It is obvious that corruption in the public sector brings along serious consequences for the global economic as a whole – to the extent that the affected amounts are diverted from their legitimate goals – and for specific economic sectors as well. The Environment is not an exception.
Environmental management encompasses a large number of sectors where activities are subject to the granting of prior consents, licenses or authorizations, thus being fertile land for corruption. Water supply, exploitation of natural resources and management of toxic and dangerous waste are only a few examples of areas that are sensitive to the activities of corrupt public officials.
And corruption exists at all levels. From large corruption cases that are clearly visible in all media (construction permits for large infrastructure projects, licenses for the exploration or exploitation of hydrocarbons, mining permits, etc.) to daily minor corruption cases at local level, this disease adopts a myriad of forms and ill procedures.
The so called “urbanistic corruption” in particular entails serious environmental consequences to the extent that it places the private illegal interests of corrupt public officials or civil servants (who “joint venture” with private construction companies) over and above public interest by re-qualifying rustic or protected land and natural spaces to become areas where luxury construction is permitted in furtherance of allegedly high goals such as “economic development” or significant “social benefits” such as increased employment levels in a given area; when the goal is actually nothing but the furtherance of private illegal benefits for a reduced number of individuals in high social layers.
While the European Commission considers that Spain ranks among those countries more heavily contributing to gross up the 120 million Euros that corruption drains from legitimate funds, Europe is not exclusive. The devastation of Amazonian forests or the lumber illegal traffic in certain regions of East Asia – hosting perhaps some 7-8% of the total mature forests in the world – rank on top of this special and corrupt competition for affecting the planet’s environmental balance and biodiversity through the joint illegal activity of all operators along the distribution chain of lumber resources.
As far as water is concerned, figures indicate that corruption in the contracting processes of public works could increase the costs of infrastructure construction by as much as 40 per cent, thus demanding more than 12 billion US dollars more every year to provide drinking water, sanitation and agricultural products.
In a nutshell, corruption not only affects the environment but also has an extremely high social cost, to the extent that its impact on natural resources causes severe damage to the most disadvantaged social layers. The benefits of corruption are shared among those having political or economic power thus producing an unfair (to call it someway) distribution of critical resources such as water and a clean environment.
At International level, a number of Conventions against corruption have been signed in recent times such as
- The UN Convention against Corruption (December, 2005)
- The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto (September, 2003)
- The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (December, 2006)
In addition to the presently known offences, some new illegal activities are popping up such as those related to Emissions Trading and ill Management of Water Resources. And many of such unlawful activities are being carried out in an organized manner by despicable organizations at international but also at national levels and featuring a sustained increase by contaminating public bodies controlled by given political parties.
The NGO Transparency International considers that
“Environmental degradation is another consequence of corrupt systems. The lack of,or non-enforcement of, environmental regulations and legislation means that precious natural resources are carelessly exploited, and entire
ecological systems are ravaged. From mining to logging, to carbon offsets, companies across the globe continue to pay bribes in return for a right to
It is necessary to implement approved controls on the way public servants behave and act, by establishing clear criteria, principles and procedures.
Recent cases involving the award of significant mining concessions are clear cut examples of illegal activities such as the ones described in this report.
All these problems can be sometimes addressed by simply implementing (or improving) adequate regulatory controls capable of preventing abuses. Some other times it is a matter of granting judges, prosecutors and auditors enough authority to apply controlling actions (such as environmental audits) and resources to demand either strict compliance with the law or the public responsibility of the politicians and public officials vested with decision making authority in public contracts and awards, thus allowing for the right control and transparency of the process by all parties involved.