Developing trends in combating corruption, money laundering and recovering criminal assets in Europe
State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad's speech at a conference on anti-corruption in Prague 20 October 2015.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, Thank you for inviting me to address this conference.
The themes that you will discuss in the next two days affect the very functioning of any society. No country is entirely free of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. No country scores a perfect 10 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. That is why the issues at this conference are so important.
Corruption and mismanagement of public funds erode the necessary trust between authorities and the people. Indeed, the very suspicion of such activities leads to diminished trust. In recent years, we have seen protests and uprisings in many parts of the world triggered by bad governance and corruption. We all remember Mohamed Bouaziz, the vegetable seller in Tunisia who set himself on fire as an act of protest. His protest sparked similar uprisings in many parts of the world.
Corruption also makes it difficult for a country to attract domestic and foreign investment.Transparency and openness are essential if governments are to have the trust of their citizens. For example, the way political parties are funded must be transparent. The people must be sure that there is no conflict of interest when members of parliament – or members of other elected bodies at any level – make decisions.
Transparency is also needed so that authorities and politicians can be held accountable.Everyone must be involved in these efforts. Civil society must be included in the fight against corruption. Academia and the media are important partners; they advance knowledge, uncover information and play a key role as critical voices.
An independent judiciary that will not let itself be influenced by politicians is crucial. Control institutions that deliver critical reports must not be at risk of having their budgets cut or officials dismissed. Police and prosecutors must be allowed to investigate cases without worrying about undue influence or fearing for their own lives. Whistle-blowers and witnesses must be given proper protection. Unfortunately, in many countries it is safer to report to the media than to the proper authorities.
Money laundering is closely linked to corruption. Strict standards are needed to prevent people from turning their illicitly gained assets into apparently legal funds. Reporting requirements for financial institutions and limitations on cash payments are possible remedies. Likewise, illicitly gained assets should be recovered and if possible used as originally intended.
The fight against corruption is highly complicated. We know what corruption does and how it affects individuals. We know what it means for the distribution of wealth, and how it impedes development across the world.If the signals from the very top are unclear, corruption will become systemic. When the judicial system fails or is corrupt, victims of corruption have nowhere to go. If corrupt politicians can influence the system and feel they are above the law, the very foundation of democratic development crumbles.
Without clear leadership at the political level and throughout the system, the fight against corruption is bound to fail. Transparency about the assets held by politically exposed persons, which can be achieved through good reporting systems, demonstrates political will and vigour in the fight against corruption.
Over the last 10 years, Norway has led a network of corruption hunters. They are mainly investigators and prosecutors, as well as heads of anti-corruption agencies from about 20 countries. The members of this forum are from developed and developing countries alike. Through this network, it has become evident that when politicians and other elected officials are corrupt, the people stop believing in democratic institutions and processes.
In a few weeks, the parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) will meet for their regular conference. In the 10 years since the convention entered into force, progress has been made in many countries. New legislation has been passed. Public awareness of these issues has grown. The test of any progress, however, is whether the legislation is implemented successfully.Before closing, I would like to say a few words about how the challenges of corruption and mismanagement are being addressed by the EEA and Norway Grants scheme.
In order to improve risk management and prevent corruption in grant programmes, the donor states have developed a risk management strategy. Through this strategy, risks are continually assessed in every partner country and for each programme. We have also entered into a partnership with Transparency International. This has helped to raise the profile of corruption prevention.
Transparency International provides integrity assessments of the beneficiary countries, corruption risk assessments, advice on mitigating actions and support for the development of complaint mechanisms.While ‘good governance’ is not in itself a separate programme area, it is an integral part of all grant activities. A number of programmes and projects focus on improving public governance in the beneficiary states. Among these are programmes for judicial capacity building and the training of various groups of civil servants, judges and police.
A substantial number of projects funded through the NGO programmes under the EEA and Norway Grants are also addressing issues linked to good governance, transparency and anti-corruption.This conference is addressing extremely important issues. I hope that your discussions will be stimulating and productive, and I wish you every success.
The Oslo Times