Wednesday, 25 April 2018

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Red card against corruption in the Nordics


Photo credits: Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0/wka

Corruption is one of the most critical obstacles for successful development aid - and not without reason. Corruption is among the worst things that could happen to a humanitarian assistance project.

In countries with chaotic situations due to conflicts or natural disasters, the flow of money is harder to trace as it sometimes runs through unmonitored channels. And when money ends up where it’s not supposed to, it affects the most vulnerable - and might, in the long run, make the difference between life and death. It is not just about money disappearing into wrong pockets, but also about the lack of honest and functioning social systems. The combat against corruption is therefore crucial in development politics and to the efforts of eradicating poverty and inequality.

Corruption among the Nordic countries’ development aid projects luckily has been rare - but it has happened. Several of the Nordic countries have therefore launched anti-corruption initiatives, through which both tax payers and beneficiaries can report corruption or suspicions of misuse of funds.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland has been working to improve the transparency of development aid. All decisions on aid since 2006 can now be found on the Ministry’s website, and all future decisions will be published on the websites immediately. The Ministry will also introduce a “red button” function for corruption reporting later this spring.

According to Development Minister Pekka Haavisto, transparency benefits both supporters and critics of development aid. Through increased transparency and accountability, tax payers’ money can be used in the most efficient way possible.

“Citizens want to have more information on development issues. There are several justified questions regarding development aid. Does the aid reach its targets? Are the means in use the most efficient possible?” stated Haavisto in an interview with the website

The Danish development agency (Danida) established an anti-corruption hotline in 2005, together with the website ‘Let Danida know’. On the website, both Danish tax payers and aid beneficiaries can get information on Danida projects, as well as report corruption and misuse of funds. Links to the hotline can be found on the front page of the English webpage of Danida, as well as on the front webpages of all representations in countries receiving Danish development assistance.   

Since the launch of Danida’s transparency policy, there have been 90 cases of reported corruption. This, according to Anders Korsby, Special Consultant at Danida’s Anti-corruption Unit, is not very much taking the amount of projects into account. Most of the corruption cases are reported through local representations. “Of the 90 reports through the hotline, most  have come from persons outside Denmark and especially from the countries where Denmark has aid projects”, says Anders Korsby and continues: Concrete corruption allegations demand knowledge of local condidtions, and it’s mostly people involved in our projects and programs, in one way or the other, who have that kind of knowledge.”
‘Let Danida know’ is not just about reporting on corruption, but also allowing citizens to participate in public consultations, access data from programs and projects and view Danida documents. “The Foreign Ministry’s policy is to strengthen transparency and therefore we want to see similar initiatives in the future”, says Korsby.

SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency,  defines corruption as abuse of trust, power or position for improper gain. The abuse referred to includes receiving and offering bribes, blackmail, conflict of interest and nepotism.
On their webpage, anyone who suspects corruption in a development cooperation contribution can use the whistleblower –function and fill in a form in order to report suspicions of, for instance, development cooperation funds  not being managed in accordance with what has been agreed or misconduct by a member of Sida staff.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry encourages everyone who is privy to information that may suggest improprieties, to alert the Ministry through the website ‘whistleblower’.So called ‘whistleblowers’ can be anonymous, and choose between alerting externally or internally. There are currently no plans to change the Norwegian system towards a system similar to that of the Danes.

The Foreign Ministry and NORAD, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, both have their individual systems for alerts regarding improprieties. They also support the organisation Bistandstorget, a competence and resource facility focused on creating a better framework and practice for aid and development.

Bistandstorget shares the vision of zero corruption with the Norwegian state, but the organization has for several years been critical as to the methods used by the state to achieve this. Bistandstoget’s opinion is that the means used by the state actually hinder transparency.


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