Corruption a two-way street

Andrew Allimadi
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Addis Ababa)
October 14, 2004

Addis Ababa: A lively debate on corruption and governance constituted the highlight of the third day of ADF IV. Participants said that while corruption was a cancer eating away at African societies, the only way to find a solution was to address the problem from both the supply-side and the demand side.

The Attorney General of Lesotho, Mr. Lebohang Fine-Maema, explained how his country had tackled corruption by attacking both ends of the problem. The most high-profile cases have arisen from the multi-million dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), in which several western companies allegedly paid huge bribes to local managers in order to win contracts. The Attorney General said his country first successfully prosecuted the local director of the project, then turned its attention to the foreign firms.

One Canadian firm was successfully prosecuted for paying US$2 million in bribes to local associates over the project. “The firm was convicted and fined a sum of US$15 million,” the attorney general said, to applause from the audience – adding that other European firms were still being prosecuted in relation to the project, including firms from Germany and Italy.

Most people had thought it unfeasible for a small country like Lesotho to take on such huge multinationals. Given the high cost of the process, few partners were initially willing to contribute funds to the litigation. However, in view of the success to date, a number of donors had come forward people. The project’s success has also had ramifications elsewhere, with the World Bank, for example, re-instituting its programme of barring corrupt companies from bidding for World Bank contracts.

Mr. Fine-Maema pointed to a number of lessons learned as a result of the Lesotho litigation: companies and individuals who solicit and receive bribes can be successfully prosecuted; corruption is clearly not just an African problem but also exists in industrial countries; those who bribe tend to stick together so it is difficult to obtain information; and it is important to get the cooperation of others. Lesotho succeeded in securing cooperation from Switzerland, which provided details of bank accounts where the illicit gains were deposited.

Other participants applauded Lesotho’s success and agreed that one sure way to reduce corruption is if perpetrators know they can be caught. Nevertheless, the conference acknowledged that corruption remains a big problem on the continent. In order to illustrate the problem, one delegate recalled the recent disappearance of ship full of crude oil off the coast of Nigeria. “How can a whole oil-tanker disappear?” he wondered.

Delegates further stressed the importance of building strong institutions that can tackle corruption, rather than having institutions in name only. Anti-corruption bodies should be fully-funded, fully staffed and fully free from interference by the executive. Some delegates gave examples of anti-corruption bodies which have to rely on a weak public prosecution and judicial system to take-up corruption cases.

Other sessions taking place on day three of ADF IV included a plenary session on ‘Institutions for Effective Governance’, chaired by Ms. Frene Noshir Ginwala, the former speaker of the South African parliament. The session debated ways of achieving an independent and effective judiciary in Africa, and examined the question of political parties in the context of legislative effectiveness. Delegates said although many African constitutions allow for separation of powers between the state and the judiciary, this separation is often more theoretical than real. There were calls for a clear separation of powers, and a meeting of African chief justices to harmonize legal systems. There were also calls for better funding and capacity building for African political parties, especially opposition parties, to ensure that they can effectively hold the executive to account.

The other plenary session was titled “Public Voice and Accountability: The Growing Influence of Civil Society in Africa.” The session was chaired by Salim Ahmed Salim, chairman of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation in Tanzania and former Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS in South Africa, spoke at length on the important role of civil society in ensuring good governance in Africa. This was followed by a presentation by Adama Dieng, UN Assistant Secretary General and Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, who addressed the role of civil society in democratic processes. Nigerian Appeal Court judge, Justice Amina Augie, then spoke on human rights as a critical dimension of good governance in Africa.

Also taking place on Day Three were five parallel breakout sessions, on: Governance for private sector development and partnership; Public institutions and effective service delivery; Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and governance; and Media and governance.

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