Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Robert Piper on the occassion of the launch of the Asia Pacific Human Development Report on Corruption

12 Jun 2008

Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Robert Piper on the occassion of the launch of the Asia Pacific Human Development Report on Corruption

Kathmandu, Thursday, 12 June 2008

Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Jagadish Chandra Pokharel,
Members from the Political Parties, Secretaries of the Government, representatives of the Private Sector, Civil Society, Youth Groups and Associations, Colleagues from the Media, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to welcome you this morning to the launch of the most recent Asia Pacific Regional Human Development Report ' 'Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives' - which is simultaneously being launched in a number of capitals around the region.

Corruption takes many forms, from Petty Corruption, or 'Speed Money' - to move issuance of driving licenses or admission to schools - to Grand Corruption, involving for example, large amounts of money or favours being exchanged for contracts. From the unregulated collection of small payments by the traffic police, to nepotism in hiring practices. The scourge of corruption is, sadly, neither a new phenomenon, nor a new topic for a report.

For its part, the Government has taken a number of important steps over the years to deal with this challenge in Nepal. Most important perhaps, was the change in the Anti-Corruption Act in 2001, giving the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) improved legal instruments to investigate and sue public office holders with irregularities in their property as compared to their earnings from Civil Service. I understand this has greatly improved the status of the CIAA in the public eye, although there may still be a way to go before the trust is entirely established.

Civil society and the media in Nepal have also played an increasingly important role in combating corruption, and the report itself acknowledges the work of the NGO Pro Public, its Anti-Corruption Project and its role in generating 5,500 Good Governance Radio Clubs in Nepal.

Not incidentally, in the lead up to the recent elections, all three major political parties included references to battling corruption in their party manifestos and acknowledged the importance of strengthening independent constitutional bodies to this end.

What is new and important about today's report is its emphasis on the link between corruption and Human Development. The core message from this report, in my view, is that corruption acts as a significant brake on the prospects for human development. And it documents how, as with so many other issues, corruption hits the poorest hardest. This fundamental point is perhaps easily overlooked as most of us tend to focus on the stories that make the headlines.

Looking at the region, the Report documents, for example, how:

- Due to corruption, the poor are often asked to pay bribes to obtain otherwise free health services or simply to gain access to hospitals or health services, to which they already have a right. The report tells us that it is not uncommon in our region, for health workers to ask for 'extra payments' to speed up admission to hospital or to provide a particular drug or treatment.
- Due to corruption, the poor are often asked to pay bribes to get their children admitted into otherwise free education institutions.
[Looking at the region, the Report documents, how?]
' Due to corruption, the poor are often barred from getting safe water and sanitation facilities in their immediate community and electricity to their homes, due to their inability to pay the 'extra charge' for a water or electricity connection.
- And more generally, the Report documents disturbing patterns in the region, of 'leakage' as goods and services intended to target the poor, are diverted to the better-off and well-connected who can afford to pay to get the attention and cooperation of officialdom.

The report identifies a number of strategies that work to reverse corruption. A number are already being implemented in Nepal, of course, such establishing the right to information and support to citizen action, with local governments practicing public hearings and social audits for projects at the local level. Other initiatives have started, but could use greater support, such as exploiting the potential of new technology, like e-governance, to provide easy access to information on government finances and improve transparency. Still other strategies have yet to be fully exploited, such as the use of international instruments that can help domestic efforts to curb corruption - Nepal is already a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption for example, but is yet to ratify this important Convention nor, obviously, translate its terms into domestic law and regulation.

Like all Human Development Reports, this report is an independent intellectual exercise developed in this case through a regional participatory process that draws from the contributions of many, including stakeholders from governments, civil society, academia, research institutions, the media, the private sector and others. Nepal also contributed to the consultation process with inputs from the National Planning Commissions as well as from media and civil society.

This morning's agenda includes a presentation on the report and a panel discussion on the issues contained in it. After the discussion, the report will be formally launched by the Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Jagadish Chandra Pokharel.

I would like to thank all of you for coming today. I look forward to an interesting discussion and am hopeful that we will get something substantial out of today's discussion which can help pave way for further debates and concrete actions to be taken by all of us in the years ahead.

The timing of this report seems highly fortuitous. Nepal's electors and Nepal's elected seem to have a healthy appetite at this historic time, for far-reaching political and social transformation - nothing less will be required to successfully address the pernicious issue of corruption.

Thank-you.