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“A UN Convention is no substitute for anti-corruption programmes at the national level”

Transparency International welcomes the Declaration on fighting corruption issued by Ministers in The Hague, but calls for the words drafted at an intergovernmental level to be matched by concrete steps against corruption at the national level

It would be a very great mistake for anyone to believe that a UN convention by itself will alter in any way the great burden of suffering corruption is inflicting on billions of people around the world in the course of their daily lives. This was the reaction of Transparency International to the outcome of the Global Forum II conference on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity, which concluded at The Hague today.

"The vast bulk of corruption takes place at the national level," said Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International. "No UN convention," he said, "is going to impact on such matters as the theft and resale of drugs by doctors in rural Africa, medicine their patients should be receiving for free. No UN Convention is going to put a stop to practices such as the conduct of officials in East Asia who encourage villagers to give blood, only for the people to find that they have been contaminated with the HIVAIDS virus in the process*. A UN Convention is no substitute for an anti-corruption programme at the governmental level."

Referring to the Declaration issued by Ministers in The Hague today, Peter Eigen said that the final document had been considerably better than he had hoped. "References to the need for an independent judiciary and for a free media show that the language of international discourse is improving, and the host government of The Netherlands has every reason to feel satisfied with the outcome."

The political will to fight corruption at home was arguably much more important than a preoccupation with the drafting of international conventions, said Eigen. "International arrangements are very important. National integrity systems need them if they are to be able to recover loot stolen and spirited abroad. Both national and international mechanisms are necessary if governments are to tackle the enormously damaging impact of international grand corruption, where private companies compete in bribery, instead of in quality and price." There is considerable scope for making international co-operation more effective and this is an area where the UN could play a role. However, he added, "the struggle to contain corruption begins with winning the hearts and minds of politicians, private sector interests, civil society and people at the national level".

The Declaration issued by the Ministers in The Hague today did not address sufficiently these core issues. "This was essentially a conference of governments for governments," said Peter Eigen. "There were some here who plainly would have preferred to be somewhere else but who could not afford to be seen to be absent." He continued: "Their presence was important as it has exposed them to new concepts and notions and to a community of nations prepared quite openly to discuss corruption. However, the need for their agreement has meant that the final declaration has inevitably been somewhat less ambitious than many would have wished."

It was noticeable that the language of the declaration grew progressively stronger through the course of the drafting during the week. As a result, Transparency International is "generally supportive of the outcomes, even though we would have wished for a far stronger and a much more urgent commitment to return to Africa funds looted and stashed away in western banks," concluded Peter Eigen.

Transparency International expects this spirit to become more evident when the whole global coalition against corruption meets in Prague in October**.The process there will be managed largely by civil society, and government officials will come to participate as committed individuals, not as representatives of their institutions.


* It was reported by the BBC World Service this week that local officials in a Chinese village had corruptly encouraged villagers to give blood, with the results described above

** The International Anti-Corruption Conference, Prague Congress Centre, Prague, Czech Republic, 7-11 October 2001

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