The Four Pillars of Corruption

Citizen trust and confidence in governments, institutions (public, private and non-profit) and leaders is probably the single greatest factor in determining their levels of legitimacy. Corruption or even the perception of corruption is a cancerous scourge that erodes this trust and legitimacy. It not only undermines democracy and the rule of law but it is corrosive to formal economies and the lives of individuals, while simultaneously promoting crime and the illicit economy. Although corruption is far reaching and all encompassing it disproportionately affects the developing world and the poor, diverting funding and investment from the people and areas that need it most. Corruption therefore directly affects the stability, security and development of societies and states.

The growing interconnectedness of economies, states and people means that corruption is a truly transnational phenomenon and therefore international cooperation to prevent and control it is vital. Corruption also has links to other forms of crime, particularly aspects of the illicit economy such as the illegal drug trade. It is also often a tool used by transnational organized crime, reinforcing the need for international cooperation. For these reasons a comprehensive and multidimensional approach that bridges countries, sectors and actors needs to be implemented to prevent and disrupt corruption at all levels and in all forms.

To successfully combat and prevent corruption focus must be put on what I call ‘The four pillars of corruption’ and their relationship with each other: 1) The corrupters, 2) The corrupt, 3) Impunity, and 4) Tolerance. Of these four elements the last, tolerance, is the most difficult to target and eradicate. This is due to the fact that it cannot be codified and so few conventions actively address it. Corruption is also linked to established and accepted norms and cultures and so in many countries and communities it is a standard daily practice. This entrenched mindset of uncontested tolerance must change if we are to effectively combat corruption.

To effectively target and eliminate corruption specific vehicles and policies are needed that intersect these four points; aligning with the concept of a comprehensive and multidimensional approach. The focus can not only lie within the public sector but also the private sector. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) is a strong example of private sector involvement. A partnership of over 100 companies, it is currently one of the leading global business voices on anti-corruption and transparency. It actively works with business leaders, international organizations and governments to address corruption and push agenda-setting platforms. Private sector involvement in turn needs to be complemented by civil society’s involvement and policies that promote awareness and eliminate impunity through well functioning courts systems.

NGOs and non-profit organizations such as Transparency International, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) and in México ¿Cómo Vamos? are also playing a key role, forcing legislative change but also challenging cultures of tolerance and impunity. GFI particularly focuses on illicit financial flows, conducting research, promoting policy and advising governments. Transparency International is a movement dedicated to a world free from corruption in government, business, civil society and daily life. México ¿Cómo Vamos?, meanwhile, works as a bridge between academia and civil society, applying economic research to public policy. One particular initiative is their “Anti-Corruption Thermometer,” promoting government transparency.

Recognizing the significant connection between criminal activities such as corruption and the illicit economy the WEF’s Meta-Council on the Illicit Economy seeks to strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to corruption. It forwards the engagement of all relevant actors and public-private partnership as essentials to initiate collaboration and develop cross-cutting approaches to address such a complex issue. In addition the Meta-Council strives to enhance public awareness related to corruption as well as other aspects of the illicit economy.

In the international arena, both the UN and OAS conventions against corruption actively pursue many of the aspects outlined above, promoting international cooperation and focusing on both the public and private sector to prevent and eradicate corruption. To forward awareness and disrupt existing norms the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) particularly promotes “the active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations.”(1) The OAS’s Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, like UNCAC, also encourages states to adopt the necessary legislation to ensure laws are upheld and courts punish corruption, shedding notions of impunity.

The OAS convention specifically addresses the following pivotal points (2):

  • Aims to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption
  • Promotes, facilitates and regulates cooperation among States on preventing, detecting, investigating and punishing acts of corruption
  • Fosters exchanges of experiences and meetings between relevant bodies and institutions
  • Calls for the establishment of central authorities to improve direct communication, international assistance and cooperation between Member State
  • Outlines increasing links between corruption and the illicit drug trade
  • Calls for mechanisms to encourage and strengthen civil society and NGO’s participation
  • Includes extensive preventative measures section aimed at imposing and enforcing standards of conduct, implementing public sector activity oversight systems and protection systems for those who report corruption
  • Appeals to States to prohibit and punish transnational bribery as an act of corruption
  • Calls for corruption offenses to be included as extraditable offenses

While such conventions are crucial in the fight against corruption there must be a comprehensive and multidimensional approach that includes cooperation and active engagement from international organizations, national governments, civil society, the private sector and individual citizens. Such a multi-stakeholder approach that targets the corrupters, the corrupt, tolerance and impunity, and how each are linked, will have the knowledge, strength and reach to prevent and eliminate widespread and rampant corruption witnessed the world over.

(1) UNODC. (2004). United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Available from

(2) OAS. (1996). Inter-American  Convention Against Corruption. Available from

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