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CORRUPTION-AFRICA: A Crime Against Development

Sholain Govender-Bateman

TSHWANE, Dec 9 2009 (IPS) - Corruption is preventing the world from reducing extreme poverty, from averting child deaths and even from fighting epidemics like HIV/AIDS. And it will have a devastating effect on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals if not tackled directly by each national government.

Dr. Jonathan Lucas says corruption is preventing the world from meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  Credit: Sholain Govender-Bateman/IPS

Dr. Jonathan Lucas says corruption is preventing the world from meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Credit: Sholain Govender-Bateman/IPS

The way to do this, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Southern Africa representative Dr. Jonathan Lucas, is through the full implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which most countries are signatories to.

Lucas was speaking to stakeholders on International Anti-Corruption Day in Tshwane on Dec 9. “The 2009 message is simple: Corruption is a crime against development, democracy, education, prosperity, public health and justice – what many would consider the pillars of social well being.”

He said corruption was no longer hidden. “It is now seen by people across the world as a serious crime, a crime which weakens societies, ruins lives, and spurs underdevelopment.”

The UNCAC agreement, which was signed in Merida, Mexico six years ago, sets out specific guidelines that countries should follow in order to combat corruption.

On December 14, 2005, UNCAC came into force and became the first legally binding, global anti-corruption agreement, and was “a significant achievement in the fight against corruption” according to Lucas.

In November this year more than 1,000 participants from the 141 signatory countries attended the third conference of the state parties to UNCAC in Doha, Qatar. The “Doha Mechanism of Implementation” was agreed upon as a mechanism to monitor the convention.

According to UNODC executive director Antonia Maria Costa: “This agreement will not end corruption, but will enable us to measure and fight it.”

In a statement released today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Doha agreement meant that: “From now on, states will be judged by the actions they take to fight corruption, not just the promises they make.”

Lucas told IPS that with cases like the recent accusations of nepotism and other corruption made against Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma by opposition leader John Benjamin, Zambia’s unresolved corruption allegations against former President Frederick Chiluba and Uganda’s ongoing battle for democracy amidst claims of election rigging and dictatorship, UNCAC was committed to ongoing engagement with each state. He added each national government was responsible for the implementation of the convention.

The convention is based on four pillars – prevention, criminalisation, asset recovery and international co-operation.

Open, honest and efficient decision-making, fair competition and ethical procurement systems are some of the aims of the convention. UNCAC also calls for a ban on bribery in all investment decisions, both local and international and law enforcement and swift international co-operation that leaves no place for criminals to hide.

“According to the World Bank,” said Lucas, “the cross-border flow of money related to corruption is estimated to be 1.6 trillion US dollars per year.”

This reflects the huge impact that corruption has on developing states and is why UNODC Southern Africa launched the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for Southern Africa (Arinsa) in March this year.

Lucas said Arinsa was of critical importance in Southern Africa as it created an informal gateway for anti-corruption information exchange and co-ordination between law enforcement and judicial authorities in the field of asset seizure in countries Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

In a major breakthrough for UNCAC, countries agreed on asset recovery as part of the UNODC/World Bank joint Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) launched in 2007.

Lucas said asset recovery was a challenge and particularly important for developing countries where corruption eroded much needed public resources. “The work of the StAR Initiative has proven successful in a number of pilot countries including Bangladesh, Haiti, Indonesia and Nigeria.”

Key to fighting corruption, is the inclusion of the private sector in the implementation of anti-corruption strategies, said Ki-moon.

“The private sector should not lag behind governments. Businesses must also prevent corruption within their ranks, and keep bribery out of the tendering and procurement processes.”

He urged companies not to cheat and to open themselves up to peer review in line with the 10th principle of the UN Global Compact. This principle states that “businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery”.

As part of this process, UNODC in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers, released the first edition of the “Anti-Corruption Policies and Measures of the Fortune Global 500” report in November this year. The report provides an overview of measures that 2008 Fortune Global 500 countries have taken to combat corruption and economic crime.

“When public money is stolen for private gain, it means fewer resources to build schools, hospitals, roads and water treatment facilities,” said the U.N. Secretary General.

“When foreign aid is diverted into private bank accounts, major infrastructure projects come to a halt. Corruption enables fake or sub-standard medicines to be dumped on the market, and hazardous waste to be dumped in landfill sites and in oceans. The vulnerable suffer first and worst.”

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