December 9, declared as International Anti-Corruption Day by the United Nations in 2003, should be a day of concern and reflection for every citizen around the world. We are all affected, in one way or another, by the damaging effects of corruption, many times without even noticing it.

Did you know, for example, that two out of every ten pesos of income of poor families in Mexico is spent on petty bribes? Probably not. Most likely many victims have not realized the full extent of this either.  Have you ever imagined that countries with weak control of corruption, government effectiveness and rule of law have a 30 – 45 percent higher risk of civil war and a significantly higher risk of extreme criminal violence?

This is why today, December 9, serves as a reminder that corruption plagues the daily life of billions of people. Dealing with it is not only about doing the right thing as a moral human being; it is also about the progress of nations, quality of life, fairness and justice.

International Anti-Corruption Day should also be enjoyed as a day of celebration. We should take the time to acknowledge and find out more about the courageous and dedicated heroes fighting corruption around the world. One of these unsung people is Juan from Guatemala who took it upon himself as an ordinary citizen to try to stamp out nepotism in his local government. Despite being reportedly kidnapped by armed men in an attempt to scare him away from the case, he bravely stood by it.

Let’s also use this opportunity to recognize the progress that Latin America as a region has made. There have been positive developments, for example, through the promotion of access to information laws and practices, which are an indispensable precondition for accountability and transparency. Brazil became the latest country to join this regional trend giving this right to millions of citizens in South America.

To take part in the global celebrations and get more citizens involved in fight against corruption, Transparency International is carrying out several activities across the Americas today, with a particular emphasis in engaging the youth.

Participación Ciudadana from the Dominican Republic is hosting a ceremony for the winners of a contest where young people produced a one minute video showing how they imagine a world free of corruption would look like.  Transparencia Venezuela is also holding an event for the winners of a photo and cartoon competition. Transparencia Mexicana came up with the innovative idea of creating an “Integrity Font”, a new typography to show people’s commitment to integrity.  One of our Caribbean neighbors, with arguably some of the best dancers in the Americas, is putting these to the test with a flash mob dance as part of an information distribution event organized by the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute.

While honoring this day, let’s not forget, however, that the importance of anti-corruption work should not only be acknowledged on one particular day. It is a task and responsibility all of us as citizens have throughout the year on every single day. Especially, because it is a huge task. It took the twenty fastest reforming countries in the 20th century on average 27 years to reduce corruption. Fighting corruption is not and should not be the prerogative of a single actor. No single person or institution has the capacity to claim monopoly on the corruption fight. It is an issue that needs to be collectively addressed.

2011 has been inspirational and will remain in our memories as the year in which we witnessed millions of people, from Arab countries to Western democracies such as Brazil and Spain, taking to the streets to demand accountability from their leaders. Join today’s festivities, happy 9th of December, happy International Anti-Corruption Day!

Alejandro Salas is the Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption, active in more than 100 countries around the world. Twitter  @ASalasTI The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International.

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