Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Corruption Kills

Political parties pay price - Monday, February 11, 2008

Huguette Labelle ... It is to ensure that people are able to see where any one is buying favors+ Enlarge this image

Huguette Labelle ... It is to ensure that people are able to see where any one is buying favors

CORRUPTION literally kills. So says the chairperson of Transparency International Global Movement Huguette Labelle, who was recently in the country to drive the point home in a public lecture.

It does not take a scientist to figure it out, with the World's Bank's estimation of international corruption standing at $9-trillion.

Ms Labelle and her Fiji counterpart, Hari Pal Singh share their views of corruption with reporter Frederica Elbourne.

Times: What is the nature of your trip?

Labelle: Fiji is a chapter of ours in the Pacific.

I'm here particularly to attend the fifth 5th Annual Siwatibau Memorial Lecture at the University of the South Pacific.

We are a global NGO fighting corruption and my address (at the lecture) will centre on political party financing.

No matter who you are, it is vital to have a strong public institution with people you can trust to manage the programs of government with the greatest integrity.

People need to know what a Government receives in revenue and how it spends that.

It has to be spent for the development of the country and its people.

In addition, it is fundamental to have a strong well-performing judiciary.

If justice doesn't serve people and settle differences, then the rights of the people are not protected.

A well performing system is needed one that serves the people.

We need to ensure that all money goes to that, not the pockets of individuals for personal enrichment.

Times: Is this your first time to Fiji?

Labelle: Yes, and I love it. Took me a while to get here, but I'm finally here.

Times: Now that you're here to see it first hand, what is your perception of Fiji under the its political and economic climate?

Labelle: People want their government to be accountable with the managing of their money and programs.

The important part is to ensure a big place for NGOs in society, so people can make a difference or else individuals can find themselves very lonely in their efforts to make a difference.

The Government and NGOs should be respected in community.

But it's about time these changes happened in Fiji.

Times: In other words, TI legitimises the coup?

Singh: Corruption hurts the poor the most. What do we do? Sit back?

Policemen are being bribed particularly by expatriates and the rich.

The fabric of society is getting corrupted. If we don't stop it.

People are not paid to bribe others.

Don't take shortcuts. Don't accept the rule of the jungle. The 10 per cent pay cut for civil servants had to happen because productivity has gone down. Without greasing someone's palm, productivity has gone down.

Morale has gone down.

Service delivery is affected. Look at it. There was money set aside for particular projects.

Labelle: When you look at the infrastructure, procurement is vital because you want proper transparent bidding processes to ensure it's made public.

No one should be allowed to buy their way into a contract.

Times: So corruption kills?

Labelle: If you take your child with an infection to the doctor and medication has been diluted, with water or other medication, the likelihood is that the child will die, and many die around the world through this.

In the same way is the effect if officials take money for themselves which should instead ensure a good system for the country.

People will die because money that was meant to expand that project is in a haven, in Swiss banks in the name of individuals.

Money is laundered and finds itself in situations where illicit arms are bought.

It becomes part of a movement of drugs and violence increases in this regard.

Many countries in the world should be rich today because they have the resources including precious metals.

Yet people are still poor, no food, children can't go to school.

So where's the money gone?

Where you'll find it is either in palatial personal houses or outside the country in fiscal havens.

That's why we say good governance is vital for any country.

Good governance ensures everyone has reasonable standing.

Money is lost through such contracts.

There is an oversight where people put money under the table.

Things get soft and people bribe their way to live their way.

It's the people who pay in the end.

At worst, the infrastructural project is redone and you don't have the money for it.

People won't go to a country where infrastructure is lousy and where there are unintelligent people.

The cost of corruption in the US is $1-trillion a year.

It takes two to tango. The Government has to have the responsibility.

The business sector needs to have a strong code of ethics and not bribe its way into contracts because in the end they're losing out like everyone else.

If caught, the end result is not good for all.

Times: What's your advice to the business community?

Labelle: The business sector should have zero tolerance for corruption.

I know it's not easy for small companies to report when they are asked for extortion. But they should speak publicly about it.

Singh: That's the World Bank's estimation of the cost of bribery.

Times: You're here to discuss political party funding. Can you tell us more about that?

Labelle: Donations to political parties are made without public knowledge.

Times: Do they need to? What's your justification?

Labelle: Yes they need to so that the public knows.

It is to ensure that people are able to see where any one is buying favours in future if the person or party is elected.

Otherwise people lose their trust on the government or party elected and that can be destabilising.

It means that either that the Government will act not for the best of common good or the best for the people but individual who have provided them with large sums of money.

In large countries, drug cartels and terrorist organisations try to put in office the people who will turn the other way and allow them to continue illicit activities and continually destroy the country over time.

Thus the significance of transparency of political party financing.

Times: What's your view on the lack of such a law in Fiji, taking into account the financing of local political parties?

Labelle: There should be legislation, a law in every country.

Measures must be taken to address this.

For auditing and validation, political parties must list their funding what they've received.

A legal framework is essential with reasonable provisions.

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