It is critical for cities to fight corruption in order to ensure vibrant democracy and economic growth – this is why I am excited to represent IRI at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Integrity Forum on April 19-20, 2016 and to present IRI’s paper on Assessing Vulnerabilities to Corruption: A Tool to Improve Global Trade written by Theodore C. Wilhite, Elana Goldstein and Ashleigh Whelan.

Cities throughout the world are dealing with corruption issues and I was reminded of this recently when I traveled to another country in order to conduct IRI’s Vulnerability to Corruption Approach (VCA). The Assessment is a formalized process that helps government leaders identify potential risks in government process that could lead to corruption. After the vulnerabilities are identified, IRI works with the government to design a strategic plan to address the areas vulnerable to corruption through implementation of transparency and accountability activities that incorporate both government and citizens.

Upon conducting the initial assessment, it didn’t take long to hear from individuals about what they perceived as the biggest issues of corruption in their community and multiple individuals referenced potholes in the roads as a sign – ‘just drive on the road and you will know there is corruption… the potholes represent the gaps in the system.’

I understood what they were saying, as the roads throughout the city were very bumpy – leaving a deep impression on how corruption literally is a pothole to democracy. It was so obvious to people that corruption was occurring – it was the norm and a part of their daily life.

I always look forward in meeting people when I travel – talking with taxi drivers, students, a cashier at the grocery store, the person sitting next to you at the coffee shop – the colorful tapestry of interaction and learning. The people are the center of a democracy and it the things that people talk about which will help provide insight on how they feel their community is being governed.

It is for these people – this type of interaction – where I obtain my energy and passion in working to fight corruption and it is for these type of situations in which government is looking to address these issues – to fill the potholes of corruption – with transparent and improved processes – that IRI can help in order for democratic governance to flourish.

Corruption is a barrier to democratic growth and precursor to democratic backsliding, especially in newly transitioning countries throughout the world.  Corrupt practices can be seen at all levels of government and manifested in a wide variety of ways, ranging from administrative corruption to grand corruption.  The impact of corruption can be felt throughout society by deteriorating the relationship between citizens and government and impeding economic development. Through each of these avenues, corruption is the dead end to the development of democratic governance. 

In particular, the negative impact of corruption at the local level is magnified due to the frequency of citizen interaction with local government. Many cities throughout the world are challenged by corruption in a number of areas, including service delivery, financial management and infrastructure development; all of which negatively impact the lives of average citizens. However, one recurring challenge for municipal governments is in public procurement.

Public procurement plays a large role in government budgeting and expenditures and is an area that is extremely vulnerable to corrupt practices. As cities continue to serve as primary drivers of economic growth, and public procurement remains central to municipal budgets, the successful prognosis, mitigation and prevention of corruption therefore becomes paramount. IRI’s Vulnerabilities to Corruption tool, is one manner in which to assess, diagnose and mitigate corrupt practices.

It is even more imperative for cities that are looking to further develop and grow to address corruption because perceptions of widespread corruption can dissuade investors that want a stable, transparent investment opportunity. The impact of corruption on economic development and investments mirrors the impact of corruption on local trade. Corruption can distort trade patterns by creating unequal access to procurement markets and levying unlawful taxes on goods and services. This distortion can negatively impact job creation, investment, and exports – as a result – impeding the economic vitality of communities.

The VCA methodology creates entry points for combatting corruption in public procurement processes and strengthens the ability for citizen and government interaction. Filling the various potholes of corruption, like public procurement, allows for cities to have more access to economic development and to engage in international trade opportunities.

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