Earlier this year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (“OECD’s”) Working Group on Bribery issued a warning to be vigilant against corruption in the era of COVID-19 as the pandemic has created environments “ripe for corruption.” Such fears have undoubtedly been proven as fraudsters have sought to exploit disrupted supply chains, emergency demand for public procurement, and make wrongful claims for government funding and economic support packages. This is all despite the particularly acute scrutiny corporations find themselves under from investors and clients alike, as we discussed earlier this year on Global Ethics Day.

Corruption in the era of COVID-19: accounts around the world

Corruption in the era of COVID-19 has been rife, and pandemic-specific reports of corruption have emerged exponentially around the world. Earlier this year, Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (“ALACs”), which operate in 60 countries, received over 1,800 reports of corruption and irregularities from across the globe.[1] Whilst accounts of corruption varied between countries, reports ranged from accounts of corrupt networks profiting from government contracts, police corruption with border control, unlawful and questionable sales of medical supplies, and accounts of patients forced to pay bribes for access to PPE and COVID-19 testing.

In Sri Lanka, the country’s ALAC reported accounts of citizens failing to receive the financial aid that they were legally entitled to owing to a government system that failed to implement tracing mechanisms or accountability to protect funds from fraudsters. Over in Italy, the organisation received accounts of intervention being needed to prevent the distribution of uncertified masks to the public. When we look to Kenya, there were reports of hospital workers forcing patients to buy masks before they could enter the hospital, and other reports of citizens striking over the misuse of government funding assigned for healthcare. These represent just some of the various examples of corruption from across the globe that have been reported this year.

Politics and corruption

The pandemic has also given rise to allegations of corruption of governmental officials. The Zimbabwean health minister, Obadiah Moyo, was charged for his involvement in illegally awarding a contract for COVID-19 testing kits, drugs and personal protective equipment to a shadow company at an inflated price. In Kenya, it was reported that $7.8million of tenders had allegedly been given to politically connected individuals and businesses.

These accounts demonstrate just how corruption has increased in the current health crisis, putting at risk not only good governance, but the health of the public. The fear is that as countries begin to slowly open up, new forms of corruption will appear through the procurement and delivery of the vaccine, but also through businesses scrambling to get back to pre-COVID-19 operations. 

Instilling integrity

It is therefore important that people continue to speak up when they identify potential misconduct and wrongdoing, raising concerns and fears, so that corruption does not go unchecked. Systems need to be established that are based on accountability, transparency and openness which continue to be risk assessed, monitored and responsive to individuals coming forward to raise their concerns. By doing so, allegations of corruption can be properly investigated, misconduct punished and remedial measures implemented.

[1] https://www.transparency.org/en/press/citizens-report-corruption-in-covid-19-humanitarian-aid-quarantine-health-care

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