Aid agency launches anti-corruption drive

Switzerland returned to Nigeria more than $600 million of funds looted by former dictator Abacha Keystone

The Swiss foreign ministry's Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has outlined its strategy to fight corruption as a means to combat poverty.

This content was published on February 6, 2007 - 20:31

Also on Tuesday, legal expert Mark Pieth called on the government to ratify the United Nations convention against corruption.

Corruption can take many forms and dimensions depending on the culture and context, SDC deputy director Remo Gautschi told a panel discussion in Bern.

While an estimated $50 billion (SFr62 billion) a year is spent on development aid worldwide, 20 times that amount is paid in bribes and other forms of corruption, according to the World Bank.

Gautschi said the issue has been acknowledged internationally for more than a decade. It has also been a priority for the SDC.

The main culprits – the emerging economies and the developing countries – are also known, he added.

Gautschi said the SDC's strategy included supporting reforms of public service administration, promoting the rule of law and increasing transparency by internal audits.

"Corruption kills development and leads to more poverty," he said.

Maintaining political dialogue with countries affected by corruption, cooperation with civil society actors – notably in Burkina Faso, Nepal and Pakistan - and fostering media empowerment as well as education are also important parts of the strategy.

Gautschi pointed out Switzerland's leading role in returning stolen assets, such as when the SDC paid for lawyers to secure the transfer of illegal funds from Mali, the Philippines and Angola from Swiss bank accounts.

The deputy director also highlighted the creation of a compliance office within the SDC to prevent cases of corruption, the running of awareness campaigns and special training, as well as an anti-corruption clause set in all contracts with SDC partners.

"Corruption cases are extremely rare, but we have to assess the impact of our work of in the field," he added.

Credibility

For his part, Mark Pieth, a professor of law at Basel University and renowned anti-corruption expert, says Switzerland enjoys a good reputation worldwide, but it is struggling because of its multinational companies and smaller export-oriented firms doing business abroad.

He told swissinfo that the SDC is on the right track with its strategy paper but there are certain risks.

"The big advantage for the SDC is that it is not driven by national agendas. They can take a principled position and it is perceived as credible. But obviously it is a small player and it is working in complicated environments."

Pieth pointed out that Switzerland was a pioneer in returning illegal assets and was also taking a strong stance by subsidising an international centre on asset recovery.

UN convention

Pieth urged Switzerland to ratify the 2003 UN convention against corruption. He said the country had a good track record; it had anti-money laundering legislation and had amended its laws on passive and active bribery.

The SDC said it would welcome speedy ratification, particularly in the light of a forthcoming international conference on combating corruption next December.

"It would make it easier if we discussed this issue on an international level or with specific governments," Gautschi told swissinfo.

Swiss development aid officials are in an awkward position if they bring up the delicate and sometimes emotional issue of corruption in other countries, he said.

"I don't see why we can't ratify it. But our credibility is not based on one international agreement. We have built our reputation over many years."

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

The SDC is active in 17 countries, but has decided to reduce its activities to 14 countries by 2010.
Its budget of 2007 amounts to about SFr1.3 billion, the equivalent of 0.4% of GNP.
The SDC undertakes direct action, supports the programmes of multilateral organisations, and helps to finance programmes run by Swiss and international aid organisations.

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In brief

An international comparison published by Transparency International last year gave Switzerland top marks for preventing bribery in its export-oriented firms.

However, it criticised that new anti-bribery legislation and the OECD anti-bribery convention were not being applied enough by the courts.

Switzerland is one of 140 countries which have signed a 2003 United Nations convention aimed at committing signatories to cooperate in the fight against corruption, including the recovery of illegal assets.

However, the Swiss government is still to submit a bill to parliament for ratification of the treaty.

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