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December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day. It is a day when people around the world raise their voice against the abuse of power for private gain.

The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, in which two-thirds of countries score less than 50, offers a warning that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world. They will continue to do so as long as corruption pays off for the corrupt.

From the business executive who helps a corrupt official hide a bribe in an offshore bank out of authorities' reach, to the judge who stops a politician's case coming to court, there are too many fraudulent cases that are not investigated and too many legislative loopholes that need to be addressed.

Impunity: how they get away with it

People are increasingly speaking out against and exposing corruption in their societies. We have seen demonstrations of angry people asking governments to tackle corruption.

More than one person in two thinks corruption has worsened in the last two years, according to the world’s largest public opinion survey on corruption by Transparency International.

Police and courts are too often, in too many countries, at the service of those who can buy a decision, rather than at the service of justice. Some 31 per cent of people who came into contact with the police and 24 per cent of people who came into contact with the judiciary in the previous 12 months reported paying a bribe.

Where do corrupt leaders take their money?

Stolen assets worth billions of dollars belonging to leaders deposed during the Arab Spring and their coteries have been frozen, but little returned. This has renewed pressure on governments to freeze and return the assets stolen by corrupt leaders.

Transparency International UK has announced the creation of an expert taskforce to examine the possibility of creating a new law against corrupt enrichment. “The rates of detection and seizure are so low, that there is effectively a culture of impunity,” warns Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International UK. Read more here.

150 000 – Number of criminal court cases closed in Italy because they ran out of time. This means that one in 10 trials ended with impunity for the alleged offender.

In this globalised world, impunity for corruption anywhere undermines integrity everywhere. Efforts to respond to climate change, economic crisis and extreme poverty will face a massive roadblock in the shape of corruption unless we make it harder for those who abuse their public power to get away with it.

Stop the corrupt

The corrupt will continue to abuse their positions of power unless they know their acts will have real consequences.

Today we all pay the price of corruption. To turn the tables, we have to make sure the corrupt pay a price too, whether that price is political, social or legal.

  • Governments can make the financial system more transparent. The United Kingdom announced in November that it would make it harder to hide who owns a company.
  • Activists can also make a difference. The vast wealth of foreign leaders in France – the luxurious Parisian apartments and high-end sports cars – are under intense scrutiny because of a court case brought by Transparency International France. Several sports cars have already been confiscated, as shown in the photo above.
  • Dozens of heads of state around the world have been prosecuted for foul play, hundreds of companies have been punished for paying bribes.

2% – Number of crimes reported to Guatemalan authorities result in punishment. This has been called a 98% “Impunity Rate”

Now is the time to turn the tables

Combating illicit financial flows, repatriating stolen assets, ensuring transparency and accountability in the arms trade, ending poverty, dealing with climate change and creating a fairer economy after the crisis are the great challenges of our time. None will be dealt with successfully if corruption prevails.

There is much to be done that can make the corrupt pay for corruption:

  • Banks can refuse to do business with officials and politicians from foreign countries bringing in large sums of money which they are unable to prove was earned in an honest manner.
  • Politicians can make their assets and their interests public.
  • Governments can ensure that independent and effective judiciaries free of political interference stop those who get away with corruption again and again.

People also have the power to make sure that corruption does not pay. They can monitor those in power, report problems in their community, and pressure governments that fail to take action.

Nine out of 10 people surveyed by Transparency International said they would act against corruption, suggesting that governments, civil society and the business sector need to do more to engage people in thwarting corruption.

Transparency International fights impunity

Action must be taken to stop those who act with impunity if efforts to eradicate corruption are to be successful.

In June 2012 Transparency International’s national chapter in Senegal, Forum Civil, launched a countrywide campaign to promote citizen and community participation, and galvanise Senegalese people to stand up against corruption and impunity. People signed a petition asking government officials to declare their assets and for the new anti-corruption body to tackle corruption in public institutions, particularly the judiciary.

Working in partnership with the High Judicial Council, Transparency International Palestine ran training sessions for the 24 staff members working in the new complaints units. Today, all courts are equipped with permanent signs, complaint boxes and brochures explaining how to make a complaint.

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