| Luis J. Lauredo,
Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States
Andean Summit on the Fight Against Corruption
Cartagena, Colombia, November 20, 2000
The Role of the Media
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss briefly our thoughts and actions with respect to the hemispheric and global struggle against corruption. Every country in the hemisphere, including my own, faces the dangers of corruption within and across its borders. Every country can help to reduce this scourge that imperils the development of democratic institutions and the improvement of the lives of our peoples.
Role of the Media
I should begin by noting the crucial role that the media plays in the fight against corruption. Because corruption flourishes behind closed doors, the press, by opening up the workings of government to the bright light of public view, reduces the opportunity for corrupt acts. No institution is more indispensable to success in any nation's efforts against corruption than a free and independent media. Governments must work to establish meaningful public rights of access to information about corrupt activities and about efforts to combat corrupt behavior. This conference is an important step to the furtherance of that goal.
U.S. Ratifies Inter-American Convention Against Corruption
Let me update you on our most recent efforts. The United States took an important step forward in the battle against corruption when it formally ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption on September 29 at the Organization of American States (OAS). This treaty, now ratified by 20 nations, requires countries to criminalize a wide range of acts of corruption including the bribery of foreign government officials.
We can be proud that this hemisphere's countries have overwhelmingly embraced democracy and are working daily to bring political stability and economic prosperity to their citizens. We are painfully aware, however, that the success of these efforts depends on impartial judicial systems, free and fair elections, citizen oversight of government decisions and decision-makers, and fair, market-based economic decisions.
The Inter-American Convention recognizes that corruption damages democratic institutions and creates economic inefficiency and debilitating civic cynicism. Trust can only be restored when citizens know that government officials are honest and institutions are transparent. That, ultimately, is why you and I are here today.
How the Convention Will Help
How can a piece of paper like the Inter-American Convention help? The Convention obliges governments to make a strong commitment to confront the reality and pervasiveness of corruption. It emphasizes preventive measures such as ensuring openness, equity, and efficiency in all activities of government. It obliges government to address the important issues of training, compensation, standards of conduct, and public administration that encourage public officials to perform their duties impartially, efficiently, and with integrity. It criminalizes a wide range of corrupt acts, and provides means for governments to cooperate with each other to enforce those criminal laws.
The treaty also recognizes the indispensable role of civil society in every nation's struggle against corruption by promoting the exchange of information between the government and citizens' groups. The healthy internal climate created by such measures is an important part of our own policy goals and has positive implications for all of our citizens travelling and working abroad.
Our ratification of the Inter-American Convention is consistent with our efforts elsewhere in the world. In 1998, we ratified the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD's) Anti-Bribery Convention. Chile, Brazil, and Argentina have also signed this treaty which criminalizes bribery of foreign public officials for commercial advantage. I call upon them to fully ratify and implement this important convention. In 1999, Vice President Gore hosted a Global Forum that helped consolidate worldwide standards against corruption. The United States signed the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption on October 10 of this year, and joined the Council's anti-corruption monitoring group on September 25. We have also undertaken or supported additional anti-corruption initiatives in Africa and Asia. In addition, the United States looks forward to participating cooperatively and constructively in UN negotiations on a global instrument against corruption in accordance with the resolution approved by the General Assembly in October.
The commitment of the United States Government to fight corruption is expressed most vividly in our first International Crime Control Strategy, a document released by President Clinton in May 1998. Under this Strategy, we have broadened our efforts to provide systematic and heightened support and to enable nations to act together against corruption. In global and regional diplomatic processes, we are seeking to define comprehensive, objective statements of practices governments can employ to control and combat corruption. We are working to increase the public commitment of governments and political leaders to adopt and implement such practices.
The United States is providing increasing technical assistance and training to enhance the institutional capabilities of governments to fight crime and corruption. We are doing this at a time when the demand of the voting publics in nations around the world has never been greater. They are saying that their leaders and governments must act effectively to counter corruption. We want to help democratic political forces around the globe arm themselves with the practical means to hold their leaders accountable on a continuing basis. This is the central conceptual principle for the growing range of our international policy and assistance efforts against crime and corruption.
As many of you know, in Washington in February 1999, the United States hosted the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption which as I mentioned Vice President Gore personally chaired. Over 500 participants from 90 nations attended. They included the Vice Presidents from five Latin American republics and leaders from 16 other member states of the OAS, plus the Secretary General of the OAS. Participants extensively discussed a comprehensive set of principles and practices that are effective in promoting public integrity and combating official corruption.
