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Cities Mobilize Against Urban Corruption

  • Peter Fedynsky

NEW YORK - More than half of the world’s people now live in urban areas and the United Nations expects two-thirds of humanity will be city dwellers by mid-century. Representatives of nearly 30 cities of the world are participating in a two-day conference in New York City to examine ways of combating corruption that is accompanying such rapid urbanization.

If taxpayers fund a kilometer of city sidewalks but only get 800 meters, they are robbed by corrupt officials who steal one fifth of the money. The mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, Antonio Ledezma, shared that observation with officials from 26 cities of the world, from the national government of South Africa and regional governments of Catalonia and Quebec. Ledezma warned persistent corruption can be lethal for democracy.

Ledezma says this is because corruption generates mistrust in democracy itself. He says there are those who naively come to the conclusion or believe that authoritarian dictatorships or governments can efficiently control corruption.

In his keynote address, the mayor of the host city, Michael Bloomberg, discussed the role of public integrity in not only strengthening democratic rule, but also supporting economic growth. He said corruption siphons off more than five percent of global GDP, the equivalent of more than 2.6 trillion dollars each year.

“So it’s money that’s not being invested productively; not generating jobs, or not being used to improve public health, public safety or other essential services," said Bloomberg.

Several participants noted the need for whistleblower protection, media transparency, and independent courts in the fight against corruption. John Shanahan, representing Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, underscored the need to avoid double standards in law enforcement.

“Holders of high public office in particular must not be seen to be or give the impression of being above the law or colluding with wealthy businessmen and living by a different set of rules from the general public," said Shanahan.

Joachim Schwanke, director of the Department of Internal Investigations in Hamburg, Germany, recommended frequent job rotation for public officials who work in such corruption-prone areas as procurement. He noted that the likelihood of corruption increases the longer an individual occupies a given position. Schwanke said Hamburg’s anti-corruption effort will soon include the Internet.

“That means that every contract the public administration does with some enterprise or company has to be published via Internet," said Schwanke. "Then everybody has the chance to read it up and to control what happened.”

The two-day anti-corruption conference is sponsored by New York City Global Partners, a non-profit organization. The annual event focuses on development of legal frameworks, oversight organizations, municipal-federal cooperation and public awareness in the fight against corruption.