Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the
opening ceremony of the United Nations Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and
Safeguarding Integrity, Sandton Convention Centre, 2 April 2007
Distinguished delegates and guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank you most sincerely for giving me the opportunity
to address this important meeting convened to deal with one of the most critical
challenges facing all nations of the world. We have gathered here to engage the
difficult problem of corruption, which obstructs the achievement of the important
objective we all share, the objective of liberating billions of human beings from
the scourge of poverty.
The theme that informs the work of this conference,
'fighting corruption and safeguarding integrity,' correctly presumes our ability
as political leaders, business leaders, civil society, public intellectuals and
academics, and others, to identify the root causes of corruption and accordingly
work out the most effective ways and means to combat it.
All of us are
agreed about the negative consequences of corruption on the lives of especially
the ordinary people but also all the citizens of our countries. We are equally
agreed that for corruption to occur there must also exist mutual agreement and
collusion between the corruptor and the corrupted.
Indeed, both the corrupter
and the corrupted would, as a matter of principle, agree to subject their souls
to the dictates of graft, illegally to line their pockets against the interests
of the people to whom the stolen resources are due.
From the experience
of many in this room, we know that that corruption is not necessarily caused by
poverty. In any case, by definition and in general, the poor are so excluded from
the levers of power that they do not have the possibility to extricate themselves
out of poverty by corrupt means.
Rather, in many instances corruption serves
as a sufficient condition for the further entrenchment of poverty, negating the
potential for development. We know of many examples where corruption robs a large
section of humanity of their right to homes, food, transport, education, health,
clean water, and many other essential services.
The incidence of corruption
in modern society seems to reinforce the view postulated by the English philosopher,
Thomas Hobbes, when he wrote about what he considered to be what has been described
as 'the natural condition of humanity.' He advanced the concept of "bellum
omnium contra omnes" the "war of all against all"
and the notion that in a so-called 'state of nature,' human society, not governed
by a benevolent dictator, renders all human life "solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish, and short." Specifically, in his 'Leviathan,' he wrote that:
the basic condition of man
is a condition of war of every one against every
one; in which case every one is governed by his own reason; and there is nothing
he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against
his enemies; it followeth, that in such a condition every man has a right to everything;
even to another's body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every
man to everything endureth, there can be no security to any man, how strong or
wise soever he be, of living out the time, which nature ordinarily alloweth men
(Leviathan, Collier Macmillan, 1974, p 103).
incidence of corruption, especially as it occurs within the context of a global
social order that deifies the personal acquisition of wealth regardless of the
social cost, that advocates the creation of a world in which wealth, profit and
conspicuous consumption are pursued by individuals and corporations at all costs,
naturally raises the question whether Thomas Hobbes was not correct after all.
But if he was, the question would arise is contemporary society therefore
obliged to accept that to avoid a situation of "war of all against all,"
it has no choice but to accept rule by benevolent dictators!
I am certain
that all of us proceed from the position that we cannot accept any suggestion
that we can revert to the 'natural condition of humanity' as conceptualised by
Thomas Hobbes, and therefore accept the inevitable consequence to accommodate
ourselves to the necessity of a benevolent autocracy.
Instead, we would
advance the proposition that the 'natural condition of humanity' dictates the
need to govern human society according to a value system based on the principles
and practice of human solidarity, caring and compassion towards one's neighbour.
In this regard we would argue that social cohesion in all communal societies,
before their fragmentation in class terms, was guaranteed by the pre-eminence
of the principle and practice of sharing, rather than the notion - everybody for
himself or herself, and the devil take the hindmost.
character Houdia M'Baye, in his well-known novel, 'God's Bits of Wood,' recalls
the words of another character (Ramatoulaye) who said, "Real misfortune is
not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that
there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty and that is the
way it is with us."
Here Ousmane Sembene is pointing to the relationship
between poverty and power, and the conscious abuse of power for personal enrichment
at the expense of the powerless. For Sembene, there are people and, by extension,
systems and institutions, whose existence and success is predicated on the deprivation
of another, as a consequence of which Ramatoulaye said "that is the
way it is with us."
