Corruption undermines democracy, destroys public trust in institutions, skews policymaking in the interest of the few and leads to the capture of accountability mechanisms. This was recognised by the international community almost two decades ago, and yet corrupt practices in countries around the world have continued to damage democracy, igniting a new rise in authoritarianism.
The current interlinked global crises of democracy and corruption – along with the associated human rights abuses – bring into question the very legitimacy of the state in the worst affected countries, where corruption is a means of state capture and authoritarian consolidation. Even in more resilient democracies, national integrity systems are often proving insufficiently robust to meet the challenge of corruption – especially in the context of spiralling inequalities and environmental and health crises.
The corruption problems that established democracies face at home diminish their ability to confront the rising authoritarianism around the world. What’s worse, these countries contribute to global democratic decline by failing to curb the transnational corruption linked to their jurisdictions. Corrupt actors, networks, schemes and corruption proceeds cross borders with great ease, bypassing weak national oversight and enforcement systems. And the same weaknesses that allow for dirty money to circulate in an ever-more globalised economy are often exploited by authoritarian regimes to exert illicit influence on social, economic and political affairs of democracies, contributing to polarisation and mistrust.
There is an urgent need to address corruption as a driver of democratic decline. This is especially critical for ensuring that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic does not include increased authoritarianism. Transparency International is urging governments that gather for the Summit for Democracy in December 2021 to follow through on previous pledges and make new, meaningful commitments, with a clear timeline for action, in three key areas.