ACRC chief wants G-20 to act against corruption
By Lee Tae-hoon
The head of Korea`s anti-corruption commission called on the United Nations to help place anti-corruption as an agenda item for the G-20 Seoul Summit slated for November.
Lee Jae-oh, chairman of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC), made the request to Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro in a meeting which took place in her New York office Thursday during his one-week trip to the United States.
"Korea is striving to have the G-20 Summit adopt anti-corruption as one of the agenda items," Lee said.
"We'd like the Secretariat which oversees the signatories of anti-corruption measures at the U.N. to make such a proposal to the G-20 Summit."
Lee said the level of transparency and accountability is directly linked with national competitiveness, as seen from northeastern European countries.
He noted that Sweden, Finland and Demark, which have limited resources and a small population, have been able to maintain per capita income of $40,000 to $50,000 due largely to high levels of integrity within their respective societies.
"After I took office as ACRC chairman, I've had the opportunity to travel to many countries and this has helped me realized that what was impeding emerging countries from further development was not lack of population, land or resources, but corruption" Lee said.
"There are many countries in the world which have a sufficient amount of resources, population, and land size, but many of their per capita incomes hover around $2,000 because of rampant corruption."
Migiro, the first woman from Africa appointed to the post of U.N. deputy secretary general, supported Lee's view, saying placing anti-corruption on the table of the G-20 Summit matches its objective.
The G-20 Summit was first launched in November 2008 as global leaders struggled to weather the worst economic downturn in decades, following the collapse of U.S. investment giant Lehman Brothers. Korea was chosen last September as the first Asian nation to host the global forum.
"It is a very good proposal because the G-20 addresses issues related to international assistance and financial crises," Migiro said. "It is one of the issues that the G-20 definitely can take onboard. I'll make a request or check how the U.N. can support this."
Ban on corrupt businesses
Lee also proposed the U.N. to impose stronger punishments to businesses with low ethical standards, such as making a blacklist of "corrupt companies."
The ACRC chairman said corruption should no longer be addressed only as a domestic problem, given that international cooperation can be a more effective way of uprooting it.
"I'd also like to propose to the U.N. to make public the list of companies found to have been involved in illicit activities, such as taking rebates and kickbacks, and forbid them from entering certain markets," he said. "Corruption should be dealt with as a global issue, such as protecting the environment."
In this regard, Migiro supported Lee's proposal and hoped that U.N. Convention against Corruption will play a significant role in realizing Lee's vision.
"Corruption is a complex, social, political and economical, issue which affects all countries of the world, whether developing, developed or underdeveloped," Migiro said. "I'm confident that the Convention against Corruption, which was passed in 2005, will greatly help address the problem."
The convention was the first legally binding international anti-corruption instrument that requires countries to criminalize corruption and raises awareness of international corruption.
The convention, in which 144 countries has joined so far, obliges countries to recover assets acquired corruptly as well as exchange information and share experiences among member countries. Korea joined the convention in 2008.
Korea's integrity assessment
Lee also expressed hope that the U.N. and its member countries learn a lesson from Korea for its top-down integrity assessment.
The ACRC chairman Korea claimed that Korea has become a trailblazer in the assessment of government agencies and public institutions over the past eight years.
"As the first step to uproot corruption from society, Korea has aggressively tackled irregularities in the officialdom and it plans to establish such anti-corruption culture in the corporation sector in the future," he said.
"If public organizations of the 140 members of the U.N. conventions become subject to such integrity assessment, it will help better relations between countries and businesses across borders."
Lee underlined that Korea was willing to cooperate with the U.N. on the matter. He said Korea hopes to play an exemplary role and demonstrate that those with ethical problems cannot have public posts, especially for senior positions.
"Korea will assess senior public servants from this year and make public the individuals' integrity score within each organization," he said.
The ACRC chairman said that he has proposed joint studies in the making of an integrity assessment with OECD countries and plans to share the accumulated knowhow with the international community in the near future.
During his visit, Lee also met with Robert I. Cusick, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and exchanged information of each country's education programs on public office ethics. They also promised to share educational materials related to each country's Code of Conduct for Public Officials.
In addition, Lee met with Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, which releases the Worldwide Governance Indicators, a comprehensive annual ranking of countries according to various measures of governance.
Zoellick expressed strong support for tabling anti-corruption efforts as an agenda item of the G-20 Summit and hoped the international bank and Korea will share their experiences of implementing anti-corruption practices.
The ACRC was established in February 2008 by integrating three civil rights and anti-corruption bodies ― the Ombudsman of Korea, the Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Administrative Appeals Commission.