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UNCAC at 20: Uniting the world against corruption

Celebrate Anti-corruption Day with Technology that Helps Stop the Scourge

By Greg Pinn

Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism, and other threats to human security to flourish.

This evil phenomenon is found in all countries — big and small, rich and poor — but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign aid and investment.[1] 

This statement by Kofi A. Annan, then secretary general of the United Nations, introduces the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Signed by 140 member states[2], the Convention outlines procedures for the prevention and criminalization of corruption. It also discusses standards for international cooperation in these fields, and for asset recovery.[3] To celebrate the 20th anniversary of its ratification, the United Nations 2023 International Anti-Corruption Day (December 9)  highlights the links between anti-corruption and peace, security, and sustainable development.

Babel Street supports the United Nations' efforts to end corruption worldwide, and believes that innovative technologies can provide the type of insight needed for governmental transparency.

Government corruption: a worldwide plague

From “state capture” (systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly and unfairly influence decision-making processes of central governments) to municipal kickbacks, corruption mars governments and the lives of people those governments purport to serve. It stymies economic growth. It exacerbates social inequity by diverting public funds away from essential services (for health, education and infrastructure) into the hands of corrupt officials and their cronies. It distorts the economic playing field, hindering fair competition and stifling innovation. When corruption becomes widespread enough, entire nations can lose credibility, leaving investors and foreign aid organizations choosing to channel their money elsewhere. Finally, as the populace begins to distrust its government, political instability and social unrest can occur.

Consider the following examples.

  • In Russia, oligarch connections of then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev created a network of nonprofit organizations. They funneled huge sums into those foundations to build mansions for Medvedev to live in and yachts for him to sail — expecting favors from the Russian government in return.[4]
  • For a decade in Brazil, construction executives created a cartel to coordinate bids for the Petrobras state-run energy firm. They systematically overcharged the company, bribing Petrobras executives to turn a blind eye. Construction executives and Petrobras employees pocketed the excess sums, believed to total roughly US$5.3 billion.[5]
  • In South Africa, state capture occurred when the industrialist Gupta family forged a relationship with then Deputy President Jacob Zuma. In 2003, the Gupta family began financing the luxurious lifestyle of the Zuma family. Upon his election to the presidency in 2009, Zuma’s government began awarding lucrative contracts to Gupta companies. (South African authorities now believe that up to US$4 billion was lost in these deals.) In response to these events, a series of riots and other episodes of civil unrest occurred over nine days in July of that year. More than 300 people died in the riots.[6]

Ending corruption

The United Nation Convention lists measures its signatories should take to develop and/or maintain effective anti-corruption policies and penalties. These measures encourage “integrity, transparency, and accountability” in government and the private sector. Noting that the easiest way to stop corruption is to prevent it, United Nations measures include:

  • Establishing and promoting effective anti-corruption practices, periodically reevaluating them to determine their efficacy
  • Collaborating with regional, national, and international organizations to spot and stop corruption
  • Adopting systems for recruiting, hiring, promoting, and retiring civil servants that depend on transparent, objective criteria based on merit and aptitude
  • Implementing transparent and objective practices for procurement and public finance
  • Preventing conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions on the professional activities and employment of former public officials now working in the private sector
  • Promoting transparency among private-sector corporations, including implementing measures to illuminate the identity of natural persons involved in the establishment and management of corporate entities
  • Ensuring that private enterprises have sufficient internal auditing controls to assist in detecting and preventing acts of corruption

Improving insight with Babel Street

The United Nations Convention notes that “Corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon.” No single nation, commission, or capability can put a stop to it. However, existing technologies — particularly technologies that improve transparency — support worldwide anti-corruption efforts. As evident from the list above, United Nations anti-corruption measures depend on transparency. Transparency, meanwhile, requires insight. A municipality can’t be transparent about the corporation it is contracting with unless it has a thorough understanding of that corporation.

Babel Street name matching, searching, and relationship mapping technologies improve insight. We help governments match and transliterate names, and resolve entities — ensuring name variations cannot be used to avoid identification. We provide further insight on people, businesses, and other entities by scouring sites and posts throughout the surface, deep web, and dark web — including more than 20 million unique URLs, a billion blog posts, 30 million message boards, and more than 25 social media platforms. Our technology gathers and enhances publicly available information (PAI) and commercially available information (CAI) published in more than 200 languages to help you obtain the critical insights needed for improved transparency. Finally, we can help you rapidly map key relationships. Our technology automatically examines hundreds of thousands of relationships within a specific social network or discussion group, uncovering previously unknown or hidden connections.

How can these capabilities help those trying to eliminate corruption? Use Babel Street technology to:

  • Detect possible sources of corruption by developing a complete and accurate picture of an individual, business, or other entity — including insight into their significant relationships
  • Conduct adverse media searches to find negative information about persons, businesses, or other entities
  • Find beneficial ownership of corporations to identify the individuals who benefit from corporate profits. This helps users determine, for example, whether a contractor about to be awarded a lucrative bid for the construction of a municipal garage has an arm’s length relationship with the town, or whether he’s the mayor’s brother-in-law
  • Chart social media relationships.

The fight against corruption is a fight for a more just and peaceful world. There is no magic corruption cure-all, but the right technology can help in the fight. Learn more at babelstreet.com.

End notes

1. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “United Nations Convention Against Corruption,” 2004, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CAC/

2. Ibid

3. United Nations, “UNODC’S Action against Corruption and Economic Crime,” accessed November 2024, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/corruption/index.html

4. Grozovsky, Boris, “Russian Corruption Is Among the World’s Worst — And It’s Here to Stay,” Moscow Times, April 2017, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2017/04/14/on-the-money-op-ed-a57718

5. Beauchamp, Zach, “Brazil’s Petrobras scandal, explained,” Vox, March 2016, https://www.vox.com/2016/3/18/11260924/petrobras-brazil

6. Winning, Alexander and Roelf, Wendell, “Worst violence in years spreads in South Africa as grievances boil over,” Reuters, July 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/looting-violence-grips-south-africa-after-zuma-court-hearing-2021-07-13/

Disclaimer

All names, companies, and incidents portrayed in this document are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, companies, and products are intended or should be inferred.

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