3 million of funds through procurement and allowance irregularities. In Kenya, an investigative journalist found gross misconduct and abuse of funds meant for Covid-19 aid.
- Latin America: Similar to events in Africa, several Latin American countries have fallen foul to corrupt practices. In Brazil, officials are under investigation for profiteering and misusing more than $200 million in public funds, and in Columbia, more than 830 disciplinary actions have been taken against Columbian mayors and governors for the misuse of public funds.
- United States: Anti-corruption advocates highlighted concerning patterns of potential fraud found in the federal procurement of personal protective equipment and medical devices, citing that the government overpaid by up to $500 million.
- Asia: Much like in Latin America and Africa, a number of Asian countries have reported the identification of corrupt practices. As an example, in Indonesia, the Social Affairs Minister was accused of taking bribes worth $1 million while arranging food aid for pandemic relief.
As highlighted above, the prevalence of corruption within general society has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with corrupt practices identified in countries scoring high and low on the Corruption Perception Index. This indicates that greater safeguards and awareness are needed in times of crisis, regardless of a country’s reputation for corrupt practices.
In order to drive real change, governments and state-owned entities should consider implementing controls such as anti-corruption policies, transparency laws within public procurement tenders, simplified reporting mechanisms, and independent supervision and oversight committees as proactive and protective mechanisms to strengthen their defenses against corruption both during emergency situations, such as a global pandemic, and during more “conventional” times.
Although these suggested controls will not stop all forms of corruption, they will assist in identifying corrupt practices before they have a chance to come to fruition and will also assist in demonstrating transparency and open governance. By deterring corruption, governments around the globe can begin making a dent in behaviors that take advantage of those most vulnerable.