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Most think fight against corruption a losing battle

Most think fight against corruption a losing battle

PARIS (IPS) - Not many people around the world seem to believe that corruption can

be contained let alone eradicated, experts said after a major international survey.

"Citizens across the world appear to be pessimistic about the scope of corruption,"

Robin Hodess, director of policy and research at the Berlin-based Transparency International

told IPS in an interview in Paris.

Speaking after the publication of the 'Global Corruption Barometer' by Transparency

International (TI), Hodess said that most people think the fight against corruption

that was stepped up since the late 1990s is having little effect.

The survey was conducted for TI by the opinion poll firm Gallup International as

part of its 'Voice of the People Survey' carried out between June and September 2004.

"For instance, citizens in Peru have seen that the former president Alberto

Fujimori, despite heavy charges of corruption, could find refuge in Japan, and escape

prosecution," Hodess said. "Because of such cases, citizens do not see

a positive impact of the fight against corruption, and their perception that something

is wrong in politics and justice gets confirmed."

Political parties, parliaments, police, and justice and tax administrations are perceived

worldwide as the most corrupt institutions, according to the survey.

That the central political institutions of a country are seen widely as fundamentally

corrupt must be a reason for deep concern, experts say.

"Political parties are the training ground for most government leaders and parliamentarians,"

says Cobus de Swardt, global programmes director at TI. Tough legislation must be

passed to guarantee politicians' probity, de Swardt said.

"National laws should prohibit political parties and candidates for elected

office from accepting donations designed to extract personal or policy favours, and

require them to disclose their funding sources," de Swardt added. "Political

parties must themselves take internal measures to stamp out corruption and increase

transparency, through fair candidate selection procedures, by running clean election

campaigns, rejecting corrupt sources of funding and disclosing the sources of donations."

The pessimism recorded in the survey shows international efforts so far to combat

sleaze and bribes in politics and business in poor light. The Organisation of Economic

Cooperation and Development (OECD), which represents the 31 most industrialised countries

of the world, passed a convention against corruption in 1997.

The United Nations launched an anti-corruption convention in 2000. But the convention

which requires ratification by 30 member states before it can come into force has

been approved by only 12 countries so far.

The UN convention seeks to make it easier to seize assets stolen by politicians and

to return them to their rightful beneficiaries. It would also facilitate extradition

of corrupt leaders who have sought asylum abroad.

In the meanwhile experts say corruption remains rampant.

"The payment of illegal commissions apparently continues to be the norm,"

says former French prosecutor Anne-JosÈ FulgÈras, now director in charge

of fraud prevention at the consultancy firm Ernst and Young. "Corruption continues

to be to international business what doping is to high-level athletics and sports."

Many enterprises are aware of the risks of corruption, and have probably the will

to renounce it, but only if all other competitors also give up kickbacks to get contracts,

he said.

But while pessimism is widespread, it is not uniform.

The TI report indicates that 45 percent of the people questioned expect the level

of corruption to increase in coming years, against only 17 percent who think it will

decrease. "These findings mean that the hopes of people around the world have

not improved since our first survey was carried out in 2003," the report says.

The report finds Costa Ricans and Ecuadorians the most pessimistic people about corruption.

In Costa Rica two former presidents were found guilty of taking bribes from a French

telecommunications company. In Ecuador three out of four people anticipate a rise

in corruption.

On the other hand, Hodess said that in countries were radical political changes have

taken place such as Georgia and Indonesia, there is widespread hope that the new

governments will efficiently fight corruption.

Indonesia was the most optimistic country of the world, with two out of three respondents

forecasting a reduction in corruption in the coming years. In Georgia and in Kosovo

citizens expressed more modest optimism, Hodess said.

In Europe there is a "north-south divide" in the perception of corruption.

Most citizens in the Scandinavian countries see local political parties and institutions

as clean, but the contrary is the case in Italy, France, and Greece, Hodess said.

In five Latin American countries, above-average percentages of respondents indicated

that they felt corruption would increase in the next three years. In the African

countries surveyed, Nigerians were the most pessimistic, and Ghanians the most optimistic.

Indians were very pessimistic, with eight out of 10 predicting a rise in corruption

over the next three years, compared with less than six out of 10 in Pakistan. Seven

out of 10 Filipinos also replied that they thought corruption would increase.