DEAD SEA, Jordan, 10 December 2006 - The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, urged governments on Sunday to take practical action to combat crimes such as bribery, embezzlement and influence-peddling in order to convince a sceptical public that it was possible to fight corruption.
Opening a high-level conference on corruption, the UNODC Executive Director said the international climate against corruption was changing, as reflected in high-profile criminal trials and even in the ousting of governments.
But greater progress was needed. The United Nations Convention against Corruption, which came into force a year ago, provided a global framework for effective action and its faster implementation would provide the necessary momentum.
In his opening address, Mr Costa asked delegates from 89 countries:
"Are you freezing, seizing and confiscating assets? Do you enforce codes of conduct for public officials, with disclosures of their annual earnings and assets? This would answer simple, yet tough, questions from the public, such as how certain officials own new Mercedes cars while earning $200 per month."
All countries -- whether rich or poor -- needed to learn how to protect witnesses and whistleblowers, how to deal with money-laundering and how to improve transparency in procurement contracts and the management of public finances. UNODC had the tools and expertise to assist them, the Executive Director added.
The first Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, attended by ministers, policy-makers, parliamentarians, practitioners and representatives of NGOs and the private sector, began on Sunday at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre on the Dead Sea, Jordan. It will continue until December 14.
Nearly 150 countries have signed the Convention, the first legally binding international instrument against corruption, and 80 have so far ratified it.
Mr Costa urged participants "not to go through the usual conference motions" but to take decisive steps to turn the Convention into the powerful piece of international law it was intended to be.
"Some States have not yet ratified the Convention because they want to ensure that good domestic legislation is in place," he said. "Others have ratified the Convention, but need help with implementation. In some instances, the political will is there, but the capacity is lacking. In other cases, lack of capacity has been an excuse."
Mr Costa expressed hope that the Jordan conference would, as a minimum, make progress in establishing a mechanism for monitoring implementation of the Convention.
Reviewing developments since the Convention came into force, he said: "One area where I see marked progress is in the creation of anti-corruption authorities. However, there are still too many token anti-corruption authorities, shells with insufficient resources, poorly trained staff and dependent on their political masters. This needs to change."
Getting international agreement on returning stolen assets to their countries of origin had been a major achievement of the Convention. "I urge you to take a political decision at this Conference in order to increase the capacity of States to prevent the diversion of assets and to help victims get their money back," Mr Costa said.
A new system for measuring corruption was needed, building on perception-based tools such as the Transparency International index.
Turning to the private sector, Mr Costa urged companies to pass on good practices in fighting corruption to their business partners in countries where corruption was rife.
The practice of certain mining and oil companies of Publish What You Pay - disclosing instances in which they had been forced to pay bribes - should be extended to other industries.
"The experience gained by such innovative initiatives could be applied across the full spectrum of business activities. You would be surprised to discover how far public disclosure and moral suasion can go, with a bit of naming and -- if needed -- shaming."
The UNODC head urged international development banks to put the Convention at the core of their anti-corruption strategies.
"This is not only essential for strengthening integrity. It is also an insurance policy for development assistance and the protection of assets. Official development assistance is a gigantic resource-transfer mechanism that could help a lot to promote integrity in public affairs."
Finally, Mr Costa said organizations such as the United Nations should apply the Convention in their own work. "Let us practise what we preach," he said.
Full text of Mr Costa's speech available here.
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