Remarks by Ambassador James F. Entwistle International Anti-Corruption Day Roundtable Discussion (December 8, 2015)

Abuja | December 8, 2015

(as prepared for delivery)

Honorable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami.  All other protocols observed.

Good morning and welcome to the U.S. Embassy.  In commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day, we gather here to discuss an issue that is critically important to both my nation and yours.  President Obama categorized corruption as “one of the great struggles of our time.”  Indeed, the fight against corruption remains an ongoing battle for governments around the world.  Leading up to today’s event, I told my team that I wanted a strong show of U.S. support for President Buhari’s campaign against corruption.  Therefore, I recognize everyone’s presence in this room as our collective commitment to the role of good governance in ensuring inclusive development, mutual security, and democratic freedoms.

International Anti-Corruption Day marks the 2003 adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).  Almost every country in Africa has ratified the convention.  This means that these nations have pledged to adopt measures that prevent and penalize corruption.  Globally, these measures do exist.  Yet, stronger efforts at implementation, enforcement, prevention, and prosecution can place us on the winning side of the battle.  We are taking steps in the right direction.  For example, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has united 41 countries with corporations and NGOs to publish reports on how governments manage the oil, gas, and mining sectors. Through this collaboration, citizens can hold their representatives more accountable and foster effective governance.

Secondly, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is forging new commitments to promote transparency, citizen engagement, and anticorruption.  In just two years, it has grown to include 62 countries representing over two billion people.  Like EITI, the OGP concept brings governments, civil society, and business to synergize their efforts.  Through civil society organizations, we have worked with Nigeria to progress the OGP agenda.  With the recent change in OGP requirements, Nigeria is officially an OGP signatory candidate.  It is our hope that Nigeria will soon join the OGP as an official member.

As another example of the global commitment to stop corruption, 40 countries have joined the Anti-Bribery Convention.  Each has committed to prevent their companies and citizens from bribing public officials abroad.

Why is this important?  We all know that rampant corruption hinders development.  Unscrupulous individuals re-direct public resources to line their own pockets.  Sorely needed investments in infrastructure, transportation, energy, health and education fail to see any chance of a return.  Moreover, corruption has an unequal effect on the poor because they are the ones most in need of the public goods.  Their inability to pay a bribe, for example, deprives them of a better life for their families.

Corruption inflicts major costs upon the economy, society, and security.  It also decreases confidence in the rule of law.  It can threaten the stability of markets and distort competition when companies that play by the rules lose out to others that bribe to win business.  The overall cost is staggering.  Various estimates put the figure at nearly $1 trillion for corruption globally.  The Center for Strategic and International Studies has reviewed data from the World Bank and others and estimated that a segment of private sector corruption alone in developing countries is at least $500 billion, more than three times all foreign assistance given in 2012.         

Sadly, corruption can be found everywhere and continues to be an issue in my country.  In my home state of Virginia, former governor Robert McConnell and his wife were indicted on federal corruption charges for receiving improper gifts and loans from a businessman.  Last year, a federal jury convicted them on several counts.  McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison, becoming the first Virginia governor to be indicted or convicted of a felony.  You may have also heard about Rod Blagovich, former governor of President Obama’s home state of Illinois.  He was convicted on 18 felony counts of corruption in 2012 and is serving a 14-year sentence.  I offer these examples to illustrate that corruption, from the lowest to the highest levels, must be addressed and not left to defeat by impunity.

In keeping our commitment to stem graft, the United States has worked with Nigeria’s anti-corruption institutions, like the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission, to bring corrupt individuals to justice.  We offer technical assistance, training, and cooperate with Nigerian officials to find evidence and/or stolen assets held abroad.  For years, we have invested in robust domestic prevention and enforcement efforts, strong international enforcement, and capacity building.  We believe in a continuation of this partnership.  Corruption knows no borders and we must unite to achieve results.

According to the recent Transparency International report on corruption in Africa, Nigerians were among the most likely to believe that corruption was getting worse in their country.  President Buhari’s focus on addressing corruption is a positive indication for a secure and bright, economic future for this country.  Corruption must be addressed by governments, civil society, and the private sector, through both top-down and bottom-up efforts.  The success of this fight depends on continuing efforts to ensure that citizens everywhere, as individuals, journalists, and as organized civil society, are able to expose corruption and participate in holding their governments accountable.  We note with deep concern that many governments are restricting civil society groups. We will continue working to ensure a robust, effective international response to the proliferation of restrictions being placed on civil society.

On this 12th anniversary of UNCAC, we reflect on how international standards on addressing corruption have been acceptance and shared.  We are ready to move to the next stage of applying best practices and partnering together to combat a problem found in all societies.  Twelve years ago, the United Nations Convention against Corruption opened for signature and established the world’s broadest framework for tackling the scourge of corruption.  Since then, the United States and 176 other countries have ratified this Convention.  The parties to the Convention have since met to renew their commitment and highlight priorities regarding prevention, asset recovery, criminalization, and enforcement.  The UN Convention builds on groundbreaking conventions in the Americas and Europe, which have piloted new approaches.

I would like to applaud the efforts of all those who have worked tirelessly and courageously in this fight. I am eager to see the long-term results of today’s discussion.

We have come a long way from the days when the payment of bribes was tax-deductible in some countries, and corruption was accepted as an unchangeable cultural practice.  We must step up our fight against corruption to ensure that it does not steal our future prosperity and stunt our aspirations.

Thank you.