Greater access to official information and containing conflicts of interest, “key to containing corruption”

Eight out of ten “clean” countries have effective freedom of information

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat

The lack of clear conflict of interest regulations and the failure to grant access to official information are among the key factors accountable for unacceptably high levels of corruption, two studies published today by Transparency International (TI) show.

"There is an obvious link between access to information and low levels of corruption," said TI Executive Director Jeremy Pope, referring to the TI Corruption Perceptions Index - of the ten countries scoring best in the CPI, no fewer than eight have effective legislation enabling the public to see government files. Of the ten countries perceived to be the worst when it comes to corruption, none have access to information regulations worth mentioning. It was hardly surprising, Pope added, that the two issues were top of the agenda of TI’s most active National Chapters, and cited TI India as an example. Because of the pressure exerted by TI India and other like-minded NGOs, our government is at last inching its way to the repeal of the Official Secret’s Act, an old relic of 75 years from colonial days, when anything and everything used to be marked "secret".

"In the same way, unless and until senior public officials accept that they have a duty to put the public interest ahead of their own private gain, many developing countries and countries in transition will continue to wallow in deepening levels of poverty and underperformance," he added.

It is against this background that the international anti-corruption organisation today publishes two comprehensive studies on these key aspects of countering corruption: containing conflict of interest (both through regulations and through monitoring of assets of key decision-makers) and through access rights to official information for both journalists and the general public.

"Corruption is the misuse of public power for private profit, and so all corruption cases inevitably involve a conflict of interest", says Jeremy Pope. "Many corruption cases could have been prevented from the outset with more transparency in government dealings and easier access to public files. There are relatively few areas where governments can claim their need for secrecy as being in the public interest", he continues, and public access to information is a proven deterrent to corrupt conduct.

"The huge scandals such as Bofors in India or the dealings of the Marcos and Suharto regimes could have been detected much earlier had these issues been properly addressed," Pope explained. "In Indonesia, for example, any attempt at public discussion of the role of members of the Suharto family in the economy was violently suppressed, with appalling consequences for ordinary Indonesians."

The studies, funded by the Ford Foundation, will also be available on the TI website and will supplement TI’s database of anti-corruption best practice 
(Conflicts of interest: 
Access to information: ).

The conflict of interest study’s purpose is to help legislators, ministers and public officials to identify a potential conflict of interest before it poses an ethical dilemma in the performance of their official duties and responsibilities, and to suggest mechanisms either to prevent such a conflict arising or to resolve the conflict when it does arise, says its author, Gerard Carney, Associate Professor of Law at Bond University in Queensland, Australia.

The study on access to information focuses on developing countries and was prepared by Robert Martin and Estelle Feldman. Martin is a Professor of Law at The University of Western Ontario, Feldman a Research Associate in the School of Law at Trinity College at the University of Dublin..

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A case in point:

Why Tanzania’s anti-corruption campaign failed

It was a revolutionary step in his country’s arduous battle against corruption when presidential candidate Benjamin Mkapa pledged to publicly declare his assets. And it was even more astounding that, once elected into office at the end of 1995, he actually fulfilled his promise. But three years later, little impact seems to be created by Mkapa’s dedicated anti-corruption efforts - and in the recent TI Corruption Perceptions Index of 85 countries Tanzania was among the five countries scoring most poorly. The actions by a minister of finance giving himself a personal waiver of duty on a Mercedes he was importing for his own use was defended by the attorney-general as being "lawful". Yet there was a legal requirement for any waiver to be "in the public interest". Such events, says Transparency International, underline the fact that key personalities in the administration still have little notion of what comprises a conflict of interest, and why these conflicts subvert the public good.

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