|UNITED NATIONS OFFICE|
FOR DRUG CONTROL AND CRIME PREVENTION
Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity Among Justice and Security Officials
|Washington, D.C., USA|
24 February 1999
Check Against Delivery
Introduction -- Corruption is not inherent to any one society:
Mr. Vice President. Distinguished colleagues. I want to begin by congratulating you for convening today's conference on corruption. Until recently, the topic was a not a priority for the international community. But that is changing.
Corruption is not inherent to any one society. Its reach is global. According to the United Nations World Development report in 1997, fifteen percent of all companies in industrialized nations have to pay bribes to win or retain business. In Asia, the figure is 40 percent and in the countries of the former Soviet Union, 60 percent of all companies must pay bribes to do business.
A rising tide can lift (or sink) all boats:
In the new global economic and political world, where a rising tide has the potential to lift -- or sink -- all boats, the ups and downs of one region can make waves time zones away. People demand that no person or group should start with an unfair advantage when it comes to public transactions. Taxpayers, shareholders and citizens have a right to ask for greater transparency. When a dictator puts a million dollars in a secret bank account, or drug money is laundered, or a business executive skims profits -- it affects the lives of millions of people.
Many Governments, global business, international organizations have stopped looking the other way. The U.N. General Assembly has adopted an International Code of Conduct for Public Officials and a Declaration Against Corruption. And in 1997, the OECD countries joined the U.S. by signing the Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. These are all important developments. But what are the next steps and how serious are the problems?
The effects of corruption on society:
According to the World Bank, widespread corruption can cause the growth rate of a country to be one-half to 1 percentage points lower than that of a similar country with less corruption. And equally significant, widespread corruption slows investment.
In the age of globalization, there are plenty of reliable places for investors to maximize their profits. A corrupt country misses out on the long-term investments that are most beneficial to developing societies, robbing them of opportunities to improve their social systems and the lives of ordinary citizens.
But global business has a responsibility in helping to end this cycle. When multi-nationals choose to operate within the system of a corrupt country, they cannot simply "get-along-to-go-along." The bribe-takers will hold the cards as long as the potential to make an easy, illegal profit exists.
Corrupt public administrators undermine the basic system of checks and balances that operate in a free society. When a bureaucracy, political party or judicial system becomes infected, the results can shake the foundations of even the most advanced nations. For example, in Italy, in the years after World War Two, payoffs to political parties started at 5 percent of the price of government contracts. The bribery percentage eventually tripled and quadrupled. As the amount of bribe money grew, it shifted into the personal bank accounts of politicians, judges and middlemen.
By the early 1990's, the Italian situation finally exploded into a nationwide scandal, called mani pulite. People demanded change and greater accountability. Political parties that had existed for decades collapsed almost overnight and some of the corrupt politicians were brought to justice.
In recent years, this kind of scenario has played out in many other countries. In places as diverse as Pakistan, Venezuela, Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil, voters have shown they will not tolerate politicians tainted by corruption. We must capitalize on this sentiment. It is time for the international community to deliver concrete support to countries that are ready to tackle the issue.
The Global Programme against Corruption:
At the United Nations, we have recently launched the Global Programme against Corruption. Our goal is to assist countries in building their own institutional capacity to prevent and fight the problem at the source. This means expanding our technical assistance. And we are providing better comparative data about corruption to promote accountability, transparency and rule of law. In particular, our research will explore the corruption-organized crime nexus.
Mr. Vice-President. Our global anti-corruption programme is part of a larger strategy to attack the structural underpinnings of organized crime.
We are taking coordinated actions to extend -- to all countries -- measures that will strike at the heart of corruption. This means abolishing bank secrecy in criminal investigations worldwide; establishing adequate legislation for the confiscation of criminal assets; promoting witness protection programmes; urging the adoption of universal standards to counter money laundering; and guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary. Each of these elements is crucial to the success of a strong Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
The philosopher Edmund Burke said, "liberty cannot long exist among a people generally corrupt." Widespread corruption introduces a deadly does of moral pollution into society. It distorts values that can be as harmful as the material damage itself. People must not give in to the belief that power is based solely on deception or violence, and that the only way to achieve success and wealth is through crime and corruption.
Today we are taking another important step forward towards rejection of the idea that corruption is innate and unavoidable. The time is right to bolster the global movement for greater transparency and achieve lasting reforms.