Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Maria E. Brewer Access Nigeria and Sierra Leone Conference (August 10, 2015)

Good morning, I would like to thank Partners for Democratic Change and the CLEEN Foundation for the opportunity to speak to you today.  It is great to see so many of our civil society and government partners here.  The United States is committed to helping Nigeria fight corruption and improve governance, and we look forward to continuing our efforts in the fight.

The Access Nigeria and Sierra Leone project is part of a broader effort to build accountable institutions, increase transparency, and deny impunity for those who engage in corruption. This timely and important event coincides with President Buhari’s commitment to end graft and improve governance.

Corruption harms society, the economy, and our security in many different ways.   It undermines faith in democracy when citizens believe that their leaders use their authority for personal gain.  It threatens the stability of markets and distorts competition when businesses that play by the rules lose to those who engage in bribery.

But worst of all, corruption exacerbates poverty and deprives people of opportunities to provide a better life for their families.  Money lost to bribery and graft results in misallocation and reduces available capital for the provision of critical public services like infrastructure, health care and education.  As President Obama has said, the fight against corruption “is one of the great struggles of our time.”

Acceptance of international standards provides a roadmap to measures that ensure good governance.  Governments should focus their efforts to implement and enforce these recognized principles.  Prevention and prosecution are also necessary to address economic malfeasance.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multi-stakeholder initiative of governments, civil society organizations, and business, has grown in two years to include 65 countries, representing more than two billion people.  The OGP is forging new commitments to promote transparency and citizen engagement in battling corrupt governance.

In Washington, D.C. last month, we encouraged the Nigerian government to join the OGP.  If Nigeria joins OGP, Nigeria will gain valuable institutional support for its efforts to deter corruption and increase transparency. During his campaign, President Buhari pledged to pursue many reform commitments addressed by the open government agenda, including;

  • asset disclosure;
  • freedom of information;
  • procurement reform;
  • open contracting;
  • whistleblower protection; and
  • transparency in the extractives industry.

The open government agenda has proven to be a particularly important asset in helping many OGP member governments enhance the fight against corruption and ensure conditions for economic growth.

Because corrupt actors are relentless, we too must be relentless.  It will take the full collaboration of government, civil society, and the private sector to address this problem and help Nigeria fulfill her potential.

As an example of achievement, the Access Sierra Leone project helped Sierra Leone qualify for the OGP and directly supported the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who forged their national action plan.  The project ensured sincere collaboration between civil society organizations, the private sector, and the government.  Working together the groups prioritized anticorruption and pro-transparency as dual goals.  In addition they agreed on joint monitoring and implementation of the action plan.

In Nigeria this project could well achieve similar results.  It begins with the creation of an OGP national action plan.  By utilizing OGP methods, Nigeria can deploy a powerful tool ensuring implementation of reforms across various sectors, engaging the different ministries required to lead implementation.

The United States continues to fight public corruption within its own borders and as a PARTNER to you in the fight against corruption here. We stand ready to work with Nigeria’s anticorruption institutions.   Whether through technical assistance and training, or cooperatively to assist in the location of stolen assets held abroad we stand with Nigeria’s efforts to continue developing good governance.   Corruption knows no borders and affects both our countries and the world, our efforts must be a team endeavor to achieve results.

I would like to again applaud the efforts of all those who have worked tirelessly and courageously in this fight.  We have come a long way from the days when the payment of bribes was tax-deductible in some countries, and corruption was excused as an unchangeable cultural practice.  We must redouble our fight against corruption to ensure that it does not steal our future prosperity and stunt our aspirations.  We continue to support this project and look forward to hearing more about its progress.  I encourage all of you to use this conference to share lessons learned from the previous two years of project implementation and to develop ambitious plans and attainable results for the next phase of the project.