In this setting, corruption becomes the way it
is with us. Thus the knowledge that there are others who intend that others should
be poor becomes even more painful than the resultant poverty which constitutes
the "real misfortune" that Ramatoulaye decried.
The real misfortune
lies in the fact that "there are people (in positions of power) who want
(others) to be hungry and thirsty," whose apparently unstoppable actions
distort and pervert the very essence of what it means to be human.
message is perfectly clear. It is that corruption implicates in shared guilt both
the corrupter and the corrupted, and defines both as offenders against humanity
itself. The ordinary folk who constitute his 'God's bits of wood' understand this
very well that corruption, in all its forms and manifestations, constitutes a
process that negates the democracy and development that ordinary people need to
transcend the boundaries of their world of poverty, underdevelopment and disempowerment.
We have gathered here today from all corners of the globe because together
we understand the simple and obvious fact that corruption benefits the few, and
harms the majority. It is inimical to pro-poor sustainable growth and development.
It distorts human values, exacerbates market inefficiencies, undermines
democracy, its institutions and ethos, engenders citizen frustration with elected
and appointed officials, seriously erodes confidence in the process of governance,
and is detrimental to the effective and efficient delivery of goods and services
to those most in need.
The corollary of this central thesis is that any
anti-corruption strategy and the necessary anti-corruption instruments while obviously
absolutely necessary, must not be seen as ends in themselves. They must be firmly
located within a development and anti-poverty discourse that promotes citizen
engagement, a people's contract that binds the democratic state to the citizenry
and promotes the values of human solidarity and public accountability.
anti-corruption discourse therefore is inseparable from broader goals of socio-economic
development. In the era of globalisation when vast wealth and asset gaps exist
among individuals, regions, and nations, the fight against corruption must be
rooted in common understandings across borders. It must go beyond the rhetoric
of perceptions and blame. It must constructively utilise approaches developed
in the multi-lateral setting, and must involve global co-operation.
can be no effective global anti-corruption strategy unless it is intricately and
intimately linked to a global agenda that promotes pro-poor sustainable development.
This is because in the current conjuncture of globalisation, unregulated markets
have become somewhat of a fetish and a universally dominant value-system has increasingly
put on a high pedestal possessive individualism as the pinnacle of human success.
In September 2000, our country joined the rest of the international community
of nations to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration and its eight Millennium
Development Goals. We agreed to "spare no effort to free our fellow men,
women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty,
to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected."
this context, we too recognise the fact that while globalisation has created immense
opportunities for growth and the accumulation of wealth for some, it has produced
socio-economic conditions that make it difficult for many countries on our continent
to meet their Millennium Development Goals. In this regard, the historic Millennium
Summit Declaration proclaimed that:
"We believe that the central challenge
we face today is to ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all
the world's people. For, while globalisation offers great opportunities, at present
its benefits are very unevenly shared, while its costs are unevenly distributed.
We recognise that developing countries and countries with economies in transition
face special difficulties in responding to this central challenge. Thus, only
through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our
common humanity in all its diversity, can globalisation be made fully inclusive
Globalisation, unfettered and unchecked, creates an environment
in which the wealthy and the powerful can prey on the vulnerable in all countries,
but especially those of the South. Today and for the remainder of the time this
Forum engage in discussion, we need to remind ourselves that corruption worsens
this painful reality, and fundamentally hinders the realisation of the Millennium
Our own people have assumed that we agreed to the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) because we are determined to eradicate poverty, unemployment
and underdevelopment, and that, consequently, we are equally committed to creating
a non-racial, a non-sexist, prosperous and democratic society, in which the wealth
created and generated is more equitably distributed especially to favour the poor,
while guaranteeing the possibility to create more wealth.
they will be entitled to ask of us what progress we have made towards the realisation
of the MDGs, and what we have done to fight corruption, which they, 'God's bits
of wood,' know from their experience undermines the possibility to realise these
They have a right to hold us accountable for any lack of progress
with respect to the MDGs. They will be correct to inquire from us what we have
agreed to do collectively to deliver on our vision of a corruption free world.
They will be correct to ask whether we are not continuing on an unproductive
path as we devote an inordinate amount of time to the task to apportion blame
for corruption, in many respects relying solely on perception projected as a scientific
measure of corruption.
