Uganda International Conference on Empowering Civil Society in the Fight against Corruption

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat

Final Statement of the Meeting

Members of the Transparency International (TI) movement drawn from 32 countries met in Uganda from 21 - 25 April 1996 to discuss the challenges to good governance in Africa and elsewhere posed by the menace of corruption, and ways in which civil society should be empowered to contain it.

The meeting was chaired by Mr. Augustine Ruzindana, Inspector-General of Government, Uganda. Participants included Nobel Laureate, Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez, Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf, Regional Director for Africa of the UNDP, Prof. Dr. Peter Eigen, Chairman of TI, the Hon R. Rukoro, Attorney General of Namibia, the recent head of the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, Mr. Bertrand de Speville, Herman Cohen of the Global Coalition for Africa, Dieter Frisch, former Director General for Development (EU) and senior Ugandan officials involved in the fight against corruption. Funding was provided by the Government of Uganda and the European Union, whose Delegate, H.D. Dr. Marongiu, also attended.

The Meeting identified the containing of corruption as the prime challenge facing good governance in Africa, as in many other countries in the developing world, and particular in major international business transactions. This was undermining developmental efforts and deepening poverty in the developing world. Accordingly, the Meeting agreed on a set of major initiatives at the national, regional and international levels to raise public awareness of the damaging effects of corruption and to secure reforms.

Underscoring the intense seriousness of the issue, the Meeting determined to mobilise global actions to secure the freedom of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Chair of Transparency International¹s Advisory Council, presently imprisoned in Nigeria as a consequence of his raising his voice in support for democracy and transparency.

Containing the menace of this "grand corruption" was a challenge which developing countries cannot meet effectively without commitment and understanding from their major trading partners in the north.

The Meeting expressed its "disgust" with attitudes in industrialised countries, and particularly within Europe, which defend the practice of their exporters bribing in developing countries in order to win business contracts. This form of "grand corruption", generated by greed and not need, is distorting development decision-making and is continuing to contribute to a deepening of poverty in many countries. It was also destroying professionalism in public life, undermining the rule of law, distorting trade, impacting negatively on education and health services, adversely affecting basic human rights, and giving rise to international competitive bribery rather than competition in terms of quality, price and service. It resulted, too, in firms gaining business that were less efficient and doing so at the expense of responsible and ethical firms.

Particularly horrifying was a recent instance in which AIDS-tainted blood plasma had been exported from Europe which had resulted in a number of deaths in Japan, where an official had allegedly been bribed to receive it.

The participants re-emphasised with dismay that some Europeans claim that corruption is a matter of "culture" in developing countries, and that it would be culturally wrong for Europeans to "impose" their standards on the developing world. Participants described this argument as "totally misleading", as a gross distortion of traditions of modest hospitality and gift-giving.

The participants, drawn from all five continents, reiterated that the misuse of public power for private profit does not form part of any "culture". The criminal laws of all countries reflect their cultural norms in outlawing such conduct. In contrast, the practice of international corruption continued to be officially supported by some governments and business leaders in the north. It was a phenomenon found in trade within the developed world itself, but the effects there were far less devastating than they are in the south.

Corruption is widespread in many developing countries, and these were particularly vulnerable to malpractice by both exporters from industrialised countries and local misusers of public power. The TI movement re-emphasised its determination to work for changes in practices, wherever these are occurring.

Civil society was identified as having considerable potential to impact on levels of corruption by its working with all interested parties and forging broad coalitions against coruption practices, werever these are ocurring.

The meeting also expressed its support for the recent strengthening of the Recommendation made to OECD members earlier this month (April) that countries should end granting tax deductibility for bribes paid in international business transactions. This, however, would be judged by results and the organisation would be monitoring implementation of the recommendation and continuing to argue that it should be made mandatory by the organisation.

The democratisation process under way in Africa and other parts of the developing world was a potent weapon for containing corruption more effectively, but at the same time corruption itself posed a grave threat to the democratisation process itself. If good governance was to be deepened and broadened, in Africa as elsewhere, the menace must be confronted with transparency, accountability and enlightened leadership as the principle weapons.

Against this background the meeting agreed on an action plan to empower civil society to play much more effective and prominent role in containing corruption than hitherto.

Mweya Lodge, Uganda 

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