Peter Berlin, OECD Observer writer-at-large
Recently, a group of 15-year-old students from a girls’ secondary school in the Palestinian Authority audited the construction of a swimming pool in their town. Part of a competition organised by Integrity Action, a civil society organisation, the girls chose to do this because the local government had decided to build a male-only pool and they felt it was not meant for the whole community.
The girls visited the site and requested and examined all the papers related to the project, including the bills and the blueprints. They found that the lifeguard was unqualified and that the tiles were not of the quality specified in the contract. So they made a fuss.
The builder replaced the tiles. The town hired a real lifeguard and said it would think about adding screens for privacy and opening the pool for women on certain days.
“Working on this project was one of the most successful things we did in our lives. We were finally able to raise our voices and make them heard by decision-makers. We forced them to fix the problems!” said the students.
Fredrik Galtung, the founder and president of Integrity Action, told this story at “The Kids are Alright: Educating for Public Integrity”, a session at the OECD’s Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum at the end of March.
Other sessions ranged from meetings of auditors on infrastructure, norms and standards to topics like corruption in sports, business ethics, human slavery and the law of the sea.
“Planet Integrity is not a distant dream, it’s an urgent necessity,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said in his opening remarks.
The cross-border reach of corruption and the problems it poses to national agencies was echoed repeatedly at the forum. “Slavery and human trafficking have no borders,” said Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and founder of TrustLaw and Trust Women.
In the session on sport, Ronan O’Laoire, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, talked about the “perfect circle” of betting, money laundering and match fixing, with criminals in one country using the globalised betting markets to profit from sports events in other continents.
The cross-border problem is exacerbated by the speed with which the corrupt hop to new honeypots and how fast they adapt to technological and social changes, such as the dark web, e-trade and cryptocurrencies.
“Corruption is a moving target,” Mr Gurría said. “Corruption is often a faceless and borderless crime. Illicit financial flows, cybercrimes and human trafficking are the ‘dark’ side of globalisation. Tackling this must be a global priority.”
John Penrose, a British MP who has been appointed his country’s “anti-corruption champion” was worried: “We are slower than the corrupters at the moment. They are way ahead of us.”
Marcos Bonturi, who heads the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance, said that people are our best weapon against corruption. “We have been too focused on legal implementation but we’re no longer ignoring the human dimension–how individuals see themselves and relate to society and how education can create a culture of integrity.”
He added, “But we cannot do that overnight. It takes a generation or two. We need to start now.”
That high-school students investigated the accounts of a community swimming pool and found information that led to changes is the kind of grass-roots activism that will beat corruption. But it’s an active vigilance that has to be taught, and taught while people are still young. Mr Galtung summed it up neatly: “Corruption is a skill set. Integrity is a skill set.”
NOTE: The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.
©OECD Insights May 2018