Media Center



June 3, 2010 - Lima, Perú

I would like to start out by expressing my appreciation, especially to President Alan García, his Government and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the reception given by this country to the events that will be celebrated in the coming days during the fortieth General Assembly of the Organization of American States. I would also like to extend special thanks to the President of the Council of Ministers, to the Judiciary and to the government for the support they have provided so that the conference on “Progress and Challenges in Hemispheric Cooperation against Corruption” could he held here, immediately before our General Assembly.

This responds to a tradition; Peru was the first or one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Since the beginning, it has been part of the mechanism for follow-up on its implementation (MESICIC); it has taken part in the program of plans of action for the implementation of the recommendations made by MESICIC, and it has adopted a national plan to combat corruption. Previously it had been the headquarters for compliance with this important collective challenge in the Americas, and I therefore appreciate the presence of all of you and of so many national and international civil society participants, essential in this process in which we are involved to combat corruption and to ensure transparency.

The issue of corruption occupies a very special place on the collective agenda and on the agenda of the Organization of American States. When corruption exists, there cannot be true democracy, because corruption attempts to supplant the will of the people and subordinate the rule of law to the power of money, and its negative influence is expressed in all orders of social coexistence. Our Inter-American Democratic Charter – we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of its signature here in Lima next year – establishes that the transparency of government activities and the probity and responsibility of governments in the conduct of public affairs are a fundamental component of the exercise of democracy.

Corruption affects social and economic development. Numerous studies show how, ultimately, the principal victims of corruption are the poorest sectors of society. The greater the corruption in a country, the less the investment and growth. Moreover, this harm subsists after the problem is solved, because it is much easier for the population to form an image that those who govern them are corrupt than to correct this image, and this weakens the credibility of the institutions and may weaken the very stability of the State. Once the population forms this conviction, it is very difficult to undo the image that has been created.

Consequently, we must also refer to probity and transparency. Nothing is gained from scrupulous conduct, if it does not occur in a climate of transparency. Often the sensation of corruption with regard to some governments is related more to the opacity with which they take their decisions than to real situations of corruption. A distinguished judge, William Rehnquist Dies, of the United States Supreme Court, has said that the best remedy for illness was sunlight, and this is surely true. The source of corruption is the lack of transparency, the opacity with which decisions are sometimes taken, and the more able we are to throw public light on them, the less corruption we will find. Hence, our Convention establishes and encourages greater transparency in the public function and public accountability of ministries and general directorates for their actions because, if the expenditure is visible, anyone can verify it; if public procurement processes that have been approved are on the Internet and if any citizen can verify the procedures, this evidently eliminates or at least reduces the possibility of corruption. It also contributes to the general perception so that things improve, and nowadays there is less corruption.

This conference will allow us to review the progress made in enhancing our cooperating against corruption and also examine some challenges. I would like to share with you some reflections on this topic and on the future of our collective action.

It has already been said – by Jean Michael – that our Convention is pioneering; the norms that were subsequently drafted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Council of Europe, and even the recent United Nations Convention, all have in some way their origins in the first convention on this matter, which is the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which has been ratified by 33 of the 34 active Member States of our organization. It is the first document to express an integral and complete concept of the way in which this problem should be handled and, therefore, it is a real navigation chart in this field. The most important point that must be understood is that the fight against corruption should be considered a process. From the outset, we were very aware that the mere signature or ratification of the convention was not the end point of this process, but merely the first giant step towards dealing with this evil collectively. Consequently, we have continued to work on these programs, and the most important progress made has been the reciprocal evaluation mechanism, the MESICIC.

Many treaties are signed in today’s world, but the important aspect is to be able to verify how they are being implemented by law in the Member Countries, and how they are being complied with over time. The most significant factor that has contributed to the mechanism’s consolidation has been that it was conceived as an instrument for cooperation among the States, where they are all equal and they are encouraged to present their information transparently, and where civil society organizations also have a role to play. In other words, it is not merely the technical analysis by the OAS that offers a guarantee as the institutional memory, but also the participation of civil society organizations. Evidently, sometimes the most demanding moments of the process are when the evaluations made by the countries are submitted to discussion by the relevant specialized organizations.