In their final Declaration, the participants called for governments to adopt anti-corruption practices appropriate to each nation's particular circumstances and to assist each other in the implementation of such practices through processes of mutual evaluation. The Second Global Forum will be held May 28-31, 2001 in the Netherlands, and the United States will co-sponsor the event.
Our Specific Contributions in the Hemisphere
Let me make clear that our commitment to the anti-corruption fight is more than rhetorical. We continue to support with real resources activities in the hemisphere to help our neighbors implement the Inter-American Convention and enlarge their anti-corruption programs. For example, the United States is supporting an OAS project to assist nations to ratify the Convention, and to draft implementing legislation. Also, through the OAS Office of Legal Affairs, we are supporting training for investigative journalists to help develop civil society mechanisms to detect and expose corruption in public institutions. In addition, we are funding counternarcotics, police training, and administration of justice improvement programs. All of these projects contain anti-corruption elements that are indispensable to their long-term success. One such element is the enhanced transparency of government operations, in particular in the procurement and public purchasing area.
Bilateral Contributions to the Region
At the bilateral level, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has supported a regional anti-corruption program called America's Accountability and Anti-Corruption Project (AAA). The program aims to explore, disseminate, and promote best practices to reduce corruption through a variety of venues including: a website; a network of NGOs and professional associations; technical courses for practitioners on accounting, audit, and investigative skills; pilot projects, regional models, and a Donor Consultative Group to coordinate international technical assistance. AAA also serves as a global clearinghouse for anti-corruption events, ideas, and news.
USAID also supports a variety of bilateral initiatives whose primary goals are to strengthen government accountability and transparency -- and in doing so also to reduce corruption. For example, in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru, USAID programs support transparent municipal budget processes with citizen participation. In Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay we are providing technical assistance to help pass or implement modern criminal procedures codes that will improve the overall effectiveness of justice system and reduce impunity.
In another example, the Supreme Audit Agencies in Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru, all receive technical assistance to better detect fraud and misuse of public resources. Finally in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Paraguay, USAID assists civil society organizations in advocating more accountable government through the establishment of government-monitoring mechanisms. Although their main objectives vary, all these initiatives reduce opportunities for corruption.
Effect of Regional Efforts on Global Fight
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Our hemisphere should be pleased then that other regions have noticed our efforts and begun to copy them. For instance, the Inter-American Convention is recognized as the first regional instrument ever enacted that is specifically aimed at fighting corruption. Recently, the countries of the Stability Pact adopted an Anti-Corruption Initiative for southeastern Europe. That initiative benefited from our experience gained in developing the OAS Convention. The Stability Pact effort contains mechanisms for the extensive exchange of information and collaborative assessments of anti-corruption efforts, just like the Inter-American Convention.
We all know that enactment and adoption of these important instruments is only the first step. We must implement them in a timely manner. We do not know how long the current window of opportunity will remain open, or how long the political momentum will be sustained.
I know one of the challenges will be to develop a system for measuring our individual and collective progress. Only through the systematic reporting of members' progress and other ways to mutually evaluate our joint efforts can we successfully implement international anti-corruption commitments like those contained in this Convention.
We are already making progress on that score. An OAS Working Group has been meeting twice a week over the last two months to craft a follow-up mechanism for the Inter-American Convention. The mechanism would include a mutual review of the efforts of each country that has ratified the Convention to implement it and provisions for technical assistance and cooperation. The OAS recommendation very likely will serve as the model that will be adopted by the States Parties to the Convention within the next year. Like the Convention itself, our hemisphere's system for mutual evaluation can become another model for other regions of the world.
What Is At Stake
It is no exaggeration that the vitality of democracy in the hemisphere and the improved economic status of the peoples of our nations depend in large part on the success of our combined efforts. The forces behind this new momentum are not just governments, but also public opinion. Around the world, people are rejecting the idea that corruption is inevitable in government, or that it must be tolerated because it cannot be controlled.
Preventing and fighting corruption is indispensable to all of our national goals to uphold democracy and the rule of law, and to promote sustainable economic development and growth. Our citizens and corporations overseas benefit because they will no longer be expected simply to accept official corruption as a cost of travelling or doing business abroad. Perhaps most importantly, our efforts to design and monitor implementation of anti-corruption agreements, which includes scrutiny by the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and the media, provides a benchmark against which voting publics in each country can hold their elected officials accountable as they fight to free their countries from corruption's suffocating grip.
Thank you and God bless you.
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