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Press Release


  November 28, 2006

“Democracy is not a luxury or an issue of ideology; it’s a fundamental precondition for social and economic development,” Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, said today at the Organization of American States (OAS), as she headlined the seventeenth conference in the Lecture Series of the Americas.

Speaking to diplomats, students, academics and civil society representatives on “Beyond Words and Paper: Why the Americas Must Act Against Corruption,” Labelle highlighted the interrelation that exists between poverty in the Americas and corruption.

“Corruption does not make a country poorer just by undermining its economy. It makes the poor poorer,” she explained, “because part of their meager earnings, their nonexistent disposable income must pay for basic services which otherwise should be free.”

The keynote speaker underscored the need for international organizations, civil society and citizens to work together to demand accountability and transparency in the region. She warned that influence is exercised through a number of methods, noting that “campaign financing, trafficking in influence, control of information and at times extortion are all tools of the abuse of power for private gain.” She added that “as a result, public policies are seriously distorted and resources misallocated.”

The head of Transparency International acknowledged that many countries have established formal democratic systems after a number of free elections have produced a new generation of leaders, “many of them elected on anti-corruption platforms.” However, she cautioned that “no country has a total monopoly on transparency.”

Labelle lauded the OAS for steps it has taken, including the adoption of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, and she called on the states parties to implement all of the treaty’s requirements. “It is time for this generation of Latin American leaders to publicly account for progress in fulfilling these obligations,” she said. “By doing so, they will reassure citizens across the hemisphere that they are moving beyond words and paper and are acting against corruption.”

Welcoming Huguette Labelle on behalf of OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Finance, Frank Almaguer, recalled that 2006 was declared the Inter-American Year of the Fight against Corruption. “The OAS is the premier regional forum for multilateral dialogue and is dedicated to promoting peace and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. He underscored the importance that the Secretary General has placed in the fight against corruption. “Fighting corruption strengthens democratic institutions and prevents distortions in the economy, improprieties in public administration and damage to a society’s moral fiber,” he said, citing the 1996 anti-corruption treaty.

Transparency International is a civil society organization dedicated to the fight against corruption around the world. Huguette Labelle, a citizen of Canada, was elected to chair the organization in November 2005. She is currently Chancellor of the University of Ottawa and Vice President of the Council for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Created by the OAS Permanent Council to promote democratic principles and values in the countries of the hemisphere, the Lecture Series of the Americas invites recognized speakers to address key hemispheric issues, such as the strengthening of democracy, human rights, social development, hemispheric security and the fight against poverty. The conferences are being held thanks to financial contribution from Peru’s San Martin de Porres University, as well as support from the governments of Greece and Qatar.

Reference: E-257/06