In his novel, 'Wizard Of The Crow,' Ngugi wa Thiong'o
writes of a Ruler and his three sycophantic ministers who had undergone plastic
surgery to enlarge, respectively, their eyes, ears and tongue the better
to see, hear and denounce dissent. For his birthday one of the Ministers suggests
the Marching To Heaven project - the building of a tower tall enough for the Ruler
to be able regularly and easily to consult the God-on-high.
then tried to persuade the Global Bank to provide loans to fund the Marching To
Heaven project. However, this initiative, which the Bank would otherwise have
funded and earned its returns, suffered a setback because of opposition by the
poor and in particular by a group of militant women.
on one of the central themes of the novel, Ngugi says that there is a way in which
the West tries to imply that corruption, longing, starvation are peculiarly African
something to do with the biological character of the African. Of the developed
world he says:
"They wash their hands of what is happening, as if
they have never had anything to do with the corruption, with massacres, with backwardness.
My concern is with these colonial distortions. There are elements which are indigenous,
but they are also external. You can't understand one without the other. The tendency
is to leave out one of the elements in the equation. But an equation without all
its elements is no longer an equation."
And therein lies a particular
complexity and a shared complicity. The global discourse on corruption and anti-corruption
must begin with the recognition that corruption distorts human values and fundamental
freedoms in all countries. Everywhere it undermines democracy and good governance,
accountability and transparency. It also seriously compromises the beneficial
operation of economic markets, globally.
Corruption is a multifaceted,
systemic and institutional global phenomenon involving all sectors of human society.
It takes a variety of forms including theft, fraud, bribery, extortion, nepotism,
patronage, and the laundering of illicit proceeds.
Corruption exists in
both developed and developing countries and destroys the positive value systems
of all societies and institutions. It replaces the concept and practice of human
solidarity with the unfettered pursuit of individual gain, grafted onto the imperatives
prescribed by free market ideology.
It emasculates development and democracy
and undermines the fight against poverty by diverting key resources away from
programmes designed to improve the quality of life especially of the poor, globally.
In many instances, the response to corruption has been to blame either
the bribe givers or the bribe takers rather than to understand its structural
character as well as how it has embedded itself in relationships among individuals
and organisations in both the developed and developing world.
has become the subject of a sophisticated statistical modelling of perceptions
rather than the greater effort we need to understand the concrete circumstances
of its social origin, as well as achieve the systematic and sustained computation
of the frequency and occurrences of specific forms and types of corruption.
perceptions I have just mentioned shape the understanding of the powerful and
influence the manner in which resources have been committed to poor countries,
and donor assistance provided.
We have an obligation properly to understand
and to fight corruption in all its forms and manifestations, as we seek to create
a new world order that will be responsive to the needs and aspirations of the
poor billions we represent.
The obvious need for us to respect our obligation
to account to the people will require that we deal with all these issues honestly.
We will also have to do this because our decisions will have to give real meaning
to the corruption-free social compact we seek to create.
need to seize the opportunity provided by this Global Forum constructively to
strengthen the foundation we all need to carry out our historic task to rid our
world of the ravages of poverty, disease and underdevelopment.
As we engage
in the global fight against corruption, let us also be fully conscious of the
need to work on all the varied tracks and affirm a clear role for the responsive
democratic state in the fight to eradicate poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment.
As an affirmation of our resolve to defeat corruption and its outcomes,
we must work together to deal with market related and market induced inequalities.
We must provide equality of opportunity to all our citizens. We must work to develop
social cohesion. We must promote peace and stability in our countries, as well
as regionally and globally.
Again as an affirmation of our determined opposition
to corruption, we must promote sustainable growth and development, as well as
ecological and environmental sustainability. We must address the glaring unequal
division of wealth at the global, regional and national levels.
we must do with the necessary sense of urgency and a common resolve to act together
to end the circumstance that billions across the globe are still condemned to
lead lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
behalf of our government, the people of South Africa, and in my own name, I wish
the Global Forum against Corruption success in its deliberations.
Issued by: The Presidency
2 April 2007