27 June 2007
Corruption is Toxic to Public Trust, Say Delegates at 7 th Global Forum in Vienna
VIENNA, 27 June (UN Information Service) -- People have spoken about governance for many years and hosted many conferences on the subject and yet no one knows how to measure governance, prominent African businessman Mohamed Ibrahim told the 7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government, currently being held in Vienna.
Addressing the 7th Global Forum, Mr. Ibrahim, who founded and now sponsors the Mo Ibrahim Award for Achievement in African Leadership, said that the absence of good governance was at the centre of African development challenges.
He told delegates that his Foundation was in the process of creating a 'leadership index' with the help of the United Nations. The Foundation launched an annual award of US$5 million to retired African leaders "who ruled well and then stepped down rather than trying to cling to power." The award committee is chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"At the heart of the African development problem is leadership. Africa needs to address this if there is to be any progress. We are Africans, we can be more honest about these problems and our Foundation is financed by African money," said Mr. Ibrahim during the plenary session on 'Building Trust through Public-Private Partnership'.
In another plenary session, Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University told delegates that when citizens cannot replace leaders in whom they have lost faith, then no other institutional "fix" for waning public trust in government may be meaningful. Mr. Diamond was addressing a plenary session on "Elections, Parliaments and Citizen Trust".
He said nothing was more toxic to public trust in government than extensive corruption. "Corruption and abuse of power represent a betrayal of public trust. That breach of faith cannot be repaired with mere technical institutional fixes to make government more efficient and accessible," he added.
Citing an example of a region where trust in government had been severely eroded, Mr. Diamond said that barely a quarter of Latin Americans trusted congress, and only a fifth of citizens trusted political parties. Overall trust in government stood at 36 per cent. However, he added that this was not because Latin Americans distrusted all social and political institutions -- in fact, some Latin American institutions enjoyed reasonably high levels of trust, such as the church, which enjoyed 71 per cent. Latin Americans generally viewed politicians with contempt, said Mr. Diamond.
Former President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso who addressed a session on "Civil Society Engagement and Participation" told delegates that one lesson he had learnt in eight years of presidency is that it was no longer possible to impose without negotiating, to decide without listening, and to govern without explaining and persuading.
"In open societies, people make up their minds based on what they live and what they see. If their knowledge and experience bears no relation to the message of political leaders, the outcome is disbelief and mistrust," said Mr. Cardoso.
The Vice-President of the European Commission, Siim Kallas told the delegates that while it took years to build a good reputation, it took a single moment to destroy it. He said the European Commission was active in promoting the concept of transparency as a means of enhancing trust, "…both through disclosure of the end beneficiaries of EU grants, allowing the public to see how their money is used, and via increased transparency on lobbying. This is important to ensure we know what interests lobbyists really represent, and how much money they have at stake."
The four-day conference hosted by the United Nations is examining best practices and alternative strategies for "Building Trust in Government," the theme of the conference. It offers plenary sessions and a series of parallel capacity development workshops on different aspects of revitalizing governance and public administration.
Delegates are exchanging innovations in government reinvention, sharing perspectives with international colleagues and discussing different methods to strengthen public confidence in government.
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