Academic journal article The Government Accountants Journal

International Ethics Initiatives

Academic journal article The Government Accountants Journal

International Ethics Initiatives

Article excerpt

During the 1990s, there has been a veritable avalanche of important initiatives undertaken by international groups aimed at strengthening the ethical behavior of the public servant. These initiatives have taken the form of conferences, symposia, enumerated principles, codes of conduct and international agreements. For example, in March 1996, the Organization of American States adopted an anti-bribery agreement that is binding on its member states. This agreement calls for the criminalization of the act of bribing a public official and prohibits the deducting of any such payment from taxes. The Council of Europe adopted a similar agreement in November 1996 that included a model European Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

There have also been no lack of international meetings and conferences to discuss these important and pressing issues during this decade. For example, in November 1994, more than 100 representatives of 53 countries attended a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the U.S. Information Agency. Further, in September 1997, the Eighth International Conference Against Corruption was convened in Lima, Peru. This conference, part of the continuing efforts on Transparency International, was attended by more than 1,000 people form 93 countries. The conference concluded with the adoption of the Lima Declaration, which called for swift and strong action by both individual countries and international organizations against corruption by government officials. Another international meeting on the issue of ethics was sponsored by the Organization for Economics Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France in November 1997. The OECD's "Symposium on Ethics in the Public Sector: Challenges and Opportunities for OECD Continues" was an important step toward the development of the organization's 12 principles for managing ethics, which will be discussed more fully below.

The international community is getting tough on unethical conduct in general, and on fraud and bribery in particular, because it recognizes that these practices are undermining the success of efforts by both the developing and developed nations to build and/or expand their economies. James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, speaking at his organization's October 1996 annual meeting, stated the case for improved ethical behavior by those working in the public sector when he declared: ...we also need to address transparency, accountability and institutional capacity. And let's not mince words: we need to deal with the cancer of corruption.

In country after country, it is the people who are demanding action on this issue. They know that corruption diverts resources from the poor to the rich, increases the cost of running businesses, distorts public expenditures and deters foreign investors. They also know that it erodes the constituency for aid programs and humanitarian relief. And we all know that it is a major barrier to sound and equitable development.'

In a speech prepared for delivery to the Eighth International Conference Against Corruption, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan,forcefully condemned corruption in these words:

Corruption is a curse and an attack on the foundations of any civilized society. It undermines morality, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. It swallows resources needed for development. And it is an affront to people who bring high ethical standards to their work and dealings with their fellow human beings and who expect the same in return, in the timehonored tradition of "do unto others." Corruption is evil and insidious, and must be opposed at every turn.2

In addition to the issues raised by Wolfensohn and Annan, there are several other recent worldwide developments that have heightened the interest of people and organizations working in the area of public service ethics. Among the other forces are changes in the manner of service delivery and budgetary pressures. …

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