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Local steps, global goals: How ordinary people promote sustainable development by reporting corruption

With support from Transparency International, people worldwide are tackling corruption in their own lives – and contributing to systemic change

Fists in the air in an empowered, positive way

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When 16-year-old Abdul Rahmana Shakina collapsed in 2017, her parents rushed her to northern Ghana’s main hospital. Diagnosed with acute anaemia, Shakina needed an urgent blood transfusion – a treatment supposed to be free. But first, doctors demanded a bribe.

With little in their pockets, Shakina’s parents begged for the transfusion, promising to return the next day to pay. But the doctors refused for 12 hours. When they finally gave Shakina the blood and oxygen she needed, it was too late. During the procedure, she died.

A challenge for every development goal

Every day across the world, corruption affects millions of people like Shakina and her family – making it a clear barrier to establishing fair societies where everyone’s needs are met. States recognised this when committing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the globally agreed targets designed to deliver a peaceful, prosperous future for everyone.

From ending poverty to addressing the climate crisis, anti-corruption is essential to achieving the SDGs. Left unchecked, it seriously undermines all areas of sustainable development. Where corruption exists in hospitals, progress toward targets on health care will be limited. Where corruption affects schools, targets on education are unlikely to realised. Where corruption undermines service delivery, goals on poverty eradication, clean water and affordable energy will be impossible to achieve.

But when people are able to challenge the corruption they encounter, they can create immediate, positive progress toward sustainable development.

Essential support to tackle corruption

Standing up to corruption can be difficult. But despite seemingly overwhelming obstacles, individual people can tackle corruption – with the right support and advice.

In more than 60 countries, Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) are trusted partners for people wanting to speak up. We provide free, confidential support and legal assistance to victims and witnesses of corruption, enabling them to make their voices heard, while minimising the risk of retaliation.

In Ghana, after we received complaints of bribery and extortion at the hospital where Shakina died, an ALAC investigation uncovered large-scale administrative corruption and prompted a national debate and official enquiries. This deterred staff from demanding bribes in this hospital and many others across the country and has encouraged more people to speak out against corruption.

By helping people safely find a way to speak up, ALACs make a long-term difference in the way societies work, building resistance to corrupt acts and making it easier for others to come forward.

In Nepal, for example, when headmaster Biswa Thakuri (not his real name) uncovered embezzlement of his school’s funds in 2018, he turned to the ALAC in Kathmandu. Staff helped him check publicly available documents and involve Nepal’s Anti-Corruption Agency to recover the missing funds.

From daily life to systemic change

As well as helping with individual cases, ALACs use the reports they receive to identify systemic weaknesses, or hotspots, which allow corruption to flourish. Transparency International then focuses concerted advocacy on these issues throughout countries, regions and the world. This involves pressing for changes in laws, policy and practice that address the root causes of corruption.

This way, individual cases feed into worldwide impact – so that every time people speak up against corruption, they’re also taking a crucial step toward achieving the SDGs.

Tsitsi Mujuru (not her real name) showed what a difference ordinary people can make. She was heavily pregnant when she suffered severe domestic violence in Zimbabwe. Her partner’s influential family bribed the police and court officials to block her case, but our Zimbabwe ALAC helped Tsitsi get justice in court and her attackers were convicted. Our staff are now pressing for an independent board to monitor judicial integrity, helping secure access to justice for everyone.

Another case where local reports are leading to wider change is happening in Peru. Indigenous communities in the Amazon are working with ALAC staff to demand recognition of their ancestral lands. Peru’s government has granted land titles to outsiders who profit from illegal logging, agribusiness and drug trafficking, with corruption playing a central role. Community leaders suffer violence and death threats, but our Peruvian chapter, Proética, has helped them take their cases to the Inter-American Council on Human Rights. The Council urged the government to carry out detailed investigations and apply appropriate sanctions.

With attacks intensifying, Proética is working with the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office to develop a complaints mechanism for environmental crimes. Proética is also contributing to draft laws on protecting human rights defenders. But a lot more needs to be done, and we continue to support Indigenous communities as they push the government for protection.

A cornerstone of sustainable development

Cases reported to our ALACs around the world continue to confirm that tackling corruption is crucial to achieving the SDGs. That’s why the goals include targets to reduce corruption and promote justice and strong institutions, in the first place, as these are seen as a cornerstone for all the other SDGs.

And every day, ALACs are helping deliver these targets through their work – as well as supporting progress toward all the SDGs. They show that change is possible when people speak up against corruption. And when they do, their voices add up to take change to the global level.

Each case has a ripple effect, driving progress toward the fair, transparent societies the SDGs envisage – in which no one is left behind.

Drawing on true stories from 12 countries, this publication shows how people can break the cycle of injustice by working with our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) – trusted partners for people who report corruption.

Speaking up Locally, Driving Change Globally

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