Hundreds of activists, officials and experts have come together in Washington to explore ways to end chronic corruption in governments, institutions and systems around the world.
The five-day conference, convened every two years by the global corruption watchdog Transparency International and a host country, is considered the world’s largest international anti-corruption forum.
The International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) being held this week is focused on seven topics, including global security, race and climate change, dark markets and criminal networks, kleptocracy and money laundering, and the security of anti-corruption activists.
The conference comes at a time of heightened concerns about the failure of many governments to implement their anti-corruption commitments, organizers say.
“Corruption continues to fuel our global threats and hinders the required success of present and future solutions that we will be looking for. Its cost is estimated in trillions every year,” Huguette Labelle, chair of the IACC Council, told the conference in her opening remarks.
Corruption fosters inequality and promotes human rights abuses and criminality across the world, experts say.
“Poor governance allows autocratic leaders, kleptocratic regimes and organized criminal networks to strengthen their hold on power and the global economy, at the cost of democracy, human rights and global security,” IACC organizers said in an explanatory statement.
Russia, China, Iran and Afghanistan are among some of the countries that have sent no representatives to the conference.
Alejandro Salas, a spokesperson for Transparency International, said the conference is open to all countries, but some have showed no interest in participating.
“Some countries are dominated, unfortunately, by autocratic regimes or kleptocratic regimes that have very particular interests in keeping sharp and tough control on the people of the country in silencing anything that looks like opposition or like free civil society, freedom of expression,” Salas told VOA.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told the conference the U.S. was combating corruption at home and abroad.
“We have to ensure that our systems serve as a check rather than an accomplice to corrupt behavior,” Sullivan said, adding that U.S. policy is primarily focused on supporting anti-corruption activists, including journalists who expose corruption, and going after corrupt individuals.
The U.S. and its allies have seized about $30 billion in assets belonging to corrupt Russian oligarchs, Sullivan said.
“Corruption is no longer just about individual autocrats pilfering the nation’s wealth to live large. It is about their building out an entire system of governance aided by facilitators beyond their borders,” said Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
According to the latest global Corruption Perceptions Index, anti-corruption efforts have made no major progress for several years, Transparency International said in its annual release.
The index ranks countries based on public perceptions of corruption in the government and private sector. In 2021, the index ranked Denmark, Finland and New Zealand as the least corrupt, and South Sudan, Syria and Somalia as the most corrupt among 180 governments.
Over the past few years, perceptions of corruption in the U.S. have widened, dropping the country’s ranking from 16th in 2017 to 27th in 2021.
Last year, the U.S. government launched a new anti-corruption strategy that calls the fight against corruption “a core U.S. national security interest.”
Corruption has long been considered a domestic problem requiring national remedies.
Seizing the wealth and influence networks of corrupt officials and powerful individuals outside their national borders has rekindled some optimism that corruption can be treated as a top international agenda, experts say.
“I understand there are dynamics beyond fighting corruption that have to do with geopolitics and other affairs, but by solving key issues such as hiding the money, how the dirty money moves, the facilitators that allow those stealing the money to hide it and so on … these will have a spillover effect on every country,” Salas said.