Kofi Annan's Message to the Fifth COSP in Panama City

Panama City, 25 November 2013.

Kofi Annan, Chair the Africa Progress Panel

Message to the fifth session of the Conference of State Parties of the UN Convention Against Corruption, Panama City

Opening Reception November 25th, 2013, hosted by Christian AID and the UNCAC Coalition

Dear Ministers, Delegates, Participants,

When the General Assembly decided to create a UN Convention Against Corruption 13 years ago, the idea of promoting transparency, accountability and integrity across all sectors of society was seen as extremely ambitious. Perhaps even utopian.

The Convention’s success has been to convert this idea into an effective international legal instrument. The work to end corruption has gained the support of billions of ordinary people.

If corruption is a disease, then transparency is a central part of its treatment.

This year, the Africa Progress Panel, which I am proud to chair, launched a report on Africa’s oil, gas, and mining sectors. The report showed how non-transparent business practices were failing the continent and its people:

  • When contracts between government and business are kept secret, they prevent scrutiny and therefore trust;
  • When government revenue streams are secret, it provokes suspicion that the level of income – or its uses – is not in the public interest;
  • When a company’s ownership is hidden, then how do we know it is honest?

Transparency is a powerful tool to build peaceful, prosperous and stable countries.

Social media empowers citizens as never before, allowing them to report, share, and mobilise. Governments, as well as large corporations, are under increasing pressure to be transparent, responsive and fair.

Governments should have nothing to hide from the citizens who elect them. The Internet provides governments with new opportunities for transparency and accountability. By being more open, governments can build trust. And the trust of its citizens is what governments need more than ever before. We have seen the grave consequences when that trust disappears in too many countries over the past couple of years.

Clearly, many governments are responding.

In Africa, we see how governments in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, are now publishing mining contracts online. More and more countries are complying with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Companies are responding too. Several extractives companies are showing they can turn a healthy profit, while still protecting social and environmental concerns. There is a growing consensus that a commitment to transparency and a firm stand against corruption benefit all. Mutually beneficial agreements are the only ones to stand the test of time.

The Convention Against Corruption is part of a global movement; a new culture of openness, which now is being emulated by many other institutions and partnerships.

The G8 and G20 have shown a commitment to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion. Such avoidance or evasion is not only unjust; it enables vast illegal or unfair outflows of revenues from extraction industries in developing countries.

Several countries are taking steps to pull back the veil of secrecy surrounding control and beneficial ownership of companies. The United Kingdom set a forceful example when it in October announced that it would make its registry of companies fully open to the public.

I strongly urge each of the countries that are signatories to UNCAC to follow UK’s example and consider creating public registries of companies and trusts. Such an action could, in one dramatic sweep, end the extensive web of secret corporate structures to hide illicit and unjust earnings. But it can only work properly once a critical mass of countries act in unison.

One area where transparency has not yet made many inroads is in the relationship between commodity traders and state-owned enterprises. In too many instances, secrecy clouds the complex deals concerning the export of oil, gas and minerals. As a result, governments risk losing large sums through under-priced commodities and the misuse of subsidies for imported petroleum products. It is time to end these kinds of arrangements.

Some companies still fight this new culture of transparency. We have seen large corporate resources poured into lobbying efforts aimed at weakening the landmark Dodd-Frank act in the United States.

While there is a long road ahead of us, I believe we can safely pause and say that transparency is now an accepted principle. And corruption – which for so long was accepted with a sad shrug as an unavoidable evil, like floods and droughts – is now considered unacceptable.

I congratulate you on your achievements so far and wish you success in your deliberations over the coming days.

Thank you.