The worldwide push to root out corruption has achieved a new landmark. For the first time, the International Monetary Fund has insisted that a country set up a special court to deal with anti-corruption cases as a condition for receiving financial aid. The country is Ukraine, which agreed with the IMF this month to establish such a court by next year and provide it with ample resources and independence. But the larger point is that the struggle for honesty and transparency in governance is taking on a borderless quality.
People in many of the world’s most corrupt countries now welcome outside support in changing an often-entrenched culture of impunity. In 2007, for example, Guatemala outsourced its anti-corruption fight to a United Nations-backed investigative agency. Many nations enjoy Western assistance in improving the skills of their prosecutors and judges. And several dozen countries now abide by anti-bribery standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or cooperate in pursuing corrupt individuals.
The United States, despite the fact that it still struggles with its own corruption, has led this effort, starting with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The long arm of that 1977 law has forced many American and foreign companies to improve their compliance on ethical standards. Britain passed a similar law in 2010.
This progress needs all the momentum it can get. One way to do that is for the US State Department to start issuing an annual report on each country’s anti-corruption efforts and then tie US assistance to those efforts. That idea is at the heart of a bill, called the Combating Global Corruption Act, introduced this month by a bipartisan group of senators. If approved, the effort would be similar to the annual reports currently issued by the US that monitor human trafficking, religious freedom, and human rights around the world.
The bill calls for a corruption index, or a ranking of nations into three tiers. Countries in the bottom tier would then need to improve the transparency and accountability of their government – such as protecting whistle-blowers – to receive American security or humanitarian aid.
In its deal with Ukraine, the IMF set a good example of imposing anti-corruption conditions on aid. Congress would do well to pass the Senate bill. The world needs more countries that set high standards in honesty.