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World: Corruption Is Not Inevitable

  • Robert Lyle

Washington, 1 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Senior officials of 90 nations Friday wrapped up three intensive days of focusing on corruption of government officials around the world, saying they are persuaded that corruption is not inevitable.

It's caused by men and women, said a final declaration of the U.S.-sponsored conference, and it can be beaten if people and governments have the will and determination to do it.

U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who hosted the meeting, said he was awed by how most of the delegations were willing to share the embarrassing truths of the corruption they face at home.

But he also said he was impressed by the determination of so many governments to do something about it.

Bulgaria's Minister of Public Administration, Mario Tagarinski, said corruption became a serious problem for all the nations in transition in Central and East Europe, including Bulgaria. But he said Sofia has launched an anti-corruption program:

Tagarinski said the focus of the policy is to publicize corruption and in the long term make sure the public fully understands its consequences. Long-term, the goal is to get control over corruption and change the public's attitude towards it.

Georgian State Minister Vazha Lordkipanidze told the conference that his country suffered from serious corruption and terrorism in its early days of nation building. The worst of it has now been curbed, he said, but Georgia feels there is a greater need for regional cooperation, especially among the nations on the territory of the former Soviet Union where he said there are many problems on the borders:

Lordkipanidze said to this end, Tbilisi proposes a special high level center dedicated to studying and addressing corruption issues in the region, particularly focusing on regional relationships. Georgia also would like to arrange a regional conference on corruption and offers to host both the conference and the study center.

Russia's First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Vladimir Stashkov, admitted that corruption and economic crime evolved faster in Russia than the government's ability to combat it. Moscow, he said, has "no intention" of understating the criminal factor in the Russia economy in its discussions with other countries. But it would like greater international cooperation in dealing with crimes in which the criminals and money flee the country:

Stashkov said he shares the concern over the problems of money laundering of illegally acquired proceeds and suggested that global efforts at simplifying the procedures of arresting criminals and returning stolen assets to the country they came from, be accelerated. Political leaders attending the conference repeatedly said that corruption can only flourish in secret and in the dark. When it is exposed to bright light, they said, it shrinks away.

Part of the problem, says Brian E.R. Kinney, a top official of the criminal policy directorate of the British Home office, is that citizens often don't know when they've been hurt by corruption:

Kinney said officials must bear in mind that many people are not aware that they have been victimized -- such as the company that loses contracts because of a corrupt bribe, or the person who doesn't get the job because of a corrupt payment. We need systems which can cover -- and uncover -- unethical behavior. Vice President Gore said that of the hundreds of good ideas for combating corruption shared among the officials attending the conference, none is so powerful and effective as knowing that when people everywhere get a chance, they will rise up against corruption:

Gore said the values of people are clear -- no matter in which nation, no matter their religious tradition or political history. The average people in all nations have strong values. And with the information revolution, it is possible to establish a strong connection between the hearts of the people and the governance of the nations in which they live.

It was a full week of addressing corruption in Washington -- first at an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) gathering focusing on business and the private sector, and then at the Gore conference, which focused on justice and security officials in the public sector.

Ideas, plans and programs for combating corruption that were shared at the conference will be compiled by the U.S. and distributed to any country which is looking for new ways to approach the problem. It will also be made public on the World Wide Web.

It was not planned but the officials attending decided to call a follow-up conference next year in the Netherlands to help every country review its progress.