We have already completed two rounds of evaluations, during which 28 Member States have produced reports. The third is underway and the assessment reveals that institutions are important; that a legal framework and public policies are crucial, and that shortcomings in these aspects can encourage the occurrence of acts of corruption. The evaluations also show that, in some cases, the countries do not have laws or have not taken measures to deal with the issues examined. In some cases the laws or measures are sufficient, and in others their effectiveness cannot be evaluated because there is no way to do so. In the case of 54 percent of the Member States that participated in the process, it was recommended that they adopt measures to expand access to public information; 67 percent were advised to ensure the effectiveness of the laws regulating the preservation of public resources – this is already going a little further – that is, not only should they pay attention that public resources are not, let us say, misappropriated, but also States must have norms to ensure that these resources are well spent. It was necessary to recommend to 82 percent of the States that they improve the analysis of the net worth statements made by public officials; frequently a difficult issue to deal with. And furthermore: it was recommended that they avoid conflicts of interests in the so-called “revolving doors” that occur following the execution of public functions. However, we have not just made evaluations but rather, immediately afterwards through cooperation programs, we have provided support to Member States to improve their institutions and legal frameworks, in order to prevent and combat corruption. During this conference, you will be able to listen to presentations that give concrete examples of the type of actions that we have implemented to enhance our cooperation.

In this regard, an important element is the program we have been executing to help the States develop actions to implement the recommendations made to them under the MESICIC mechanism. In addition to Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala, Suriname, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago have benefited from this program, and coordination is underway with Jamaica and Mexico. During the conference you will also be able to hear from the representatives of some of these States about the benefits that this process has brought about.

In addition to the evaluations and the cooperation programs, the States must provide information on the implementation of the recommendations made and the MESICIC committee must evaluate this, and that is what we are doing now. The second round is already revealing significant progress by Member States in the implementation of the recommendations made during the first round. However, in addition to the framework provided to the process of cooperation by the MESICIC, and as a result of the mandate of the Summit of Presidents of the Americas, our General Assembly, and the Meetings of the Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General of the Americas, we have launched cooperation processes in areas relating to mutual assistance in criminal matters and extradition, asset recovery and others linked to transnational crime, issues that have arisen in the discussions of the Convention against Corruption.

All these practical steps – whether or not we believe it – are effective, despite what I said earlier, in the sense that it is easier for the public to form an image of corruption than for it to lose this perception. In this regard, the 2009 Latinobarómetro report reveals that, over the last five years, there has been an increase in the public perception of progress in the reduction of corruption. The perception is still not very high, but those who say they have observed acts of corruption decreased from 27 percent in 2001 to 13 percent in 2009. And the latter represents a reduction of two percentage points compared to 2008; in other words, over the last eight years we have made very significant progress in reducing the number of citizens who say they have perceived an act of corruption. I believe that these advances are related to the efforts we have made through our cooperation process.

Despite this pride in our achievements, I believe that we still have to strengthen cooperation in some areas. A first area relates to transparency in the financing of political parties and campaigns. Political corruption is at the root of other forms of corruption. We have to facilitate a more open and thorough discussion of this crucial issue for democratic governance; the relationship between money and politics is a topic that has been dealt with insufficiently in most of the hemisphere, and it has even suffered a certain backsliding in recent times. The direct participation of corporations in politics, not merely to lobby, but also to finance campaigns and other activities, is contrary to our understanding of the concept of politics as an activity of private individuals in equal conditions. In our societies, differences can occur in the marketplace but not in politics. We must avoid politics becoming a market activity.

To this must be added the limited transparency of electoral financing on a continent in which organized crime has increased its presence in recent years, so that defending the transparency of political processes is today an essential task, not only to ensure the equal participation of the population, but also to avoid the presence of drug-trafficking and organized crime in political activity. Hence, we are initiating an ambitious program on the transparency of political expenditure and electoral expenditure.

