As governments spend trillions of dollars on COVID-19 response, billions of dollars – and many lives – could be lost if that money is not closely monitored and accounted for.
In fact, it’s already happening. Federal prosecutors in Brazil have launched more than 400 investigations into suspected cases of corruption involving COVID-19 money. In Colombia, 14 of the country’s 32 governors are suspected of corruption involving emergency COVID-19 funds. Bolivia’s health minister was arrested on suspicion of corruption related to the overpriced purchase of ventilators. In Kenya, the hashtag #MoneyHeist trended on Twitter over public outrage of the government’s handling of emergency funds. Parliamentarians in Uganda were ordered to return $2.6 million they had allocated to themselves to “raise awareness about coronavirus” after public concerns were raised.
Governments and international institutions have announced spending of at least $16 trillion thus far in response to COVID-19, and governments have enacted hundreds of fiscal policies to offset the pandemic’s impacts. By necessity, these decisions are being taken and money spent very rapidly; yet often there is little or no oversight, increasing the risk that money is stolen or mismanaged and that additional lives are lost or ruined.
To ensure that emergency funds have maximum impact, governments and multilateral development banks should embed a set of principles in all emergency and economic support programs.