Anne Marie Sloth Carlsen.

Corruption remains a serious global challenge that impedes development and promotes inequality and injustice. Corruption undermines fundamental human rights, exacerbates poverty, and degrades the environment. It diverts money sorely needed by our societies for health care, education and other essential services. It increases the costs of doing business, distorts markets and impedes economic growth. Every year, developing countries lose up to $1 trillion through government corruption, criminal activity and commercial tax evasion. In Africa alone, an estimated $148 billion is lost annually to corruption. Globally, almost $1 trillion is paid in bribes each year.

People all around the world care about this issue. More than 5 million voters in the United Nations Development Program’s global My World survey have ranked “honest and responsive governments” among their top four priorities for development after the Millennium Development Goal deadline year of 2015. Citizens and governments around the world observed the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, 2014, by recognizing the critical importance of tackling corruption in boosting global development. We are to be reminded that if we want a more equitable, inclusive and prosperous future for all, we must foster a culture of integrity, transparency, accountability and good governance.

The U.N. Convention against Corruption, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2003, is the most comprehensive and binding international legal instrument for preventing and combating corruption. As of November 2014, there are 173 parties to the Convention, including the Republic of Korea. States who have signed up must take several measures to prevent corruption. They should criminalize certain acts, strengthen international law enforcement and judicial cooperation, as well as provide effective legal mechanisms for asset recovery, technical assistance and information exchange. On our part, UNDP is supporting efforts to tackle corruption around the world, taking action in more than 100 countries in 2011 and 2012. Our Global Anti-Corruption Initiative also started work in 16 countries in 2013, with promising stories from the health, education and water sectors already.

For example, the Tribunal for Patients’ Rights in Cartagena, Colombia, in September 2013 saw more than 769 of 771 patients’ complaints resolved. Meanwhile, 29 journalists in Guinea have been trained in investigative reporting and have produced 27 written, audio and video reports on corruption in the health sector.

The UNDP also helped train 40 community budget monitors in Uganda to track how primary education resources are used. In Liberia, a survey assessed corruption risks in 10 public high schools. Such risks were also mapped in higher education in China, with the country’s Northeastern Normal University using the results to manage corruption risks in its procurement, student enrolment and teachers’ employment. In Kosovo, a new website to report corruption in schools and universities logged 1,024 complaints, with more than half of them resolved. In the Philippines, a successful project to monitor water service provision in one area has led to new government funding to scale up the initiative in five more communities this year.

These diverse stories remind us that we should not only measure corruption in the billions of dollars squandered or stolen from public pockets. The real cost of corrupt practices is most felt in absent hospitals, schools, clean water, roads and bridges ― the ones that could have been built with that missing money, the ones that would have certainly improved the lives of families and communities around the world. It is also felt in degraded environments and livelihoods stemming from taking short cuts on procedures required by law in many countries, such as environmental impact assessments.

Having moved rapidly from being one of the world’s poorest aid-recipient countries to a donor and member of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, Korea has made significant achievements in tackling and preventing corruption as part of its democratization and governance reforms. Other countries are interested in learning from these experiences. In January 2015, the UNDP Seoul Policy Center will be organizing a Seoul Debate, an international dialogue among scholars and practitioners to share lessons learned from anticorruption policies in Korea and other countries. This is part of a new Development Solutions Partnership that will also include a comparative study of Korea’s and Singapore’s approaches to anticorruption, linking them to UNDP’s worldwide experiences of supporting anticorruption measures in developing countries.

Corruption is not inevitable. It flows from greed and the triumph of the undemocratic few over the expectations of the many. As part of that many, I hope we will all come together in support of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for everyone to work toward a sustainable future where corruption is exposed and rejected, where integrity prevails, and where the hopes and dreams of millions are realized.