My parents didn’t know that the name they chose for me meant ‘transparent’ in Spanish. But they did know the importance of transparency, honesty and integrity, and passed to me these values when I was growing up in Bulgaria. I hold them dear in my work at the World Bank.
A lack of transparency fuels corruption, a corrosive force that hits the poor and the vulnerable the hardest. Its effects are very real. Corruption stops medicine and drugs from reaching the sick, stops schools from being built, leads to roads washing away in the rain and empties the public coffers. In the most fragile corners of the world corruption undermines work to bring stability or prevent violence and extremism from taking root.
Most importantly, corruption breaks the trust between the citizens and the state that is critical for development to work. We know bad governance is one of the four major drivers of poverty, alongside conflict and violence; unchecked population growth; and the effects of climate change and natural disasters.
In 1996, I wholeheartedly embraced the messages of James Wolfensohn’s landmark ‘Cancer of Corruption’ speech. More than twenty years later, we have stepped up our efforts to confront corruption in multiple areas, supporting our client countries and working to keep our own house in order by increasing transparency and improving oversight.
I am proud of the progress we have made. But the fight is not won and there is more to do. The good news is the World Bank is not alone in this mission. At the recent International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Copenhagen, I joined 20 ministers and heads of state together with over 1,800 people from the private sector civil society to discuss how to confront corruption further.
We have made far reaching commitments to push the anti-corruption agenda forward. It is important that leaders bring the political will and visibility to the issue, and it is also important to complement this prominence with technical know-how, good regulation and hard work.
That is why we prioritise diagnostics to understand the root causes of corruption in each country, and to measure where progress is being made and where efforts are falling short. We know that for transparency initiatives to be successful there must also be data literacy, so we are working to improve countries’ capacity to understand and use information effectively – otherwise citizens could be data rich and information poor.
When it comes to crunching data, new technologies can help us with some of the heavy lifting, and this can give us a new edge in the fight against corruption. For example, we are working in partnership with a global technology company, using artificial intelligence to find hidden patterns and risks in procurement data.
And to encourage private capital into emerging markets and developing economies, attention should be paid to the corruption risks that investors face. This means leveling the playing field for large and small businesses, putting the right regulatory frameworks in place and incentivising integrity. And it also means paying attention to illicit financial flows and blocking the avenues that hide the proceeds of corruption.
The World Bank must lead by example. The resources placed in our trust must be used for their intended purpose and not lost to fraud and corruption. The bank has an advanced investigations and sanctions framework that uncovers fraud or corruption in our own projects and acts firmly to debar wrongdoers. What’s more, we multiply the impact on firms through a cross debarment agreement that has mutual recognition of sanctions among leading multilateral development banks.
As I reflect on the IACC in Copenhagen, I am encouraged to see the global community coming together stronger to confront corruption. For our part, the World Bank will not succeed in our mission to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity unless we address these challenges head-on. To me, the importance is crystal clear: fighting corruption is the key to building trust in government and it also an essential ingredient for robust and sustainable economic growth.