Latest News, MEIG Highlights 10 mai 2024

Highlight 18/2024 – Corruption as a Barrier to Sustainable Development

Tamari Tabatadze, 10 May 2024


Three decades ago, corruption was rarely a topic of international discourse. Nowadays, there is widespread consensus that corruption erodes the rule of law, endangering governance systems and impeding sustainable development. Defining corruption is challenging as it presents itself in various forms on local, national, and international scales. However, it is commonly defined as the misuse of public office for private gains. According to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, corruption can take several forms, including bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, etc. It is a complex and multifaceted challenge,  as it undermines democratic institutions, contributes to governmental instability, prevents access to fair and adequate health care, stifles economic growth, and diverts funds from vital services such as education and housing. The 2030 Agenda acknowledges the strong link between the rule of law and development, which support and strengthen each other. It is evident that corruption poses a significant barrier to achieving substantial progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, both presently and in the future.

Promoting peaceful and inclusive societies is a prerequisite for sustainable development, as outlined in SDG 16. Corruption is increasingly recognized as a significant threat to stability and peace. It can weaken the institutions responsible for safeguarding citizens, upholding the rule of law, and maintaining peace by draining their resources. When law enforcement or security agencies are tainted by corruption, state responses to governance and security issues may falter. In some cases, corrupt officials, law enforcement personnel, judges, and politicians inadvertently aid criminal and terrorist groups, allowing them to operate with impunity. Corruption thus serves as a key enabler of organized crime. Correlation between high levels of corruption, measured by Corruption Perception Index, and less durable peace, captured by Global Peace Index, is evident. According to the Global Peace Index, five of the ten least peaceful countries are Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. The same countries rank at the highest level of corruption on the Corruption Perception Index. 

It is commonly believed that corruption also undermines institutions, leading to a decrease in the safeguarding and advancement of human rights. Consequently, one would anticipate a negative correlation between corruption and human rights. Nations characterized by higher levels of corruption typically exhibit lower levels of political and civil liberties. The negative effect is particularly evident in vulnerable persons, with women often being among them. Corruption can manifest in gender-specific forms, with one such practice being sexual extortion, commonly known as sextortion, where sexual favors are demanded as bribes. Evidence indicates that women are disproportionately targeted. In essence, corruption can undermine gender equality, which is one of the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG 5.

Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, as outlined in SDG 4, can also be drastically threatened by corruption.

Corruption within the education sector not only adversely affects teachers and students but also impacts the broader communities and societies they belong to. Given its crucial role in shaping future leaders and professionals, corrupt practices within education have profound implications for both social and economic progress. This includes the production of inadequately trained individuals in fields such as medicine, law, and engineering, as well as the potential for underqualified individuals to assume leadership roles within the economy. Moreover, corrupt education systems yield lower quality and less competent employees, thereby increasing the costs associated with attracting and retaining skilled workers due to heightened competition.

Securing universal access to quality healthcare is crucial for fostering sustainable development and advancing the goal of ensuring healthy lives for individuals as outlined in SDG 3. Health systems involve intricate interactions among various stakeholders that renders them particularly vulnerable to corruption, leading to detrimental effects on both the operation of health systems and the health outcomes of populations. Corruption within the healthcare sector manifests in numerous ways across different domains, including construction of health facilities, procurement of equipment and supplies, distribution of pharmaceuticals, education of healthcare workers, manipulation of medical research, and notably, the delivery of healthcare services. Although the impact of corruption on public health may not always be immediately evident, it consistently undermines the healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic starkly exposed how corruption heightened the vulnerability of health systems, exacerbating the transmission of the virus and prolonging the health crisis. Instances of corruption during the pandemic ranged from large-scale corrupt schemes involving top-ranking politicians to smaller instances of corruption occurring at the frontline of service delivery, as well as corruption within procurement and contracting procedures.

To summarize, corruption acts as a barrier to development by draining essential financial resources, undermining public trust, and fostering a pervasive feeling of powerlessness and injustice, which can potentially escalate into widespread conflict. The impact of corruption is particularly harsh on impoverished and vulnerable communities, who lack the means to pay bribes for accessing essential public services.

Tamari Tabatadze, Highlight 18/2024 – Corruption as a Barrier to Sustainable Development, 10 May 2024, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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