Updated: Apr 24, 2019
Figure 1: Map showing levels of corruption by nation state [data source Transparency International’s global corruption index, image sourced from Visual Capitalist].
Whilst Australia still maintains one of the best ratings in the world in regards to it performance on government corruption, we are among the most significant nations to be showing a negative downward trend. We’ve fallen from 8th in 2012 down to 13th place in 2018 according to Transparency International’s global corruption index.
Figure 2: 2018 Corruption Perception Index shows Australia declining in the index whilst still being amongst the least corrupt nations in the world. [data source Transparency International’s global corruption index.
The challenging question is first of all why and then, what does this mean for businesses and society and also for Perth developing into a Global City.
Many experts consider this decline to be primarily due to a culture that is becoming more lax about holding ourselves accountable for corrupt acts and less likely to take action in cases of corruption.
This emerging tolerance towards corruption may be the result of lower expectations towards our elected officials. In a recent study there has been a doubling over the past three years of public servants claiming to observe a colleague acting in a corrupt manner. The study found one in 20 to claim to have observed this corruption.
There is also strong correlation between strong democracy and low corruption. The chart below visually demonstrates this correlation, with full democracies tending to also score highly in regards to low levels of corruption.
Figure 3: 2018 Corruption Perception Index [data source Transparency International’s global corruption index, image sourced from Visual Capitalist].
Figure 4: Australia, along with Chile, Malta, Turkey and Mexico is showing a declining trend in addressing corruption [Image source: Transparency International’s global corruption index]
Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, stresses the link between weak democracy and populism.
If the observations and comments of experts are correct, then it seems clear that government itself must be held to account. Transparency International makes recommendations on how to stop corruption. A summary of the five points are:
1. End Impunity
2. Reform Public Administration and Finance Management
3. Promote Transparency and Access to Information
4. Empower Citizens
5. Close International Loopholes
The full article can be found here.
With this said the question has to be asked, what can we do as Australian businesses to address this downward trend. The first thing is to not be corrupt ourselves.
From my perspective I have found that corruption can often happen (as with many ills) without us being fully aware of our own corrupt behaviour or better put our own corruptibility. To address this lack of awareness as well as deliberate corrupt behaviour, organisations need to ensure sound governance practices. A simple starting point is to develop a clear statement of intent or otherwise known as an anti-corruption policy. This very process will begin to align the Board’s thinking and perceptions of corruption. The natural follow through will be the development of systems to ensure the policy.
A systemic approach to good anti-corruption is essentially about good corporate governance.
As organisations demonstrate stronger anti-corruption behaviour I believe that we will naturally be more aware of corruption or indicators of corruption when we see them in government. If we don’t get this right, we stand to continue to descend as a nation that is becoming more and more corrupt. This will weaken our position internationally and slow down our progress as a Global City (Perth).
Conclusion and Strategic Recommendations
1. Ensure that your Board is conducting itself in accordance with best practice, not only in terms of corruption but in general decision making and risk management. Corruption is not an isolated problem and a whole-of-organsation, systemic approach to address corruption will ensure that your organisation builds the governance muscle to keep standards high in to the future. Do this conducting scheduled internal governance audits in accordance with external standards.
2. Develop a clear anti-corruption policy that fits into the wider governance structure. This seamless integration supports recommendation one, above. Effectiveness against the policy will be captured during the internal governance audit and measured against performance indicators.
3. Promote anti-corruption as a virtue to be celebrated in the organisation. Anti-corruption day is this 9th December 2019 and is a good opportunity to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals 16 and 10.
Image 1: Photo taken at WAs Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC)  demonstrating the Commission's commitment to building a corruption resistant culture within government.
UN Sustainability Goal 10:
Un Sustainability Goal 16:
Andre De Barr