Combating Fraud and Corruption Charge d'Affairs Rodeirck Moore's Speech Standartnews - 2003/2/26
Sheraton Hotel, Sofia, February 25, 2003
Greeting Mr. Minister, Mr. Chairman, President Nikolov, distinguished guests, I would like to thank our host, the National Audit Office, for its initiative in convening this forum on such an important topic. Introduction Supporting anti-corruption efforts is one of my government's top priorities in Bulgaria. Indeed, we spend millions of dollars every year here for this purpose through USAID's Open Government Initiative and other programs - such as this very conference. Why do we do this? The reason is simple. We view Bulgaria as a future ally. As such, we have an interest in ensuring that Bulgaria will remain a steadfast partner in years to come. We worry, however, that corruption in your public institutions, if left unchecked, will undermine public confidence in your democracy and raise questions about your country's long-term stability and reliability as a partner. Supreme Audit Institutions ú Today's topic - strengthening public financial control mechanisms to promote integrity of government institutions - is a critically important component of the fight against corruption. After all, good government requires a system of checks and balances. Such a system, in turn, can only function if it is underpinned by effective and honest institutions - including parliament, government, civil society organizations, the judiciary, the media and the private sector. Supreme Audit Institutions, as the chief 'watchdogs,' have a particularly important role to play in this system. For instance, such bodies can expose waste, fraud, mismanagement or other corrupt practices not in the public interest. They can also promote greater accountability and good governance by recommending improved internal control mechanisms, better oversight of public assets, and more effective use of public monies. Moreover, these institutions can produce a substantial budgetary "bang for the buck." In my country, for instance, audits conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office return $88 dollars to the national treasury for every dollar invested in that agency. Fighting Corruption in Bulgaria ú I would also like to take advantage of this forum to make some more general observations. Let me say up front that it is not my intent to sound critical or patronizing. Having lived in Bulgaria for over five years - more than 1/3 of my professional career - I have great respect and affection for this country. And, having grown up in a state where many corrupt public officials have ended up in prison, I also understand how harmful corruption can be. Even more important is the fact that our two nations are great friends, future allies, and committed partners in the fight against terror. Nothing underscores this point more clearly than the fact that PM Saxe-Coburg will be meeting with President Bush at the White House in several hours. therefore speak as a friend who wants to help achieve something that is in the best interest of both our countries. I also know that my views are not unique. I know that they are shared by many foreigners and Bulgarians alike Fighting Corruption in Bulgaria - The Problem ú Let me make two general observations about corruption in Bulgaria. Firstly, we welcome the Government's efforts to battle corruption. However, for many years, corruption - or at least the perception of corruption - has existed at alarmingly high levels in this country. But I do not ask you to take a foreigner's word for it: o For instance, to my great consternation, one of Bulgaria's most senior judicial officials repeated to me several times in a recent meeting: "corruption is state policy in Bulgaria." o Or, you need only review the many public opinion surveys done by Bulgarian polling agencies. According to one from last October, 80% of people believe "almost all or most" customs officers are corrupt. Over 60% believed the same about judges, prosecutors and police officials. o Or, more importantly, ask the average citizen in the street if s/he has heard of prosecutors, customs officers, or police officials living way beyond their salaries. Ask him/her if she knows of people who have profited illicitly from a corrupt privatisation deal. Ask him/her if a public official has ever asked him or a member of his/her family for a bribe. o This is not a normal situation in an established democratic society. Corruption has an insidious effect on democracy, as clearly reflected in the troublingly low levels of public confidence in your governing institutions. ú Secondly, the judicial institutions are simply not dealing adequately with the problem. The bottom line is that your prosecutors and courts are not forcing corrupt public officials to pay for violating the public trust. o During my almost three years here, I am still not aware of a single prominent case of corruption that has resulted in a jail sentence. o My Bulgarian friends and contacts routinely scoff at the judicial system for its inability to exact criminal accountability from corrupt officials and organized crime figures. They generally dismiss investigations and prosecutions, when they occur, as politically motivated. o The problem is clearly not a lack of cases. The media is full of allegations of corruption. In fact, for the past several months, I have been clipping articles containing such allegations. In most cases where I read about a punishment, the most serious sanction meted out is dismissal. That is not a deterrent. ú Sometimes, we hear that the battle against corruption and organized crime is hampered by the structure of the judicial system. While there is certainly some truth to this, striving for needed judicial reform is not an excuse for inaction. Bribery and other forms of corruption are clearly illegal and punishable under your existing legislation, for example. o Coalition 2000 recently estimated that over 130,000 bribes or other acts of corruption occur in this country every month. Yet, according to a local NGO, only five individuals were sent to prison by Bulgarian courts in 2001 on bribery charges! Next Steps - The US experience ú Bulgaria is not, of course, unique in facing these problems. ú My country, for instance, is not immune. Corruption was almost pandemic in American public institutions during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Martin Scorcese's new film, Gangs of New York, for instance, provides a disturbing glimpse into New York's rotten political machine of the late 1800's. ú However, although we have not, of course, eliminated corruption, we have nonetheless come a long, long way since those days. ú I am absolutely convinced that the main reason for our progress is that U.S. law enforcement and judicial authorities deal severely with corrupt public officials. o Over the last ten years, for instance, 10,000 people have been convicted on federal corruption charges in the U.S. This does not include the thousands convicted in state and local courts. o Just two months ago, the mayor of the city where I was raised began a long prison sentence on bribery and racketeering charges. In all, 24 officials of his administration have ended up in prison. o Last year, a U.S. Congressman was expelled from Congress and sentenced to 8 years in prison on bribery, tax evasion, and other charges. ú To me, the lesson is clear. Exacting a heavy price for corruption is the greatest deterrent to corruption. I am convinced that such tough, punitive measures have strengthened our democracy and elevated public confidence in the integrity of our democratic institutions. US Support ú As a democracy in transition, you have the great advantage of being in a position to learn from the mistakes we - and other countries - made. You also have the benefit of learning from the successful strategies - such as tough criminal accountability - we have applied. ú I congratulate all those who have committed themselves to the difficult task of battling corruption. You deserve the support and admiration of your compatriots. We also stand strongly behind you. ú In the end, of course, no amount of hectoring from foreigners can solve this problem. Bulgarians must win this battle. This will involve the sustained interest and engagement of the citizens of this country, who must exert pressure on their institutions to take on this problem aggressively. As Robert Jackson, one of our most illustrious Supreme Court Justices, said, "it is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error."