What is corruption and how much does it cost the world?

What is anti-corruption and how are we helping related efforts in the Arab States region?

Corruption – the misuse of entrusted power for private gain – takes many forms, including bribery, embezzlement, abuse of function, trade in influence, illicit enrichment and other similar offenses, and is often intertwined with money laundering and others forms of organized crime. It is a complex global challenge that manifests itself in varying degrees across all countries. It spares none but seems to flourish most in places where anti-corruption measures are weak and the overall political, economic and social environment is conducive to opacity, impunity, monopoly and particularism. This includes the 22 Arab countries, which do share many commonalities but are also quite heterogenous in terms of political systems, economic models and social structures, facing different types and levels of corruption.

The World Economic Forum estimates the annual cost of corruption to be at least USD 2.6 trillion, or 5 per cent of the global gross domestic product. According to the World Bank, businesses and individuals pay more than USD 1 trillion in bribes every year. In the Arab States region, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development reports annual cost to be up to USD 90 billion. Notwithstanding those numbers, which can be contested in both directions, the reality remains that corruption takes a huge toll on sustainable development efforts. Costs accrue in different shapes and forms. They can be direct in the form of a shrinking public purse, indirect in the form of poor infrastructure and basic public services, and lost opportunity in the form of investment discouraged and jobs uncreated; however, the highest cost, perhaps, remains unquantifiable – observable in the erosion of the rule of law and public trust in government institutions, with ensuing threats to human rights and human dignity, and ultimately to global peace and security.

The UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), adopted in 2003 and entered into force in 2005, boasts more than 186 states-parties, including 20 countries from the Arab States region. It is the most comprehensive legally-binding international instrument for action against corruption. It offers a roadmap for countries wishing to adopt and implement measures to tackle corruption, including measures for prevention, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation and asset recovery. Its implementation in the States Parties is subject to periodic examination in accordance with its own international review mechanism. Along with evolving literature in the field, the Convention expands the realm of anti-corruption reforms beyond the traditional approach of criminal law, making it a multi-disciplinary field of work that seeks to identify and tackle factors that drive or restrain corruption. Those include targeted reforms that promote transparency, accountability, integrity, the rule of law and public participation, as well as broader reforms that seek to reduce administrative burdens and encourage trade openness, budget transparency, judicial independence, e-citizenship and freedom of the press, amongst others.

From this standpoint, anti-corruption is no longer a simple agenda of crime and punishment, but rather a complex reform agenda and a critical part of the Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a whole. This is clearly articulated under SDG 16 on “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” and its underlying targets. The most notable of those targets are the ones aiming to “substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms” (16.5) and “develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels” (16.6). This is in addition to other SDG 16 targets, such as those that include references to asset recovery (16.4) and access to information (16.10), both of which are explicit requirements under the UNCAC.

UNDP emerged in the 1990s as a pioneering international development organization that supports countries in tackling corruption, as part and parcel of its governance portfolio. Its work in this area developed further and became more focused with the advent of the UNCAC in 2003, and later on the adoption of Agenda 2030. In the Arab States region, UNDP positioned itself at the forefront of the effort to promote dialogue and action against corruption at a time when this issue was still generally considered to be a taboo and largely avoided in development programming. Its preparatory work between 2003 and 2010, contributed to the establishment of the Arab Anti-Corruption and Integrity Network (ACINET) in 2008, and culminated in the launch of the region’s first specialized regional initiative in this regard: Anti-Corruption and Integrity in the Arab Countries (ACIAC). Its first phase (2011-2014) enabled the establishment of national capacities for UNCAC implementation in at least 6 countries, while expanding the related regional reform agenda in multiple directions, including the introduction of sector-specific work and the strengthening of non-governmental participation. The second phase (2015-2018) accelerated and deepened earlier work, enabling the introduction of new legislative reforms and innovative sectoral measures that increased levels of transparency and accountability in at least 8 countries, while establishing cooperation avenues in new countries.

With the recognition that additional work is needed, and in response to the increasing demand for more robust assistance in this regard, ACIAC embarks on its third phase (2019-2023), in partnership with Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), seeking to prioritize support countries where there is ongoing cooperation and further progress is likely to be achieved. The new phase is designed based on achievements made, lessons learned and findings of consultations with stakeholders across the region, including in the framework of ACINET. The overall goal is to enable institutions and systems to address awareness, prevention and enforcement of anti-corruption and integrity measures to maximize availability of resources for poverty eradication and contribute to the establishment of inclusive and effective governance in line with SDG 16. The specific objectives are to “to promote the de jure and de facto implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption”; “to institutionalize corruption prevention in key vulnerable sectors to enhance effectiveness of public administration”; and “to mobilize sustainable regional evidence-based action-oriented support for the achievement of SDG 16 through an anti-corruption lens”. To achieve those objectives, ACIAC will undertake a variety of activities to support the creation and empowerment of inclusive platforms and mechanisms, which will develop specialized capacities within government institutions and more broadly across society, and foster collective action models that design, advocate and implement innovative solutions. Direct beneficiaries include anti-corruption agencies, justice and audit institutions, concerned ministries and public institutions, in addition to parliamentarians and stakeholders outside government, such as businesses, civil society organizations and women and youth groups.

This website is a repository of our previous work and ongoing activities on anti-corruption and integrity in Arab countries. Visit us often to stay informed and be part of our work.

Arab Region
25 Jul 2022
Regional meeting establishes a regional women’s alliance to promote anti-corruption and integrity for women’s empowerment

Arab Region
31 May 2022
Performance of the Arab countries on the Open Budget Survey 2021

Arab Region
25 Jan 2022
Performance of the Arab countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021


Back to top