20131209 It’s Anti Corruption Day. As if anyone noticed.

The UNODC works hard, ceaselessly, not entirely tirelessly, to combat a wide range of serious offences that not only harm economies but put lives at risk. They run campaigns. Today, as “Anti Corruption Day” dawns, one has to ask why they bother.

The answer is because they must. Corruption is insidious. In many countries it is endemic. Being British, it is embarrassing to come to the realisation that the most obvious legacy we have left in former colonies is not democracy, which is often shaky, but a system of patronage and corruption.

But it’s not just us: the Spanish (e.g. much of Latin America), the French (most of that part of Africa that we, the British, did not lay claim to) and the USA (e.g. The Philippines) have all left countries that have become horribly corrupt. It happened on our watch, too: Hong Kong became so corrupt that fire engines would stand at the scene of a fire until someone paid the officers to put out the fire; ambulances would stand waiting for the crew to be paid before they would treat or pick up an ill or injured person. The case of an especially corrupt (and at the time it took some effort to be “especially corrupt”) police officer led to the creation of The Independent Commission Against Corruption. Three, almost four, decades later ICAC is an icon, turning Hong Kong into a beacon of hope in a world where corruption often seems more present than absent.

It’s into this that the UNODC steps. It’s facing a hopeless task. Today, the day it tries to get support for its anti-corruption campaign under the banner of “International Anti Corruption Day”, the most surprising thing is that the media is paying so little attention. It’s almost as if there is no will to help combat corruption. Then again, as the world comes to grips with the corruption in the media, of paying sources for access to information that they should not have access to, perhaps there’s good reason for many newspapers, etc. not to lift their heads above the parapet; hypocrisy is ugly. Basically. the only coverage is media releases from government departments around the world saying what they are going to do to mark the day.

It’s not as if there are not regular initiatives: leaving aside Transparency International (I first came across them in their very early days and thought them self-serving, self-promoting and with a business model that was designed to obscure their business intentions – an opinion I have not had cause to revise) the IMF, The World Bank, The Asian Development Bank, The … the list goes on … have all devoted considerable efforts to combating corruption and, in some cases, there have been some positive responses. But successes are few and far between.

And so, the UNODC’s latest idea, that of promoting a contest among the world’s young has the merits of being novel and of targeting those who, hopefully, are not already corrupt in the hope of creating a culture change that will eventually grow through society.

But it’s difficult when supposedly respectable politicians give favours to their friends and supporters; or repay favours as in the case of the Blair/Brown combine in the UK. It’s difficult when a large corporation gives jobs to relatives of influential politicians – which is after all how big business has operated since, at least, the industrial revolution – and even moreso when the business is in the business of trust, for example a bank like JP Morgan. It’s difficult when a country is regarded as almost immune to corruption to find that, outside its own borders, its corporations pay bribes just as much as anyone else, as in the case of Germany and Siemens and Mercedes.

Publicity – both of those who are involved in the giving and receiving of bribes or of becoming unjustly enriched from projects – is essential: corruption cannot thrive in the bright light of publicity. But equally, the slow drip of information that raises the consciousness of those who would act against corruption is needed. We need to see that anti-corruption measures are for life, not just for a day shortly before Christmas.

There’s a mountain of publicity material at http://www.anticorruptionday.org/actagainstcorruption/en/print/index.html . Even if the media doesn’t print it, we can all help by spreading the word, even if it’s only for today. We need to start somewhere.