Memorandum submitted by Mr John Williams
MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public
Accounts, Ottawa, Canada
PARLIAMENT'S ROLE IN COMBATING BRIBERY AND
1. Over the centuries, parliaments have
evolved and developed in response to the demands by the citizens
of a nation, that their government be held accountable to someone.
Even in a peaceful society (ie A nation not at war) governments
without accountability have been a curse on their own societies.
Over time, citizens have demanded and won the right, to
(a) Approve legislation proposed by their
(b Reject taxation without representation,
(c) Approve, limit or even reduce spending
proposals by their government.
2. Since the battle for accountability was
won, the question now is, "Can it be maintained and enhanced?
Is the institution of Parliament being co-opted and weakened by
governments? Are Parliamentarians succumbing to the temptations
of power which is so close at hand?"
3. Unfortunately, the answer is "yes"
because in many instances, parliamentarians see themselves as
either part of government, or on their way to becoming government.
However, there is a clear distinction between the responsibility
of government, which is to decide upon and implement public policy,
and the responsibility of a parliament which is to speak on behalf
of the citizens of the nation, approve public policy, and act
as the watchdog on government.
4. The institution of parliament developed
as the representative voice of the people, whose fundamental role,
is to hold the government accountable and answerable for its actions.
The tyranny of a government without accountability knows no bounds.
It is the role of parliament to provide the accountability that
5. Accountability in the private sector
is a relatively simple thing. It is called competition and regulation.
When many businesses strive to serve the same client, healthy
competition prevails. If a business cannot prosper in a competitive
environment, it will die and disappear. But the opportunity for
profit will always ensure that vigorous, fresh, enthusiastic,
new businesses are willing to enter the marketplace. When healthy
competition prevails, a business prospers by providing better
service, lower prices and better quality of product than its competitors.
There is no easier or more efficient method to ensure quality
and diversity of goods and services delivered to the public than
a healthy, properly regulated, competitive environment.
6. Governments by definition have no competitor.
As the institution that sets fair and equitable rules for society,
as the enforcer of these rules on society, as the institution
that raises taxes and spends the money in order to meet its priorities,
governments are unique, all-powerful, and largely beyond the reach
of the individual citizen.
7. Over the years, citizens collectively
have demanded representation and accountability through the institution
of parliament. An independent and effective parliament can and
should be able to ensure that a government serves its people,
rather than providing an opportunity without hindrance, for elected
people to enrich themselves with taxpayers' funds.
8. Unfortunately, people who are elected
to a parliament can be weak. People who are elected to parliament
can be bought. And people elected to a parliament can be ignorant
of their responsibilities. When these things happen, parliaments
are weakened and governments can get away with, dare we say it
. . . .murder!
9. The executive becomes more powerful.
Governors pocket the resources of the nation. The citizens are
helpless to prevent the pillage of their own economy.
10. Bribery and corruption are dark forces
that must be challenged at each and every opportunity. A number
of starts have been made already. The Organisation of Economic
Cooperation and Development has a convention against the bribery
of foreign public officials. The Council of Europe has defined
corruption and has set out a code of conduct for parliamentarians.
The Organisation of American States has a convention against corruption.
African parliamentarians have created an organization of parliamentarians
11. If the requirement is for more accountability,
how can parliaments be strengthened to ensure that they are effective
in delivering that additional accountability? How can parliamentarians
insulate themselves against the dark forces of corruption? The
answer is that motivators are required to strengthen parliamentarians
rather than letting them succumb to the temptation of power and
ill-gotten wealth. Parliamentarians need motivators to cause them
to recognise their moral obligation is to lead society, not to
plunder society. Parliaments and parliamentarians must be motivated
to serve society rather than serve themselves.
12. So what are the motivators? Motivators
are "forces beyond our control, which cause us to think and
act in a certain way". In a democracy, the starting point
is transparency. Transparency means that governments, willingly
and voluntarily, publish meaningful, accurate and timely information.
No modern society can flourish today without its government being
open and transparent, keeping its public informed, and recognising
that it is accountable to its people through fair and honest elections.
This way, governments are held responsible to their citizens,
provide programs for the enhancement of their society, and ensure
that the rule of law is respected as a way of doing business.
13. There is no room in a society that wishes
to grow and develop, for decisions to be made at the whim of a
government official, be it a politician, bureaucrat, or judge.
