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2010 Statements Archive

Remarks by Ambassador Janet E. Garvey at Second Africa Regional Anti-Corruption Seminar

June 15, 2010

Mr. Vice Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be opening the Second Africa Regional Anti-Corruption Seminar, being funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  Welcome to those of you who have traveled from other parts of Africa to be here, and a special welcome and thanks to my American colleagues who have come from the United States.

It is an honor for Cameroon to be chosen to host this event.  It signals the recognition that Cameroon is both a country challenged by serious corruption and a country working actively to fight it and to recover stolen assets.  Cameroon has gained a reputation for arresting corrupt officials and for cooperating with the international community in combating financial crime. Thank you, Mr. Vice Prime Minister, for your support and the support of your government in making this seminar possible.

Corruption is a global problem and I don’t have to tell you that much work needs to be done at every level to combat it.  International regimes are having a limited impact.  A 2009 Transparency International report found that only four of the 36 OECD countries were actively enforcing the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (the OECD Convention).   Public sector corruption is still very widespread.  Four of the countries participating in this week’s workshop scored lower than 3 out of a possible 10 in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception’s Index, indicating high-levels of public sector corruption throughout the region.

You all know the impact this corruption has in deepening poverty.  According to one study, in developing and transition countries alone, corrupt politicians and government officials receive bribes believed to total between $20 and 40 billion annually – the equivalent of some 20 to 40 per cent of official development assistance.  We can only guess how many billions of dollars may be in foreign bank accounts.

However, there is some good news.  We’ve all been talking about combating corruption for years – I’ve been talking about it since I arrived in Cameroon three years ago – and I’m pleased to say there has been some progress in what has been termed the global “anti-corruption eruption”.

You are all working within a global anti-corruption regime.  You can learn from each other’s experiences.  I congratulate each of your countries for having ratified the landmark United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) from 2003, which is global in its reach and has an extensive approach to addressing the corruption problem.  This workshop builds upon the framework set in the UNCAC, providing invaluable legal tools for fighting corruption.  I also look forward to the full ratification and implementation of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, which also provides important tools.

Non-governmental organizations have an essential role to play.  I have already mentioned Transparency International but I also commend NGO-led efforts such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which seeks to improve transparency in accounting for the proceeds of extractive industries.  The Open Budget Initiative, started in 2008, tracks budget transparency in 85 countries.  Here in Cameroon, Catholic Relief Services is leading a project called Fight Against Corruption in Schools (FACTS) to teach school children not to succumb to corruption.  The Last Great Ape, which I see is speaking in your workshop, has gained a reputation for highlighting and fighting wildlife trafficking.  I know there are organizations in all your countries actively fighting corruption.  This NGO network is increasingly interconnected through Internet and the global media and can serve as an active partner with government in fighting corruption. 

Private companies are also beginning to get the message.  In the United States, companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges are subject to stiff punishment under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) if they are caught engaging in corruption.  We take this very seriously and such major corporations as Siemens, Daimler, BHP Billiton, Kellog, Brown and Root, and Britain’s BAE Systems have recently been forced to pay huge fines under the FCPA.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating some 150 companies for corruption.  In the past five years, the U.S. has prosecuted more than 36 different corporations for foreign bribery-related offenses under the FCPA, levying criminal penalties in excess of $1.5 billion, far and away more than any other country.

In the U.S., we have taken other important steps to contribute to the global anti-corruption regime.  Presidential Proclamation 7750 requires the U.S. Department of State to deny visas to citizens and government officials who have engaged in serious corruption.  A 2009 law prohibits the U.S. Government from providing development assistance to governments that do not manage their budgets with transparency and accountability.  As a result, American Embassies in many countries, including mine in Cameroon, are spending increasing amounts of time analyzing and arguing for budget transparency. 

Here in Cameroon the U.S. Government continues to take steps to help fight corruption.  In addition to coordinating this seminar – only the second of its kind in Africa– we have brought to Cameroon an Interim Legal Advisor, someone from the U.S. Department of Justice who will work with Cameroonian authorities on recovering stolen assets.  We have also created a short film on U.S. tools to combat corruption which we are finalizing and will soon show in our consular waiting room. 

I wish I could stay for your whole seminar – looking at your program, it all sounds fascinating and very practical.  I like the fact that you will be focusing on judicial and investigative tools and that this will be a working level seminar.  Too often, conferences and seminars result in declarations and speeches but little concrete results.  The judiciary and police play an absolutely key role and I applaud those of you in law enforcement for taking on the anti-corruption challenge.  It’s not enough to lock corrupt people in jail – they need to prosecuted, their proceeds need to be tracked down.  Without a judicial process there is no justice.  

I was pleased to learn that Tanzania has recently had its first conviction in one of several grand corruption cases.   Here in Cameroon, the judicial process is beginning for officials arrested for alleged corruption.  This process needs to be seen through to the full extent of the law, not only in the interest of justice to the individuals involved but for the credibility of the whole anti-corruption effort.  I do not need to tell Cameroonians that there is a great deal of public cynicism about “Operation Epervier” (Sparrow Hawk) because some see it as politically motivated.   A fair and transparent judicial process that results in legitimate convictions is critical to counter these views. 

I like the fact that this week’s seminar seeks a team approach.  The different elements of law enforcement, the judiciary and non-governmental sector have to work well together to be effective. I also like the focus on institutions and international cooperation.  While individual corruption fighters shine like bright lights in every country, their efforts can have little long-term impact if institutions are  unable to sustain reforms.  Here in Cameroon, that means CONAC must have the capacity and tools to be effective.  It means implementing Article 66 of the constitution, which requires public officials to reveal their assets.  It means reforming the procurement process and improving budget transparency.  It means breathing new life into the donor-supported Change Habits Oppose Corruption, or “CHOC” program, including taking action on legislation recommended by CHOC in a way that involves civil society.

In a speech almost exactly a year ago at the Commonwealth Business Forum, here at the Hilton, I urged all Cameroonians to say:  “No, I will not pay bribes.  NON, je ne donne pas.”  This seminar is reinforcing that message. 

It’s also sending a hopeful message that “yes,”  we can do something about this problem.  I hope you will share what you learn this week to help build your home institutions.  I hope you commit yourselves to working together to build the anti-corruption capacity Africa so desperately needs.  For my friends in Cameroon, I hope this seminar will rekindle efforts to recover the proceeds of corruption.  In so doing, it should help remind every Cameroonian that there are visionaries working in this field and that there is an alternative future of a Cameroon where corruption is the exception, not the norm. 

As Cameroonians like to say, “on est ensemble” – working together, through international seminars like this one – I am convinced we can make a difference.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you a very successful seminar.