A brief portrait of each of the Award winners
Alfredo María Pochat
Uncovering corruption in Argentina
Alfredo María Pochat dedicated his career to fighting corruption in his native Argentina, paying for it with the highest price - his own life. Moments before announcing financial irregularities in the Argentine Social Security body on June 4th, 1997, Dr. Pochat was assassinated in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata. The date of his death, June 4th, has officially been named Anti-Corruption Day in Argentina and is a visible sign of his legacy.
Alfredo María Pochat spent more than a decade successfully battling corruption. In the 1980s, as a lawyer with the Argentine Central Bank, Dr. Pochat led investigations into asset-stripping in more than 70 financial institutions. As head of the Corruption Control Programme of the national Postal Service in 1993, his investigations into an internal network of postal bank draft fraud and drug trafficking led to the prosecution of those responsible. As a criminal lawyer with a private law firm in 1995, Dr. Pochat took on the company's largest corruption cases including fraud in health care funds, in privatised companies providing public services and in the provincial and national justice systems. In his last post as Director of Special Investigations in the Argentine Social Security Administration, he discovered fraud amounting to millions of public dollars. In one case, he uncovered a parallel organisation within a provincial social security body, which had been illegally making payments in the guise of disability pensions.
While his groundbreaking work benefited ordinary Argentineans, Dr. Pochat's investigations were a threat to powerful forces in the country. Dr. Aníbal Ibarra, mayor of Buenos Aires, highlights this contrast: "Alfredo Pochat earned the respect and admiration of all those who worked with him... To the loss of his death we add the tragedy of the lack of any profound investigation of the motives and causes that led to his homicide." *
Indeed in his life and death, Dr. Pochat was instrumental in bringing the problem of corruption in Argentina to light. This is crucial in a country where corruption is widespread in most public offices and political will to fight the problem is low. He has provided a powerful example of how one individual can create resistance to corruption.
Due to his contribution, future generations will enjoy a higher level of scrutiny of their government and, as a result, grow up in a more democratic Argentina. This includes the Pochats' own three children, who lost their 42 year-old father to the cause.
* Ibarra, Aníbal. Proceeding 1467-D-99, Buenos Aires City Council, 11th Ordinary Session
Blowing the whistle costs Mustapha Adib his freedom in Morocco
Blowing the whistle on your superiors is risky business. And, as Mustapha Adib discovered, this rings particularly true in the tight hierarchy of the Moroccan military. Once a captain in the Royal Armed Forces, today he is more familiar with the walls of a prison cell. For daring to denounce corruption in the military and bringing it to the attention of the international media, the 32 year-old captain was charged with 'breaching discipline' and 'slandering the army' and sentenced to five years in prison. In addition, he was dishonourably discharged from the army.
Stationed at an air base in Southern Morocco in 1998, Captain Adib was approached by his superiors with a proposition involving the illegal sale of fuel allocated to the base. Captain Adib refused to participate, instead choosing to report their activities directly to the head of the armed forces, Crown Prince Muhammad. After an inquiry, the officers behind the trafficking were sentenced and discharged from the army. The court cleared Captain Adib.
But by blowing the whistle on the corruption he encountered, Captain Adib had made himself very unpopular. Soon after the trial, he began to experience a series of problems that severely compromised his military career: he was transferred from base to base, systematically ostracised and arbitrarily disciplined. Captain Adib responded by taking his complaint about the military to a civil court, a move unprecedented in the Moroccan armed forces. There, he requested the annulment of the disciplinary measures imposed on him by the military. This produced no results. Captain Adib therefore requested to be discharged from the army. This too was ignored. He therefore took his story to the international media, agreeing to be cited in an article on corruption in the Moroccan military in the French daily newspaper Le Monde in December 1999. Soon after, Captain Adib was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison by a military court in Rabat.
His trial was denounced by Moroccan and international human rights organisations on many counts. Firstly, among the judges was a commanding officer against whom Captain Adib had previously filed a complaint. Furthermore, key witnesses called by the defence were not heard. The trial was also held behind closed doors. Captain Adib's lawyer launched an appeal with Morocco's Supreme Court with no immediate response. The legal system having failed him, Captain Adib resorted to a hunger strike from prison in May 2000 that attracted wide popular support.
In June, the Supreme Court finally overturned the initial five-year prison sentence and returned the case to the military court. The military court on 6 October 2000 lessened the sentence to two and a half years in prison but still upheld the verdict as "guilty".
Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government (CCAGG)
Fighting corruption at the local level in the Philippines
In the province of Abra in the northern Philippines, travel is difficult. With a river dividing the province and few bridges constructed, many towns remain isolated. This lack of infrastructure traps its inhabitants in a cycle of poverty. So, when an article appeared in a local newspaper in 1987 boasting of 20 successful government infrastructure projects in the region, the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government (CCAGG) took notice.
The members of this organisation - coming from the ranks of students, professionals, housewives, priests, church workers and government employees - have little in common on the surface. What they do share is a common purpose and a sense of outrage at the waste of the province's precious financial resources. CCAGG has shown that it is a force to be reckoned with: The organisation's first investigation in 1987 exposed the uncompleted projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways, which resulted in the suspension of 11 government engineers who were found guilty of dishonesty and misconduct.
CCAGG was founded in 1986 as an off-shoot of the provincial chapter of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) which monitored the 1986 presidential elections. Instead of disbanding, the members of NAMFREL decided to use their experience for further action. Since then, this non-profit non-partisan civic organisation of some 1,000 members has been monitoring public spending in Abra. Despite considerable funds being channelled into the poor province, very few concrete results can be seen. In investigating the province's infrastructure projects, CCAGG has discovered grave cases of inefficiency, graft and corruption.
CCAGG has naturally encountered opposition to their efforts at scrutinising government projects. Their work therefore involves a degree of risk. Some members of the group have received threats after investigating ongoing projects or speaking publicly about corruption.
Yet, CCAGG's presence in the region has served as a deterrent to corruption. Today, the group's assessment reports have become vital in the release of government funds for public projects. CCAGG has become a model organisation, which is being emulated in other parts of the Philippines. The success of this anti-corruption watchdog has even attracted international attention: CCAGG recently joined forces with the United Nations Development Programme to draft an agreement for the group to conduct the first-ever participatory audit of a local government unit in the Philippines.
The pioneering efforts of this organisation in fighting corruption at the local level are commendable and clearly demonstrate the capacity of citizens acting collectively to be a powerful force in making governments accountable.
Fighting for freedom of expression in war-torn Sri Lanka
These days, ink is not flowing freely in Sri Lankan newsrooms. In this country embroiled in a long-running civil war, repressive conditions have numbed most people, including journalists, into cynicism and inactivity. In May 2000, as part of the already existing 'emergency regulations', the government passed legislation imposing strict censorship on the media. Much of the mainstream press complied with the new rules for fear of being shut down.
This was not the case of the English-language weekly The Sunday Leader, whose editor-in-chief, Lasantha Wickremetunge, has long resisted government meddling in news delivery. Taking a firm stand, Mr. Wickremetunge spoke out against the new regulations. In response, the Sri Lankan authorities stepped in on May 20th and banned publication of the newspaper for six months. Since then, the government has come under heavy fire for the crackdown on press freedom and on June 30th, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court ruled the censorship illegal, ordering the immediate lifting of the ban on anti-government newspapers, and ordering the state to pay damages to The Sunday Leader newspaper group for the wrongful sealing of their papers.
This represented a small victory for Lasantha Wickremetunge, who is no stranger to the fight for freedom of the press. The 42 year-old lawyer and journalist has been active in exposing corruption in Sri Lankan politics for over a decade. As an attorney, he successfully defended an editor of The Sunday Times newspaper in a 1991 criminal defamation case, where the complainant was the Army Chief of Staff. On the political front, he worked for two years as Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Since 1994, Mr. Wickremetunge has been editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, which from its inception in the mid-90s, has provided the public with reports on high-level corruption in Sri Lanka. Mr. Wickremetunge's contributions have included exposure of major cases of corruption in privatisation and arms deals.
In an environment rife with corruption, investigative journalism comes at a high risk. Mr. Wickremetunge has himself been subject to defamation charges by the government for publishing certain articles. He and his family have been the victims of threats and physical violence, including an attack with automatic weapons. Despite this, Mr. Wickremetunge has courageously continued his work in exposing corruption and informing the public.
Lasantha Wickremetunge has earned great respect abroad for his contribution to the anti-corruption movement. International recognition may counterpoise the ill-treatment he has experienced at home in Sri Lanka, a country, which he is trying to serve through his determined investigation of the truth.
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