Corruption and the COVID-19 Vaccine: The Looming Problem of Distribution

From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, activists and analysts have called attention to the significant corruption risks associated with the response to both the public health crisis itself and the economic disruption it has caused. Anticorruption advocates have highlighted, for example, the corruption risks associated with the distribution of relief funds and personal protective equipment, and have emphasized the need for reforms like enhancing transparency, requiring audits, and ensuring protections for whistleblowers. (For samples of the discussion of the need for anticorruption measures in coronavirus response, see here, here, here, and here.) Yet there has been surprisingly little sustained discussion or planning concerning a specific issue which, while still prospective, is of pressing global importance: the inevitable corruption risks that will be associated with the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, if and when such a vaccine becomes available.

This is not to say that there has been no exploration of the subject. Commentators have discussed the difficulties of ensuring that a vaccine is distributed equitably, as opposed to simply being given to the most affluent, and have called attention to the problems of black markets and price gouging that are likely to emerge once vaccines are available. There has also been some general, abstract discussion of the fact that the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, once one exists, has significant potential for both grand and petty corruption. Absent from the discussion, though, has been the development of concrete plans for incorporating anticorruption measures in vaccine distribution—plans that take into account the inherent logistical challenges. The World Health Organization (WHO), to its credit, has released a seventeen-page plan for fair allocation of a COVID vaccine, which discusses detailed measures to ensure that vaccines are distributed fairly. However, the WHO plan devotes little more than a page to promises of “strong accountability mechanisms” in the governing bodies to “ensure protection against undue influence.” The WHO does note that the primary role of its own Independent Allocation Validation Group is to ensure that proposals from the vaccine Allocation Taskforce remain “transparent and free from conflicts of interest,” but while this sort of internal monitoring is laudable, the WHO plan conspicuously lacks any further guidance or recommendations on appropriate anticorruption measures once the vaccines are handed over to their allocated countries.

Although the timeline for a vaccine remains uncertain—and there’s no guarantee that a vaccine will be available any time soon—it would make sense for both international organizations and national governments to identify the most likely corruption risks associated with vaccine distribution and to begin developing safeguards to mitigate those risks. While there are many possible corruption risks associated with vaccine distribution, the two most significant are diversion of vaccines and extortion. Let’s examine each in turn:

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Guest Post: Aid Agencies Need to Improve Their Anticorruption Strategies and Implementation in Fragile States

GAB is pleased to welcome back Jesper Johnson, who contributes the following guest post:

Last year, Nils Taxell, Thor Olav Iversen and I contributed a guest post about the EU’s anticorruption strategy and its implementation (calling development aid a blind spot for EU anticorruption efforts), based on a report which was presented twice in the European Parliament. This material was part of a wider comparative study of the anticorruption strategies of the World Bank, European Commission, and UNDP that has just been published as a book by Edward Elgar. The book is the first major comparative study of work to help governments in fragile states counter corruption by the three multilateral aid agencies. The focus is on fragile states, where aid agencies face the greatest challenges in terms of both strategy and implementation. Although many recent reports and agreements, including the OECD’s New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report, have emphasized that agencies need to change the way they work in fragile states—in particular, the traditional policy frameworks cannot be uncritically copied from a non-fragile contexts—this message has not yet trickled down to the way these three multilateral aid agencies do anticorruption. Anticorruption and state-building policies are often disconnected or incoherent, and challenges rooted in the organization of the agencies prevent strategies from translating into results. More specifically, all three aid agencies shared a number of characteristics that inhibited their ability to address corruption in fragile states more effectively: Continue reading

Guest Post: Curbing Judicial Corruption To Make “Justice For All” a Reality

Elodie Beth, Asia-Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), submits the following guest post:

Judicial corruption is a serious problem, one that threatens further progress on a range of other good governance and institution-building initiatives. According to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, citizens around the world perceive the judiciary as the second-most corruption-prone sector (after the police). That depressing figure is a worldwide average; in some countries, the situation is even worse. For example, a recent study by the International Bar Association in Cambodia (discussed at greater length here) reported that Cambodian lawyers estimated that bribes are paid to judges or clerks in 90% of cases. Some renowned judges and legal experts have taken the matter in their own hands at the international level by creating the Judicial Integrity Group and developing the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct. However, the implementation of the Principles remains a major challenge in many countries.

One way to help fight corruption in the judiciary would be to incorporate anticorruption more explicitly and comprehensively into judicial capacity assessments. Many development partners have already created tools and methods to assess the judiciary, but with a few exceptions, these evaluation tools rarely focus on corruption. Moreover, these judicial assessments tend to be externally driven, meaning that their recommendations often do not generate a sense of ownership on the part of the judiciary being evaluated, and there is therefore often too little follow-up.

So what more can we do? Fortunately, there are some lessons we can draw from UNDP’s capacity development work for other institutions and sectors, such as National Human Rights Institutions and anticorruption agencies, while keeping in mind some of the specific characteristics of the judiciary. UNDP’s recent report A Transparent and Accountable Judiciary To Deliver Justice for All, produced jointly with the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, illustrates how experiences from around the world can help promote judicial integrity. The report also suggests some general principles that could guide capacity assessments of the justice sector and follow-up implementation strategies: Continue reading

Guest Post: Empowering Youth To Fight Corruption — Examples from Kosovo

Shqipe Neziri, Manager with UNDP’s anticorruption program in Kosovo, contributes the following guest post on behalf of UNDP-Kosovo. [Note: For purposes of this post, in reflection of the fact that Kosovo is not a member of the UN, references to “Kosovo” should be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)):

Young people are often forgotten victims of corruption, left without an opportunity to voice their concerns, to help make positive changes, or to enhance their skills and become active citizens for a better future. Yet young people can play an important role in the fight against corruption. They tend to be more open to wide-scale socio-political transformation and have less vested interested in maintaining the status quo. Moreover, the values and attitudes of young people today will shape the values of the society tomorrow. The question is how to harness then energy and innovation of young people, and to provide the right kinds of support.

UNDP’s recent efforts in Kosovo may provide an example of how to foster a youth-based anticorruption movement. Corruption in Kosovo is a serious problem, viewed by Kosovars as the third-most serious problem, after poverty and unemployment. Kosovo’s population skews young –half of its 2 million citizens are under the age of 30 – and Kosovo’s young people are frustrated by corruption and lack of economic opportunity. (The overall unemployment rate is 35%, while unemployment rate of youth aged 15-24 years is 60%.) For several years, UNDP Kosovo has been placing youth at the core of its development support. Through our anticorruption efforts we have been helping to strengthen the voice of the youth and to foster their participation in decision making through the use of traditional and social media, and working to make institutions more responsive to youth.

What are some of our most successful youth-focused anticorruption initiatives? Here are some examples, which might serve as useful models for others: Continue reading