Change the Corruption Schemes and Hold Accountable the Governmental Officials

In advance of International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9 Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) held a telephonic press briefing at Brussels Media Hub, in course of which he took questions also from Hraparak daily.

Moderator: Next we’ll go to a question which was submitted in advance from Lusine Petrosyan from Armenia. Her question is this:

Question: Assistant Secretary, fortunately Armenia is not among the fantastically corrupted countries as former British Prime Minister has described some states, but corruption is still a core problem here, and recently a new government was formed in the country which has vowed to fight corruption. However, I’d like to hear your opinion on what is sufficient in fighting corruption? Is it when the main corrupt schemes in the country are shut down? Or when also some former high-ranking officials who are suspected of corruption are somehow held accountable and brought before justice? Thank you.

Ambassador Brownfield: Thanks, Katherine, and thank you Ms. Petrosyan.

That’s a very good question, and by the way, I would suggest that it is not a question specifically directed to Armenia or relevant only to Armenia. I believe it’s a question that can be asked of any government and any country in the world that is attempting to address corruption issues.

My answer to the question, which is the most important, the highest priority, would be that they both end up being essential to a successful anti-corruption effort.

First, for tactical reasons, in any nation there is a desire to see a corrupt government official held accountable. And at the end of the day, accountability usually means some form of investigation, prosecution and then a conviction. When that happens, societies, communities, people come to accept that there is a serious effort to address corruption.

Now there are many variations on this theme. There is a difference between prosecuting an official who is a member of a current government and prosecuting an official who was in a former government no longer in office. There is a difference between prosecuting an official for acts that were committed within the past year, and prosecuting an official for acts that were committed 25 or 30 years in the past.

I do not deny that there are differences between how, who, when and where you prosecute an official, but I do say with some certainty that when there is a corrupt official who is held publicly accountable through a formal judicial process, it does give encouragement both to society and to those organizations and institutions responsible for anti-corruption efforts.

That said, the other suggestion that you made in terms of how are you successful, are you also successful when, if you will, networks or corruption schemes are dismantled? And of course the answer to that is yes as well.

The truth of the matter is people are aware. We sometimes don’t give them credit for as much intelligence as they have, but when customs officials cease to ask for bribes; when local police on the streets cease to suggest that a small contribution will make your ticket go away; when businessmen cease to believe that by offering an additional 25 percent to the government official, they will receive the contract or they will be able to sell their product. Even though someone does not go to jail, even though there is not a public prosecution, the people actually begin to realize this.

And to demonstrate it, may I offer just one example, and I offer it because I have been involved in this now for more than four years. I return once again to the Republic of Ukraine. Four, perhaps five years ago, perhaps the most unpopular institution in Ukraine was the national police. They were perceived to be part of the problem. They were widely perceived to be corrupt. I do not say that they were, ladies and gentlemen, I say that polling data, surveys of that time suggested that this was the suggestion by the Ukrainian people of their police.

In a very courageous effort more than three years ago, the government of Ukraine decided that they would completely replace their national patrol police. More than 100, I believe it was 140,000 police were dismissed. New police were brought on-board with different training and deployed.

Now ladies and gentlemen, thousands of police officers were not prosecuted. There were not public show trials. What happened was a completely new police force arrived and the people perceived immediately that these new police were not asking for bribes. These new police were not shaking down the people on the street. And the police, in terms of popular perception, rose from being very near the bottom of the least respected institutions to almost number one at the very top as the most respected institution in the entire country.

So I suggest to you that both of your suggestions -- changing the corruption scheme, but public accountability for government officials, are important. At the end of the day, you have to accomplish both if you’re going to have a successful anti-corruption campaign.

Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador Brownfield.

It looks like we had 24 Vesti back on, but we’ve lost them again so we’ll continue to try to get them back on the line.

Ambassador Brownfield: Someone doesn’t want him to talk to me, huh?

Moderator: We’re having trouble with the telephone lines.

But in that case I’ll do a quick follow-up which is also from our Armenian journalist but I think applies to a wider audience. The question is, again this is from Lusine Petrosyan. She asks:

Question: What can Armenian authorities expect in terms of international support and investment if they succeed in fighting corruption more? Or do they expect less if they fail?

Ambassador Brownfield: A fair question, and I will address it in two parts.

The first part is what can any nation -- because again, while I realize the question was specifically focused on Armenia, you could use, you could apply the same question to any nation in the world that is combating corruption.

First, while the government is engaged in the efforts, the support it can and should expect from the international community is both funding support, training, capacity building, efforts in terms of sharing technology, and sharing evidence related to corruption between all the governments of the world. In other words, if a government expresses the willingness, shows the political courage to attack and address corruption, they have a right to expect the institutions of the international community, as well as those governments that have the resources and the experience to support these efforts, to support them. And I would say it doesn’t matter if you are Armenia or any other government in the world, that is the reasonable expectation.

Now the logical inference from the second half of the question, which is to say what happens once you have succeeded? Should that support probably disappear? The answer is maybe yes, in terms of support for anti-corruption efforts. But what then happens, and there is plenty of evidence to support this, ladies and gentlemen. What then happens is that the country benefits economically from having eliminated or substantially reduced corruption. Why? Because the international economic system is much more willing to do business, to trade, to invest, to build infrastructure, to make long-term investments in a nation or an economy when they have confidence in its system, confidence in institutions that are basically non-corrupt, stable and predictable.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the long-term benefit from eliminating corruption. It is not the ability to stand proudly and say we are a non-corrupt society. It is not even pointing with pride at the fact that they have risen on Transparency International’s annual report card from say position 165 to position 35. I mean that’s the indicator. That is not actually the value, the benefit. The benefit is the billions and billions of dollars that comes into the economy as those in the private sector from around the world see serious and honest opportunities to do business in that country.

That is my suggestion either to the distinguished Dr. Petrosyan of Armenia, but frankly to anyone else in the world. Think of a two-step process. The first step is attacking the corruption itself, and there any government that is serious about this effort has a right to expect some support from the international community. But the second step is once they succeed or even once they are clearly having a successful impact, the long-term benefit is a stronger economy based upon more investment and more trade between nations. That is what eventually brings the people around to understand why they should make the sacrifices today to combat corruption in order that their children in the future will have the benefits of a society and a system that is relatively free of corruption.

Lusine Petrosyan

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