Another area where we must continue working is in the enhancement of cooperation for the prosecution and punishment of corruption. Impunity is the best ally of corruption and impunity is often achieved by crossing national borders into other countries. The systems of justice and the organs of control must function, and also our mutual cooperation mechanisms. Consequently, the MESICIC has recommended to most of the Member States that they also reinforce substantially the fight against impunity in relation to corruption.

We have been strengthening cooperation concerning mutual assistance for criminal matters and extradition, for combating money-laundering, for recovering assets arising from disbursements on corruption, and in refusing to receive corrupt officials and those who corrupt them. In the analysis of the answers to a questionnaire sent out by the OAS, of a sample of 28 Member States, 73 percent cited double jeopardy as a reason to reject requests for mutual judicial assistance, only 35 percent have taken measures to recover assets arising from acts of corruption, 60 percent have not taken measures that allow them to share seized assets, and 65 percent have not taken measures to refuse to receive corrupt officials. Obviously we still have a long way to go in this matter, which relates directly to the sphere of action and competence of the Organization of American States, since it forms part of what we can call transnational crime.

A third area in which we must advance is in corporate responsibility. The private sector is part of the problem and must be part of the solution. The most developed countries must do much more to ensure that their corporations stop bribing foreign public officials, and our region should close its borders to corrupt companies, an issue we are examining within the framework of the MESICIC and on which we are developing recommendations to yield concrete advances.

Lastly, and no less important, is the participation of two central actors in the prevention and reporting of corruption. Most States have been recommended to develop additional ways to facilitate access by civil society to the monitoring of the management of public affairs. We must also continue to establish mechanisms to enable civil society to make a contribution at the international level, and it is truly encouraging to see at this conference so many specialists and representatives of civil society who have formed organizations to combat this scourge in their own country.

In addition the press, the free press, has an essential role to play. The media should play an educational role for society and responsible investigative journalism can also make a substantial contribution to combating corruption. We cannot combat corruption only through the powers of the State – however significant the effort. The access of both the press and civil society to the activities of the public authorities, and the possibility of denouncing acts that they have investigated responsibly, plays a fundamental role in the fight against corruption.

Three final observations: the first is that it is important to continue strengthening our collective action and reciprocal cooperation to deal with common problems. What we are all achieving within the framework of the MESICIC is to show that, even though we are faced with a serious problem, we cannot rest if we want to deal with it. And, in recent years we have shown that we can generate concrete and useful products to reinforce our legal frameworks, and that our institutions can enhance their actions to prevent and combat corruption more effectively.

Second, it is important also to emphasize that the framework and driving force for hemispheric cooperation against corruption should be a treaty negotiated and approved by the States within the framework of the OAS. The OAS is the natural scenario for the development of international law in the hemisphere. There is no other institution or organization that can perform this function; indeed, all the important treaties that have been signed in this hemisphere since the Second World War – except one: the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean – have all been signed and are deposited in the vaults of the Organization of American States. This is an element that distinguishes our organization and identifies its importance. We therefore feel it important to emphasize this point and we consider that these conferences are essential. All the States of the hemisphere are present here and all should have the possibility of debating, in equal conditions, the issues that concern them.

Finally, one of the issues that I have insisted on in recent years is that, through this type of action, we are enhancing broad, modern and inclusive multilateralism. I repeat, all the States that come to discuss the MESICIC do so on an equal footing and among their peers so as to solve problems that are common to all their peoples. In this way we not only strengthen our institution, but we also strengthen the common standards of our countries with regard to democracy and the mechanisms to monitor it.

In fact, in my opinion, this system that we are evaluating today is the best example of the type of procedure that we should continue to develop and consolidate within the framework of our organization, not only to strengthen it but also to strengthen democracy on the continent. This explains the importance that we accord to this conference, Messrs. Presidents, and our appreciation of your participation and the contribution that you are making to its success.

Thank you very much