Investigating corruption during COVID-19

Tips for journalists with UNODC

8 July 2020

As Covid-19 is sweeping the planet, governments and businesses are trying to protect citizens and the economy.

In response to COVID-19, governments announced new tender processes to buy protective gear, distribute food, and offer SME loans. The necessary speed and ad hoc nature of these activities can lead in some cases to increased risk for mismanagement or corruption.

“A simplified procurement system, bribery in provision of medical services, unfair/imbalanced distribution of relief measures and aid, fraud related to falsified medicines, protective equipment (e.g. masks, gloves), and low quality of medical equipment due to the lack of monitoring and oversight of simplified procurement processes are just some examples that provide opportunities for corruption.” – UNODC

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Myanmar released 10 guidelines for governments to mitigate the risks. What is the role of journalists in preventing corruption during the pandemic? Here is our interpretation of articles, activities and focus areas for media to prevent corruption from going unnoticed in this challenging time.

1. Enhance the integrity and accountability of public sector

Journalists can investigate if governmental institutions “strictly follow public procurement and financial standards in accordance with the relevant laws and procedures” even in this challenging time.

2. Public sector decisions and policies on Covid-19 related relief measures should be transparent and available to the public.

Report on relief measures or, if data is not available, the lack of availability of public information about relief funds and procurement in the health sector.

3. Ensure accountability and transparency in decision making

Investigate possible links between public officials and their family and friends, or paid bribes “in exchange for aid, loans, medical service or other types of relief measures”.

4. Avoid conflict of interest in decision making

The appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided, even if no money is exchanged. Media organisations should note and report on public officials giving “relief aid or other benefits for family members, friends or other people with whom they have very close political, business or personal contacts.”

5. Ensure clear and transparent procedures for the distribution of relief measures for private sector

“The economic relief packages for private sector should be allocated in a transparent manner. Clear rules on preconditions for entitlement of these measures should be prepared in advance and publicly available,” UNODC states.

In case, the rules for economic relief packages are not publically available; media organisations can request these rules with government officials and write an article if they do not receive the requested information which should be publically available.

6. Reduce opportunities for bribery in administration
7. Keep the records on all the procedures and procurement

Investigate internal practices and procedures. Is there more than one person responsible for allocating funds? Is there a proper accounting system to prevent information from being backdated, for example? Are records of international and humanitarian aid being stored and made available to auditors?

“The health sector might be most vulnerable to bribery, fraud and corruption during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

8. Protect the most vulnerable health sector

Pay extra attention to possible fraud in the health sector, for example:

  • paying bribes to leave quarantine facilities or access a preferred facility;
  • (appearance of) conflict of interest in the development of drugs and vaccines;
  • fraud with malfunctioning or overpriced protective gear or medical equipment;
  • corruption to get access to COVID-19 tests;
  • mismanagement of funds by medical facilities like hospitals, quarantine facilities and labs.

9. Strengthen whistleblower protection

Journalists should ensure that the identity of their sources and the whistleblowers is always protected. They can write articles about whistleblowers and on lack of effective whistleblower protection in their country.

10. Strengthen the monitoring, audit and oversight mechanisms

“Particularly the CSOs that are involved in the delivery of aid to the poorest families in Myanmar states and regions should remain alert and look out for any wrongdoing and bribery in relation to delivery of aid.” Media can follow up with civil society organisations in the poorest regions to find out stories about wrongdoing in remote areas with vulnerable people.

To sum up the recommendations for media: investigate transparency issues, ask for access to information, write articles about lack of access to information, investigate corruption rumours and follow up with corruption experts and civil society organisations.

And of course, also follow the Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics of your media organisation or press council. Access the UNODC guidelines for governments in more detail here.


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