Tuesday, December 7, 2021

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Hello, everyone. I want to thank you all for joining us during a week that we hope is striking fear into the hearts of corrupt actors and officials everywhere.

Yesterday, as you may know, the White House released the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, which offers new proposals to prevent corrupt actors from using America’s financial markets as their personal playground. And it outlines how we are bringing the fight against corruption to our assistance, and to our diplomatic, and security partnerships overseas.

Later this week, at President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, we will join with other world leaders to kick off a year of action, based on bold commitments to fight graft both inside and outside our borders.

And today, we are bringing all of you—a very talented and diverse group of government leaders, private sector partners, and civil society members. We are bringing all of you here together to tackle one of the thorniest problems of our day: the pillaging of a country’s wealth through illicit financial transactions, trafficking in high-value commodities like gold and diamonds, and unethical business dealings.

I’d like to start today’s discussion by sharing with you a bit about why this issue matters so deeply to the U.S. government, and to USAID. And say a word about how we can effectively prevent and counter corruption, and hold accountable those oligarchs and autocrats who seek to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Many of us here today have seen the devastating costs of corruption up close in some ways. Small businesses pressed for kickbacks to win government contracts. Refugees extorted for sex to get humanitarian relief. Civil wars fought over the spoils of state capture.

But whether we encounter corruption in our daily lives or not, we all are living its consequences. When one in five people worldwide have to pay a bribe to access medical care, that means that testing and treatment for diseases is less available and less equitable, accelerating the spread of viruses like COVID-19. When public officials are complicit in illegal logging or wildlife trafficking, that deepens environmental destruction, which of course can accelerate climate change everywhere. And when policymakers collude with many of our highest earners and largest corporations to skirt the law and evade a broken tax system, they deprive governments of funding for things that benefit everyone: education, childcare, roads and bridges.

Not only are elites siphoning off scarce public funds, they are, in the process, sapping legitimacy from democracy itself. Undermining the core premise that government is meant to work for the people. That’s why fighting corruption is one of the three priorities that President Biden has chosen for this week’s Summit for Democracy—because where corruption flourishes, democracy can wither.

Whereas corruption was once bound by national borders, today as you all know, it has become a fully global phenomenon. Local actors trying to fight corruption—let's say in Abuja, Caracas, or Beirut—hit roadblocks because the money that their public officials are stealing is being squirreled away in London, Dubai, or, increasingly, South Dakota, and Cleveland. Both the luxury apartments that shape our city skylines and the shuttered manufacturing plants that dot our heartlands are used to hide illicit cash and launder criminal proceeds through complex global transactions shrouded in financial secrecy.

So if you’re a journalist or an activist trying to follow the money in an investigation, if you are a business trying to clean up your supply chain, or even if you are an eager prosecutor hoping to hold a corrupt official to account, you are likely very quickly to run up against the transnational nature of corruption. It’s just not a problem that can be confronted in isolation.

That’s why, today, we are launching USAID’s latest Grand Challenge: Combating Transnational Corruption. This new program is aimed to encourage private businesses, civil society, universities, and entrepreneurs to crowdsource new tools and technologies to stop corrupt officials from plundering resources and moving them across borders.

Over the past decade, USAID has used these so-called Grand Challenges to tackle tough problems in a much more accessible and collaborative way than our traditional model of grants and contracts allow for. And in the past, these Grand Challenges have helped crack some of the major problems we’ve encountered on issues as diverse as childhood education, energy access, and maternal health.

I’m just going to give you one quick example to get the juices flowing here. As part of our first Grand Challenge, which was called Saving Lives at Birth, we looked for ways to help save the lives of mothers and children during the critical, 48-hour high-risk window that follows the onset of labor. Of the quarter-million women who die each year in childbirth, 99 percent are in low- and middle-income countries. And it turns out that a lack of properly-provided anesthesia is responsible for as many as eight percent of those deaths. A lot of women, a lot of mothers. In many of the poorest countries, there is only one anesthetist per million women, and very little reliable access to power and medical oxygen.

As part of this challenge, Gradian Health Systems, a small non-profit tech company based in New York, developed the world’s first anesthesia machine designed to work without electricity and medical oxygen to deliver anesthesia safely in any setting. That technology has since helped save thousands of lives, and its built-in oxygen concentrator has been used to ventilate COVID-19 patients in over 1,000 health facilities, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

I know this is not the topic of today, but it is to give you an indication of how these Grand Challenges have worked. The idea is that the funding we offer to tackle these challenges can draw in investment from partners and make our money stretch further. To date, for every dollar the U.S. has put forward, our Grand Challenges have generated almost $10 to invest in the creation of new solutions.

With this latest Grand Challenge that we are announcing today, we plan to work with companies like Mastercard, Google, and Amazon; governments like Sweden and Norway; philanthropic partners like the BHP Foundation; as well as innovators and activists from across the globe to detect, track, and disrupt corruption that cuts across borders.

Over the next five years, we will work to develop technologies and digital tools that can help catch corrupt officials in the act of smuggling gold bars or precious gems out of their country. As we have done in Ukraine and elsewhere, we will pilot new algorithms to flag suspicious financial transactions before public funds are pilfered and sent overseas. And we will seek out new approaches to protect legitimate businesses from being co-opted and coerced by corrupt networks, so that they can flourish without paying bribes.

And we will do several new things we have not yet thought of. That’s up to you, you’ve got to help us think of these things, co-creating new solutions with you, and many others who we hope to recruit in this essential fight. By creating a Grand Challenge that is open to all to participate in, we want to broaden the number of people focused on tackling the problems that bedevil us in global development, and make our work more accessible to a much wider range of partners.

To truly stamp out dark money, is going to take a lot of light, from sources we may not have tapped before. But I can already sense, through the computer, through the Blue Jeans app, the sparks that are flying out there. And I look forward to where the rest of today’s conversation, and this pivotal week, as well as this multi-year Grand Challenge, will take us.

Thank you so much.

Samantha Power Summit for Democracy
Share This Page