Corruption remains the greatest obstacle to economic and social development around the world. Its political costs can include the destruction of public order and the erosion of societal trust in the institutions that are expected to be the gatekeepers of society’s aspirations. In economic terms, corruption depletes wealth, contributes to further inequality and hinders entrepreneurship. By some estimates, the direct cost of corruption far exceeds USD 1 trillion per year. It is an investment barrier. Corruption also undermines other social aspirations such as environment stewardship, health and education.
Despite over a decade of concrete efforts, including the creation and enforcement of stricter regulations, the cancer of corruption seems to be spreading everywhere; in the North and the South, in the East and the West.
As the digital empowerment of people worldwide continues to expand, the forces that lead to the rise of transparency are gathering momentum. Transparency itself is a necessary first step, but it must be complemented with concrete action in order to change systems. This is where the idea and practice of Collective Action can play a critical role. Only if the public and private sectors collaborate can we overcome systemic barriers, change the status quo and build transparent systems that favour good performance rather than wasteful rent-seeking. It requires political leadership and private sector engagement.
As the business case against corruption is getting stronger and as more and more political leaders recognize the costs of corruption, there is reason to be optimistic that Collective Action at the country level can lead to genuine transformation.