Corruption is taking a toll. The United Nations puts its annual cost at $3.6 trillion—about five percent of global GDP. That’s almost twice the GDP of Brazil.
The consequences for economic growth and for the welfare of ordinary people are severe – and no country is immune. This is a global crisis, and billions of people are worse off for it. We need to act.
The G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan (2019-2021) is a good place to start. It’s a consensus statement from the G20 that anti-corruption measures are critical to economic prosperity everywhere, and it gives concrete guidance on how to fight back.
Using the G20 Plan as a framework, I see three core areas in which accountants are especially well-positioned to tackle corruption in all of its pervasive forms.
First, anti-money laundering. Financial institutions usually have been the target of anti-money laundering policies, but non-financial business and professions, including the accountancy profession, are also in the fray.
IFAC supports the work of the Financial Action Task Force, among other national and international bodies, including FATF’s recommendations to bring accountants into the AML framework. Of course, we need the implementation to be smart and effective, but we believe that the FATF recommendations give national policy makers sufficient flexibility to make this work.
It’s worth expanding the discussion of money laundering to larger issues of financial crime. Criminals in the digital age are more prolific and tech-savvy than ever. As a result, all financial crimes, including money-laundering, are getting harder to prevent or discover.
Professional accountants should see the immense value in developing high-technology skillsets to help their organizations meet legal obligations and protect their resources.
Second, whistleblower protections. They are essential to empower people who uncover corruption, and in the process, to deter it and raise the integrity of entire institutions. IFAC supports the adoption of whistleblower protection legislation in all jurisdictions in line with principles advanced by the G20, the OECD, and the International Bar Association.
Beyond top-down change, IFAC encourages accounting firms, businesses, and professional accountancy organizations to take initiative and act according to the same principles. Regulators and governments must also commit to upholding and deepening whistleblower protections whenever possible.
Third, transparency across public and private sectors. The effects of corruption in the public sector are particularly devastating, directly affecting the quality of public services and the rule of law. This threatens not just economies and markets, but also the standard of living in many countries.
Public sector transparency is critical to illuminate illicit cash flows, transactions, and budgeting for public scrutiny. Governments can improve transparency by committing to the implementation of internationally recognized financial reporting standards that comprehensively capture their financial performance and position. IFAC supports the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) by advocating for the adoption and implementation of accrual-based International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).
Although it acts independently, the private sector is an essential partner of governments in the fight against corruption. Private sector activity itself accounts for most economic activity in most markets; anti-corruption measures that increase private sector transparency are crucial to the trust the public—including investors—put in the backbone of the economy.
The International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, set by the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants, is the gold standard for integrity and transparency in the private sector as well as the public sector. IFAC also advocates for adoption of International Standards on Auditing, which are high-quality international standards for auditing, assurance, and quality control.
Professional accountants should also look to G20 and OECD/UNODC/World Bank guidelines for transparency and integrity in business. Enhancing corporate reporting is also a means for organizations to give more comprehensive and transparent disclosures.
We’ll never get rid of corruption. Criminals will always find a way to undermine public and private institutions, with terrible consequences for economies and individuals. But with clear set of a principles, a plan for action, and the will to act, we can fight back and stand up for the public interest. Professional accountants have a big role to play and a great opportunity to lead. Seizing that opportunity is essential to fulfilling the profession’s commitment to ethics and the public interest.