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Freedom of information is essential to turn the tide against corruption, says Global Corruption Report 2003

The Global Corruption Report 2003 features a special focus on Access to Information, and a special contribution by former investigating judge Eva Joly

"The right to access information is a powerful weapon and protection against the corrupt. That is the message that runs through the Global Corruption Report 2003," said Mame Adama Gueye, President of Forum Civil, the Senegalese chapter of Transparency International (TI), at the launch in Paris today of the French language edition of the GCR 2003. The report was prepared by TI, the world's leading non-governmental organisation fighting corruption. "From the assets of politicians and public officials to government spending and corporate accountability, transparency - enforced by disclosure requirements - is a vital check on the abuse of entrusted power," said Mame Adama Gueye, a member of the international Board of Directors of TI.

Preventing corruption through empowering the judiciary is addressed in the GCR 2003 by former investigating judge Eva Joly. "The battle against illicit financial transactions must be fought with sound strategy, one that empowers the justice system as an indispensable weapon," writes Eva Joly in the GCR 2003. "It is thus paradoxical that justice budgets represent only a small share of public expenditure. In Europe, for instance, only 1-2 per cent of the budget is allocated to the justice system in Spain, France and Germany." She writes: "When an overloaded and under-resourced justice system is confronted by international organised crime, the latter is guaranteed impunity." In 2001, Eva Joly received a TI Integrity Award in recognition of her bravery as an investigating judge in the Elf-Aquitaine corruption case.

At the annual TI Integrity Awards ceremony in 25 May 2003, TI paid a posthumous tribute to Abdelhae Beliardouh, an investigative journalist for the Algerian weekly El Watan in the town of Tébessa, close to the Tunisian border. Beliardouh was writing a series of reports on corruption in cross-border trade until his reports led to his kidnapping and torture by an armed gang. The violence against him drove him to take his own life. He died on 19 November 2002. While the year 2002 saw fewer journalists killed in conflict zones, the powerful continue to threaten journalists investigating corruption. Journalists in Bangladesh, Colombia, the Philippines and Russia were killed while writing about corruption.

Cases of corruption join accounts of positive reforms and negative developments around the globe in 16 regional reports in the GCR 2003. The latter include new measures implemented post-September 11th to block or slow down the flow of information - while increasing surveillance of access itself. New French laws, for example, effectively criminalise the encryption code of electronic messages. Also disturbing, is the trend in European countries towards the adoption of secrecy laws as a precondition for NATO membership.

The book, the second annual report on the state of corruption around the world, features a series of articles on access to information, and a data and research section. The report also includes a special contribution from Ron Noble, the Secretary General of Interpol.

Campaigning for transparent budgets

Speaking in Paris today, Mame Adama Gueye said that "TI, a signatory to the Public What You Pay appeal, is pressing national regulators to require companies in the oil and mining sectors to declare taxes and royalties paid to the governments where they operate, such as Angola, Nigeria and Iraq, but also in the G8 countries themselves, as a condition for stock exchange listing."

TI's partner organisations in Cameroon and Chad are also monitoring the scope for corruption in the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, and evaluating the level of transparency in the compensation of victims of expropriation in the Doba Basin.

"An Arabic translation of key parts of the GCR 2003 has been published, accompanying the development of a regional network on access to information, led by the Lebanese Transparency Association," (www.arabaccess.org) said Mame Adama Gueye.

In Lebanon, the baksheesh for a building permit for a residential house can cost more than US$2,000, and TI's national chapter, the Lebanese Transparency Association, has now published a booklet that simplifies the procedures necessary to obtain a construction permit and stipulates the documents, fees and average time required.

TI's national chapters in Africa are spearheading a campaign for the repatriation of assets plundered by former dictators and deposited in bank accounts in London, Zurich, New York and Liechtenstein. "Last year Nigerians almost saw the return of US$1.2 billion in funds stolen by the late dictator Sani Abacha until Abacha's son stopped short of signing an agreement that would have included dropping theft and money-laundering charges against him and one of his business associates," said Muzong Kodi.

Cleaning up after Enron

Wholesale reform is needed to improve corporate governance, writes TI Board member, Jermyn Brooks, in the GCR 2003. "Truly independent directors should hold a majority on the board and should chair audit and remuneration committees," he writes. "All elements of directors' remuneration should be fully disclosed in the financial statements and be subject to separate voting at each annual general meeting." The audit committee, he continues, "should approve any non-audit work awarded to auditors". Auditors should be in a position "to demonstrate that they have reviewed their clients' anti-fraud and anti-bribery systems and recommended improvements."

TI recommends the adoption of codes of conduct and related compliance programmes, and that details of implementation and monitoring results be published in each annual report. Codes of conduct should include rules designed to combat bribery at home or by subsidiaries abroad. To this end, TI has developed, with companies including BP, General Electric, Shell and Tata, a set of Business Principles for Countering Bribery. These include training programmes with guidance for all employees to ensure that bribery - direct or indirect - is eliminated.

The Global Corruption Report, ed. Robin Hodess (€25), can be ordered through Karthala: visit www.karthala.com.


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