When a government's management of society is open to public scrutiny,
and part of the public debate, it is more likely to be motivated
to provide better government and better programs for lower taxation.
Accountability, like competition, focuses government on serving
the constituent as a client, and serving them well.
14. Legislators and parliamentarians are
part of a privileged few who have been given the authority by
their electors to approve public policy for the orderly management
of their society. The responsibility to hold government to public
account for the implementation of public policy is not a responsibility
that should be taken lightly. Governments will provide the public
policies that people endorse, or will be challenged by a political
party who listens to the call of the electorate for change and
improvement in public policy. Like the motivator of competition,
when a business fails to deliver, it does not survive, openness
and transparency says that a government that fails to deliver
will be replaced.
15. When a government fails to address hunger,
poverty, education, health and the prosperity of its citizens,
parliamentarians have failed in their responsibility to hold government
to account in the delivery of good public policy. But good governance
does not come naturally. Parliamentarians rarely come to office
with a deep knowledge of their new responsibilities. They do not
go to college to become parliamentarians. Their election is seldom
based upon their knowledge of good governance. In too many countries
unfortunately, too many parliamentarians depend upon corrupt practices
for their electoral success.
16. Collectively, parliamentarians have
a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the role they play
in governing our societies well. Parliamentarians also have a
responsibility to share their knowledge with other parliamentarians
who want it and need it. By spreading the commitment to good governance,
parliamentarians can alleviate poverty and desperation, and replace
it with hope, education, health and prosperity in the lives of
17. Parliamentarians around the world are
now recognizing the need for a global organisation of parliamentarians
who are committed to good governance. The horrors that bribery
and corruption impose upon society are far too prevalent today.
Parliamentarians are the first line in holding governments accountable.
Parliamentarians are the privileged few who have the responsibility
to ensure that their governments are open, transparent, honest
18. For that reason, parliamentarians who
are committed to improving good governance, who want to fight
against corruption, and who want to challenge the status quo should
form regional organisations. Corruption is quite often cultural
in nature. Corruption in South America is different than corruption
in Russia. Corruption in North America is different than corruption
in India or China. For that reason, regional self-governing organizations
under a global umbrella can be more effective in combating corruption
than a unified approach. There already is an organisation called
the African Parliamentarians Network Against Corruption under
the leadership of Augustin Ruzindana, Chair of the Public Accounts
Committee of Uganda.
19. There are commitments to start self-governing
chapters in South Asia and South-east Asia. Interest has been
expressed in China and Russia. There is a commitment in principle
in Canada to such an organisation, and parliamentarians in Canada
are seeking partners in the United States. A number of parliamentarians
in South America endorse the organisation of a regional chapter
for Latin America and are working towards that end. There are
some European parliamentarians who recognize the benefits of their
own organisation dedicated to fighting corruption.
20. Corruption is a global problem. It is
everybody's problem. It is the scourge that keeps the powerless
poor and destitute. Corruption is the dark force that bleeds money
out of economic development. It is corruption that diverts resources
from development of a society to the enrichment of a few.
21. Governments have no competition. In
lieu of competition we have developed the concept of an effective
parliament with the powers, resources, knowledge and independence
to hold government accountable. But parliaments can only perform
this role if they are strong, independent, and committed to exercising
22. Regional self-governing chapters of
parliamentarians, as part of a Global Organisation of Parliamentarians
Against Corruption (GOPAC) will enhance the capacity of parliamentarians.
GOPAC, as an international organisation of parliamentarians, should
be able to harness sufficient capability to provide moral support,
resources, research, and information to parliamentarians, enabling
them to do the job they were elected to do.
23. Leaders of the initiative in Canada
hope to sponsor an International Conference of Parliamentarians
Against Corruption in Ottawa, Canada, in the fall of 2002, because
parliamentarians are the front line in the battle against corruption.
24. Parliamentarians must not submit to
the easy temptation to talk and go home, to listen to exhortations
and do nothing, to wring their hands in despair. Parliamentarians
can and should start a process of making a difference because
surely in this age, when so many people in this world have so
little, and even that can be diminished by the greed and corruption
of those in positions of public responsibility, parliamentarians
owe their citizens no less than an effective parliament and good
John Williams, MP
Chairman, Public Accounts Committee
House of Commons, Ottawa, Canada