The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire this year. After a 15-year run they have come to demonstrate the most ambitious attempt by the global community of nations to unite behind specific altruistic development objectives ever devised. While criticized by some as too wooly one has to admit some impressive achievements. For a start: getting the world to commit to the goals was an achievement in and of itself. It helped focus the global development community and give direction to the interventions of governments, civil and civic society at large for a decade and half.
Over the same period child deaths at birth were halved, impressive steps made to protect the ozone layer and most significantly, an entire global demographic of under 35’s has emerged ready to walk the talk in regard to protecting the environment, reducing poverty, pushing for freedom of information and issues like gender equity etc. The MDGs worked. In 2015 the ‘what’s next’ will be defined – mainly at two key UN Summits this year that could emerge as historical. The one in September will agree on the new goals – a new framework for humanity - to tackle poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. Another in December will set new climate action targets.
The UN Member States of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have proposed 17 universal goals and 169 targets that will serve as the basis for the formal intergovernmental negotiations that start in the coming weeks.
More ambitious goals?
It is anticipated that the new goals will be more ambitious than the MDGs and will prioritise the hardest to reach. I should like to argue that for even greater success this round will need an even sharper focus on transparency and accountability. And given the current global environment break this down still further to focus on anti-corruption and open government based on rigorously collected and organized data. All this will have to be accompanied by disclosure of information in order for people not only to hold governments to account but so they can track the new goals.
In a world caught up in geopolitical shifts that are increasingly characterized by confrontations of the kind that profoundly contradict aspirations towards greater openness we’ll all have to push far harder for the openness agenda to remain a priority that’s relevant and useful to governments under new pressures. Or rather not ‘new’ but of a form that is changing all the time. Global networks of simple run-of-the-mill procurement kickback corruption, for example, now overlap with the ones involved in money laundering, drugs, modern day slavery, terrorism finance and all forms of illicit finance.
Corruption and global security
When corruption was propelled to the top of the global development agenda in the early 1990s by Transparency International responses culminated in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2003. Massive developments in digital technology and the internet combined to a situation where by last year – the corruption industry, for lack of a better term - that had partially informalised through the 1990s had reformalised itself by 2013. Massive flows of illicit funds could now be orchestrated using the formal system of the services sector: banks, law firms, auditing firms, telecommunications and real estate companies etc. Corruption that has always been characterized as an impediment to development and an engine that drives poverty and inequality has emerged as a national security threat in this globalized era.
Partly as a result of the successes of the global movements against corruption and towards greater transparency and accountability in government spending especially, the old adage that ‘national security is the last refuge of the corrupt’ is truer today than it ever was. Corruption in any nation’s primary dealers in secrets – the security services - police, customs, intelligence, military etc, poses a threat in this era that has global implications. These contradictions will have to be tackled head on.
Recently, impressive progress has been made to turn the tide. The G8 for example, pushed for disclosure of beneficial ownership information in offshore companies. In Europe legislation has been crafted on the disclosure of revenues from oil gas and mining companies – meaning people can follow the money and track when it is ending up in Swiss bank accounts rather than being spent on schools and hospitals.
Still, we need much more information on government budgets, on contracts being signed, and on the decisions that governments are making. Freedom of information laws, and the right of citizens to participate in decision making is critical. The national and global efforts to make progress on this front require our collective engagement – government and civil society especially engaging in deep and constructive dialogue over the coming months. The global community of nations is at the cusp of an important opportunity to define the development agenda for the next couple that will make for a more equitable and safer world for us all.
John Githongo is one of the founders of Transparency International in Kenya. He became the anti-corruption tzar in the first Kibaki-government in the early 2000s, uncovered a corruption scandal (the Anglo Leasing scheme) and had to leave Kenya. After his return to his home country Githongo still fights for transparency, accountability and better governance in Kenya.