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Civil society’s crucial role in sustainable development

Key players in the development community are meeting in New York for the main United Nations conference on sustainable development, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). Transparency International is there to highlight how corruption obstructs development and report on how effectively countries are tackling this issue. We are also underlining how important it is to include civil society in efforts to address corruption and ensure peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

Underdevelopment and inequality make life insecure and reduce opportunities. Eight hundred and forty four million people lack access to clean water and live in fear of fatal water-borne diseases. Almost 60 million children of primary school age are not enrolled in school and nearly 65 million adolescents are deprived a secondary school education. These kind of challenges do not only affect low-income countries; 40 million US citizens and 1.5 million UK citizens live in poverty, unable to afford essentials like shelter, food or heating.

Corruption and development

Corruption hinders development around the world. Developing countries lose roughly US$1.26 trillion to corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion each year. This slows economic growth, reduces investment and diverts funds for essential services. Corruption also undermines trust in government and excludes already disadvantaged communities, increasing instability and inequality. Crucially, most of this US$1.26 trillion travels to richer countries, who have an obligation to not only support anti-corruption efforts abroad, but to also tackle corruption at home.

Substantially reducing corruption is a key commitment of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure good health for all by 2030. The goals have been adopted by 193 nations and reviewing each nation’s progress against these goals is the focus of the HLPF in New York. Acknowledging that poor governance and corruption can cripple sustainable development initiatives, the international community chose to include a number of targets related to corruption in Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions.

In fact, without robust efforts to tackle corruption in all its forms, progress toward every one of the SDGs is likely to be limited. Where bribed authorities turn a blind eye to the dumping of industrial waste into rivers, Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation will not be met. Where public servants embezzle money intended to hire teachers, Goal 4 on quality education will remain elusive. Where corruption reduces funds for medical supplies, progress on SDG 3 targets on healthcare will not be realised.

Reporting on progress

If governments are truly committed to their pledge to leave no one behind, then we expect them to prioritise measures to curb corruption and be open about their efforts to do so.

However, governments are often reluctant to report candidly about their anti-corruption frameworks and activities. When they do mention them, they often give incomplete and inaccurate information.

This is why civil society organisations (CSOs) have such a vital role to play in reviewing progress toward achieving SDGs. They can provide supplementary, citizen-orientated data on national progress or stagnation.

In this spirit, Transparency International chapters around the world produce parallel reports to identify shortcomings in national anti-corruption frameworks and make policy recommendations to address them. This year we brought 12 countries’ reports to the HLPF that uncover a range of issues, from poor law enforcement in Armenia, to the lack of political campaign finance regulation in Sri Lanka and a Palestinian judiciary that lacks independence from the government.

Including civil society

The extent to which governments listen to constructive criticism varies by country, and the risk is that civil society reports are ignored and crucial governance failings remain unaddressed.

Consequently, Transparency International recommends that the UN provides a formal platform at future HLPFs for civil society to interact with government delegations when official government reports are presented.

Enabling constructive dialogue between different stakeholders is at the heart of sustainable development, and where civil society can supplement and scrutinise government reports, we will be better able to ensure that no-one is left behind during the implementation of the SDGs.




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