I am honoured to be here with such an eminent group of panellists and participants to discuss the fight against corruption and its impact on sustainable economic growth and effects on the political and developmental health of nations. I thank the esteemed leaders for hosting today.
I bring greetings from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who looks forward to great results from today’s high-level meeting on the rule of law. He welcomes the adoption of the Declaration as a groundbreaking achievement and as a milestone for the promotion of the rule of law. Let us rejoice at this auspicious start of this lively week at the United Nations.
Let us remind ourselves why our fight against corruption is so important.
Weak rule of law and corruption create a vicious cycle. A lack of the rule of law breeds corruption.
That, in turn, corrodes the ability of rule of law institutions to promote human rights, maintain law and order, ensure the integrity of public institutions, support economic growth and deliver services.
Corruption affects all countries, destroying trust in the social contract, undermining political participation and threatening people’s welfare.
Corruption siphons away money that should be used for public services, getting children into school, helping mothers to survive childbirth and expanding access to water, health care and food – instead this money is placed in the hands of criminals.
The poorest are hardest-hit. When it comes to bribes, small businesses pay over twice as much in proportion to their annual revenue as large businesses and rich households. Women are especially likely to be affected, for example when they apply for documents such as ID-cards or deal with corrupt law enforcement agencies.
This is equally true for the poorest countries. Corruption costs the average developing country more than a quarter of a billion dollars per year.
In countries emerging from war or going through a transition, corruption can be extremely damaging. It tears apart the fragile social contract and undermines faith in political institutions and the support of the people.
You are all aware of the magnitude of this problem. The question is how can we take charge of this poison in societies?
I would suggest there are three concrete steps we can take internationally to cut out the cancer of corruption.
First, make it a priority in the global agenda. The urgency of addressing corruption is increasingly reflected in many global conferences, Rio+20 to the G20 meetings.
Second, build a value-based culture that upholds the rule of law, internationally and inside among Member States.
This means ensuring integrity of public institutions. The UN Convention against Corruption and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime both serve this purpose, as well as national institutions in this area.
Our broader rule of law efforts also play a critical role, including the strengthening of law enforcement and justice institutions.
Third, work with partners to make a difference.
I am very gratified that we have leaders here from civil society and the business world. We cannot combat corruption without all partners on board in this crucial fight against corruption.
Activists are making their mark by demanding greater accountability. Community organizers have mobilized to fight corruption. And grassroots groups raise awareness about anti-corruption laws and practices.
The private sector has enormous influence – and every interest in fighting corruption.
More and more companies are working to prevent corruption and respond to corruption.
They are developing guidelines, establishing offices dedicated to ethics, training employees and participating in integrity pacts with governments.
But true success, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, demands a critical mass of businesses and the full commitment of governments.
It also demands a growing public awareness if we are going to address this threat at the local, national and global levels.
No society – no social contract – can function without honesty, without trust. Corruption undermines this trust which is the crucial foundation of a society.
Leaders gathering in New York to discuss the rule of law this week can help to bring this to the top of the international agenda so that we can achieve the critical mass we need to fight and put an end to corruption, restore public trust and strengthen the rule of law.
We are at the beginning of a process and we now need to work very hard.
I look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can advance this cause.