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Root out corruption in the green energy supply chain

In this early 2022 photo provided by Global Witness, a new rare earth mine is dug into the side of a mountain in Pangwa, Kachin, Myanmar. The region is close to the Chinese border and the home of hundreds of rare earth mining sites. Bleaching agents used in extracting rare earth elements have tainted tributaries of Myanmar’s main river, prompted landslides and poisoned the earth, according to witnesses, miners and local activists. (Global Witness via AP)

This week, as anti-corruption leaders from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 2022 International Anti-Corruption Conference and global officials prepared to recognize today as International Anti-Corruption Day, meanwhile, the leading anti-corruption official in Malawi was arrested.

Martha Chizuma, chief of Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau, whose investigations of corruption at the highest levels of government led to the arrest of the country’s Vice president two weeks ago and prompted Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera to dissolve his entire cabinet earlier this year, was taken into custody and briefly detained by Malawi’s police — a move that drew condemnation from Malawi’s president as well as international observers.

The incident demonstrates the two-step-forward, one-step back dance that often characterizes high-level anti-corruption work. It also demonstrates the need for the U.S. government, global institutions and philanthropy to invest in this fight for the long term — especially as we prioritize a green energy transition dependent on natural resources from developing nations.

Last month, USAID took a step in the right direction to invest in civil society with the launch of the $3 million Just Energy Transition (JET) Minerals Anti-Corruption Challenge, which supports nonprofit organizations and innovators working to root out corruption in the green energy supply chain. With the right institutional foundation and a culture of transparency and accountability, the “green mining boom” has the potential to fund transformative, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in many of the poorest countries on the planet.

The USAID JET Minerals Challenge aims to avoid a repeat of the “resource curse.” As the world pivots toward new ways to fuel our energy needs, the initiative seeks innovative solutions to ensure that countries rich in green minerals such as cobalt and lithium do not suffer the same fate as many oil-rich countries that have seen billions siphoned off to pad secret bank accounts abroad.

Establishing anti-corruption guardrails is crucial — and government can’t do it alone. A growing number of countries have created high-profile watchdogs and supreme audit institutions to tackle grand corruption. The leaders and staff of these offices risk their lives and their reputation to tackle corruption at the highest level.

As former Guatemalan magistrate Claudia Escobar Mejía said recently, “when you fight corruption, corruption fights back.” Escobar Mejía speaks from personal experience. She currently lives in the U.S., where she is now a George Mason University government professor, after fleeing Guatemala for her life.

Consider Sierra Leone’s Auditor General Lara Taylor-Pearce, who was suspended by President Julius Maada Bio last year, just weeks before she was to publicly present an audit report on the government’s financial stewardship. She now stands before a tribunal that has sidelined her work for more than one year.

Consider also the dismissal last year of Ghana’s Auditor-General Daniel Domelevo by President Nana Akufo-Addo, a move criticized by civil society organizations across the region. Domelevo had been lauded by civil society for his “exceptional dedication” and for recovering tens of millions of Cedis in unauthorized government spending or misappropriated government funds.

Increased support from the U.S. government, international organizations and philanthropists can ensure that these watchdogs don’t become lap dogs.

President Joe Biden once described corruption as “a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity.”

It is also a huge stumbling block to development. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that funds lost to corruption are 10 times the amount of official development assistance. What would our world look like if countries like Malawi, Sierra Leone and Ghana, among the poorest on the planet, had 10 times more funding for education, health care and economic development?

We won’t and can’t meet our development goals without strengthening governance, transparency and accountability — as well as rooting out corruption.

Corruption is not intractable. The history of Botswana, SingaporeTaiwan, among others, demonstrate that corruption can be tackled and significantly reduced.

Given the scale of the problem, we need to take a multi-pronged approach. Governments, civil society organizations, businesses and other stakeholders should join the fight to replace corruption with cultures of integrity to build a more prosperous and sustainable world.

Where effective, high-level anti-corruption offices exist, like in Malawi, they should be supported. Where they do not exist and where government is captured, such as is the case in Paraguay, Nicaragua and the Democratic Republic of Congo, civil society and the media may serve as checks on corruption.

Philanthropy and international organizations can play a vital role by helping connect and equip global anti-corruption champions. These brave champions for democracy and transparency can’t do it alone.

Tim Hanstad is CEO of the Chandler Foundation,which supports senior anti-corruption officials dedicated to strengthening public integrity via the three-year Chandler Sessions on Integrity and Corruption program. Hanstad is also co-founder of Landesa and a Skoll Social Entrepreneur awardee. Follow him on Twitter: @timhanstad

Tags Energy Fossil fuels green energy Lazarus Chakwera Supply chain Technology
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