It's an oft-cited reason why we shouldn’t give aid to poorer nations: that corruption in developing nations makes giving them foreign aid simply a waste of money.

While previous reports have shown that foreign aid can be effective and corruption held in check if the correct checks and balances are in place when aid is given, a new report from the Uniting Church in Australia goes one step further in addressing the issue. It takes a look at what developed nations - and, in particular, Australia - is doing to help fight corruption on a global level and what improvements it needs to make.

TACKLING CORRUPTION: The World Bank estimates that as much as $US1 trillion is paid in bribes globally each year. PICTURE: Steve Woods (www.sxc.hu)

 

Dr Zirnsak says they fou-that not only that corruption affects all countries but that wealthy or developed nations can play a negative role in the fight again-corruption by "rewarding-benefiting from a-fostering corruption in developing countries".

Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the Justice and International Mission Unit at the Uniting Church's Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, was one of the co-authors of the report - From Corruption to Good Governance - which was produced with assistance from TEAR Australia and the Micah Challenge campaign.

“We wanted to go a step further - we wanted to look at what role do developed countries play?...” he says. “Not just looking at the developing (country) side of it but giving recognition to the fact that it’s a global problem.”

Such a notion was recognised earlier this year when governments met at a conference on the UN Convention Against Corruption meeting held in Bali.

Dr Zirnsak says they concluded not only that corruption affects all countries but that wealthy or developed nations can play a negative role in the fight against corruption by “rewarding, benefiting from and fostering corruption in developing countries”.

The UCA report, which was released in Canberra in March, concluded that while Australia was generally working well to tackle corruption (with the notable exception of the Australian Wheat Board bribery scandal), there is more than can be done notably on an international level.

It recommends a range of actions to further strengthen Australia’s efforts to tackle corruption both at home and abroad. These include ensuring that penalties for foreign bribery are adequate - stating that the World Bank estimates as much as $US1 trillion is paid in bribes each year, and calls for strengthening protections for whistle-blowers.

Noting estimates from the Oxford Council on Good Governance that poorer countries forego as much as $US385 billion annually in lost revenues as a result of tax avoidance and evasion - a figure which equates to nearly four times that of the foreign aid they receive, the report also calls for Australia to support greater global efforts to shut down tax havens which facilitate tax evasion, capital flight and money laundering.

It also calls for Australia to put greater efforts into ensuring the transparency of multi-national banks - a key plank in the global strategy to tackle corruption.

Dr Zirnsak says that corruption has a very real impact on those who can least afford it.

“Corruption does make the battle to eradicate poverty much harder and really is a barrier to that,” he says.

Noting that it has only been in the past decade that global efforts to tackle corruption had only really taken off, Dr Zirnsak says he was surprised to learn while compiling the report that a country like Germany had not yet signed the 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption.

“It is one of those areas where there’s often been a lag between the rhetoric that you hear and reality,” he says.

Dr Zirnsak says the report’s authors have already met with representatives from the Attorney-General’s department and says the department have agreed to further discussions. They were also seeking to meet with representatives of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Home Affairs.

“Certainly, the ongoing discussion we’ll need to have with them will be around banking secrecy and getting them to look at whether there can be a broader global approach to some of these issues,” he says, adding that while the efforts the government was making at the moment were commendable, they were also “very bilateral” and needed to be broadened.

The report also raises the issue of wealthy countries benefiting from corruption through the import of goods which have been obtained through corrupt means. It cites timber and wood products obtained via illegal logging as a notable example. The World Bank estimates the global annual market value of losses from illegal logging at $US10 billion.

Dr Zirnsak says that one area churches and Christians need to be particularly aware of were situations in which Christian speciality goods have been brought into Australia where corruption has been involved in their creation or movement.

“We have very commendably wanted to celebrate our role in tackling slavery and put some pressure on chocolate manufacturers, on footwear manufacturers, on clothing manufacturers...but we also need to look closer to home with some of the goods which get made and go into Christian speciality stores.”

He says China is probably the country of most concern in this regard and says that a report issued in the US recently showed that some crosses and crucifixes were being imported which had been made in factories which effectively used slave labour.

“It would seem really appalling, the idea that you might buy a cross in a store and it’s been made by some 15-year-old working 100 hours a week in a factory in China,” he says. 

Dr Zirnsak urged Christians to support anti-poverty campaigns like the Micah Challenge and to be prepared to “put their money where their faith is”.

For a full copy of the report, click here.