Growing corruption in times of epidemics: chaos is full of opportunities

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Once a crisis has erupted, it is tempting to withdraw the maintenance of sanctions against the perpetrators of corruption. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, a hasty global response could create opportunities for transplants, including fraud and bribery, stemming from a lack of awareness of infection risk and the need for immediate action. Health-care systems in recipient countries suffer from chronic systemic weaknesses that make it difficult to respond to the crisis. In a pandemic, the number of people willing to use emergencies to abuse power for private purposes will soar. Unless protective measures are taken quickly, the level of corruption could be enormous, with potentially devastating consequences for the health system and public health. 

The Ebola virus spread from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia to other parts of the world in 2014. Continued oversight by the WHO of the procurement and donation of aid can limit counterfeiting and fraud, as well as the use of public funds. The report shows that the Ebola epidemic led to misreported salary payments and duplicate deliveries to health workers receiving medical care or leaving quarantine zones. The International Red Cross estimates the total cost of false reports of salaries, payments and duplicate deliveries to be more than $6 million. As a result of the SARS outbreak in 2003, Taiwan established a national command center to help coordinate and manage future health emergencies. Exceptional outbreaks like this also reveal cracks in health systems, underscoring the risk that corruption itself could undermine the response to pandemics. As communities around the world face new threats to their health and safety, promoting health security should be a top priority for governments. Even in normal seasons, corruption in the health sector causes losses of up to $500 billion. In addition, compliance with anti-corruption rules can be pushed further down the list of priorities by other factors such as lack of access to health care, poor governance and insufficient funding. The Justice Department and the SEC have accepted coronavirus defenses from some companies, but compliance officers should explicitly point to the disruption caused by the coronavirus and stress that the company is committed to complying with anti-corruption laws. They should try to protect themselves from and be aware of situations such as the coronavirus, which could increase the risk of corruption. 

The Deloitte Bribery and Corruption Report 2020 arms that the risk of bribery, corruption, money laundering and other forms of corruption is on the rise. Organisations “commitment to integrity” is being tested by the rise of organised crime gangs and the emergence of new threats to the integrity of the global economy. Employers must support their employees, organizations, and the general public by ensuring that they implement policies and programs against bribery. The Global Fund recognises that when it comes to the risk of bribery, corruption, money laundering and other forms of corruption in the global economy, it has sound policies to prevent, detect and prosecute these crimes and to protect human rights and civil liberties. Bilateral donor funding is already increasing through the Global Fund and the Fund is considering grants to combat outbreaks of SARS and CoV-2. As recommended in the 2019 U4 edition, donors providing assistance through multi-partner funds should aim to share understanding and risk-taking with intended recipients. This allows donors to pool through a combination of trustworthy grants – the creation of institutions and established anti-corruption mechanisms. It is essential that existing investments made available to combat disease are used strategically, in particular in areas such as food security, water and sanitation, health care, education and health and nutrition.This will ensure that the development aid used to combat the virus is well spent and benefits those who need it most. The existence of new corruption trends related to disease outbreaks and the destructive role of corruption in disease prevention and control can not be denied. Simply put, corruption is the exploitation of official positions for personal gain, and by May 2020 there will already be more corruption-related incidents than in any other period in history, with reduced transparency and accountability, and reduced freedom of the press. By exploiting fear, suffering, and a sense of urgency, disasters offer perfect opportunities for corruption.

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