By KEVIN PAMBA
“Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies.” Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General 2004.
As the world comes to terms with the passing of Nobel laureate Kofi Annan, 80, last weekend, the man dubbed an “internationalist” and “great human being” was remembered by world leaders for his great works for world peace and prosperity.
Today, we pay homage to this great man, originally from Ghana in West Africa, by looking back at one of the legacies in his two terms as the Secretary General of the United Nations.
As much as Annan was a well-schooled international diplomat, at heart, he was the quintessential Third World child, concerned about the global issues such as corruption that affect his people.
It was under Annan’s leadership of the UN that the “United Nations Convention Against Corruption” (UNCAC) was launched in 2004, a document that was put together in the hope that this global scourge is addressed decisively for a better world.
The Convention overseen by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) “is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument.”
The UNODC says:“The convention’s far-reaching approach and the mandatory character of many of its provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to a global problem.”
“The convention covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange.
“The convention covers many different forms of corruption, such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector.”
PNG signs and ratifies the convention
The Government of Papua New Guinea signed the convention on Dec 22, 2004 and ratified it on 16 July, 2007.
PNG’s close neighbour Australia signed the global treaty on 9 Dec 9, 2003 and ratified it on Dec 7, 2005.
Another close neighbor Indonesia to the west signed it on Dec 18, 2003 and ratified it on Sept 19, 2006 while Solomon Islands to the east ratified it on “accession” on Jan 6, 2012.
Annan was very passionate about the tenets of the convention that he vouched for it to be a blue print to address corruption on a global scale while working within each country. His was a view that corruption was best addressed through partnerships between states, global institutions such as the UN and various sectors such as business.
Article 1 of the convention spells out its purposes as follows:
“(a) To promote and strengthen measures to prevent and combat corruption more efficiently and effectively; (b) To promote, facilitate and support international cooperation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption, including in asset recovery; (c) To promote integrity, accountability and proper management of public affairs and public property.”
Annan did not mix his words when addressing corruption and its impact on countries of the world, particularly the vulnerable populations.
Writing in the foreword of the convention, Annan described corruption as “an insidious plague” that must be addressed with urgency.
By labelling corruption as “an insidious plague”, Annan highlighted its seriousness.
The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines “insidious” as an adjective describing a phenomenon “spreading gradually or without being noticed, but causing serious harm”.
The same dictionary defines “plague” as a noun that means “any infectious disease that kills a lot of people”. And as a verb, it (plague) means to “cause pain or trouble to somebody or something over a period of time”.
Annan made a strong statement by combining the two words (insidious and plague) to describe corruption.
An insidious plague with corrosive effects
Annan wrote: “Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies.
“It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.
“This evil phenomenon is found in all countries—big and small, rich and poor—but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive.
“Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a Government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment.
“Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.”
“The adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption will send a clear message that the international community is determined to prevent and control corruption.”
“It will warn the corrupt that betrayal of the public trust will no longer be tolerated.”
“And it will reaffirm the importance of core values such as honesty, respect for the rule of law, accountability and transparency in promoting development and making the world a better place for all.”
Annan pointed out that the convention introduced a comprehensive set of standards, measures and rules that UN member countries could apply in order to strengthen their legal and regulatory regimes to fight corruption.
He noted: “It calls for preventive measures and the criminalization of the most prevalent forms of corruption in both public and private sectors.”
“And it makes a major breakthrough by requiring Member States to return assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen.
“These provisions—the first of their kind—introduce a new fundamental principle, as well as a framework for stronger cooperation between States to prevent and detect corruption and to return the proceeds. Corrupt officials will in future find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains.
“This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where corrupt high officials have plundered the national wealth and where new Governments badly need resources to reconstruct and rehabilitate their societies.”
Those were strong words from the UN Secretary General.
The preamble of the convention lists 14 key concerns of the states who put the document together.
Below are seven out of the 14:
States were concerned about the seriousness of problems and threats posed by corruption to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law;
States were concerned also about the links between corruption and other forms of crime, in particular organized crime and economic crime, including money laundering;
States were concerned further about cases of corruption that involve vast quantities of assets, which may constitute a substantial proportion of the resources of States, and that threaten the political stability and sustainable development of those States;
States were convinced that corruption is no longer a local matter but a transnational phenomenon that affects all societies and economies, making international cooperation to prevent and control it essential;
States were convinced also that a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach is required to prevent and combat corruption effectively;
States were convinced further that the availability of technical assistance can play an important role in enhancing the ability of States, including by strengthening capacity and by institution-building, to prevent and combat corruption effectively; and
States were convinced that the illicit acquisition of personal wealth can be particularly damaging to democratic institutions, national economies and the rule of law.
His words resonate to this day
As the world remembers Kofi Annan, his words and the tenets of the convention he oversaw resonate in 2018 in countries like PNG. This was explicated by the sentiments of one of the judges of the Supreme and National courts, Justice Oagile Betheul Dingake recently.
“One of the biggest crimes committed in almost every country is corruption, which is eating into the fabric of our society,” Justice Dingake was quoted as saying by The National (page 6) on Monday last week. He was speaking as guest of the Department of Justice and Attorney General at an event in Port Moresby.The news article is available at this link:
Justice Dingake said that countries can pass laws “but if you do not educate people to depart from crime and corruption you will not succeed.
“PNG needs to have committees like anti-corruption clubs set up to fight corruption at every ministry all sectors of government and its sectors.”
“More focus is needed here in PNG to fight corruption so that it is reduced.” He made the observations while sharing positive steps his home country, Botswana, had taken in this regard.
Justice Dingake is spot on about the value of continuing to educate the public about what corruption is and the need for people to be educated enough to stay away from it and make ends meet through honest, hard work.
We hope that the wishes of a “great human being” like Kofi Annan to make the world a better place is realized by governments, institutions and people by unreservedly implementing theprovisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption. The convention is available online at:
- Dr Kevin Pamba is a Divine Word University-based researcher on communication and engagement issues involving indigenous landowners in petroleum projects. Dr Pamba visited the United Nations headquarters in New York and learnt about the UN system under an US State Department scholarship in July, 2000.