20 January 2014

Nigeria: Private Sector Campaign Funds Fuelling Corruption - Okonjo-Iweala

Finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has urged African leaders to look into the issue of how election campaigns are financed, stating that it is one of the root causes of corruption.

Okonjo-Iweala, who made this call at an event organised by TEDx Euston penultimate Friday in London, also threw a challenge to all stakeholders: they should not trivialise the issue of corruption but should take decisive steps to tackle it.

The minister stressed that unless a legitimate means is found for funding election campaigns, politicians would continue to seek funds from other sources, particularly from business people, and later on be forced to reward them through contracts or other means that undermine the economy and development.

She stated: "To me one of the root causes of corruption in the continent is the way we finance or do not finance elections properly. We have adopted systems that demand that politicians campaign, haven't we? Campaigns cost money. But where does that money come from?

"If we don't find a legitimate means of supporting campaigns, then, all sorts of ways are found to do this. It could be, as I said before, engaging business people who support an individual, a system or a party and then, later on, they have to be rewarded through contracts or other means that may actually not help but undermine the economy and development.

"If we don't solve this problem, people will continue to find unorthodox means of financing their elections, of financing the implantation of democracy. And this very means may be the root of some of the corruption we do not want, which may totally affect the way we do business."

Okonjo-Iweala, who is also the coordinating minister for the economy, suggested that countries could dedicate a certain percentage of their revenues to funding elections so that politicians do not have to run around to get money to fund their campaigns.

"I want us to start a conversation: what if we decide that we want a certain percentage of each of our countries' revenue to be dedicated to this purpose and that people need not run around to look for means and stress themselves to finance political parties or election campaigns, but that it is a legitimate public good that we have said we want in each country we want democracy? Therefore we must find a legitimate way to support this," she said. "What if we say we will do that; is that a way? What other ways can we think about? How can we have this conversation? How can we innovate? We've got so many young people on our continent with innovative ideas including all of you in the audience here."

Calling on African leaders not to trivialise corruption, Okonjo-Iweala said: "What do I mean by that? You trivialise corruption when there is evidence that an act or a policy is legitimate and yet for your own purpose, either political or otherwise, you label it as corruption. When people divert attention from the real issues and focus on issues that are not relevant, that is a way of trivialising corruption. You trivialise corruption when you use it as a weapon to castigate other people, whereas the evidence is there.

"When a civil servant demands under-the-table money for a service that they should deliver, they diminish the service and the people they serve; this is corruption. When a teacher demands sexual favours to give students high marks in an examination or to pass them, they diminish the students, they diminish themselves, they undermine education, they undermine development - this is corruption.

"When a public servant diverts resources from the state budget or national budget and siphons them abroad, removes them from doing the work and any good for the people. This is corruption on the part of the person embezzling public fund at home and also those receiving it abroad.

"When people steal our mineral wealth, be it crude oil or other natural resources, in any of our countries on the continent and they divert and send it abroad, that is corruption on the part of those stealing and receiving. When a company illegally refuses to pay tax and finds clever ways to take out the profits and resources which they ought to pay in the country they are working, this is also corruption.

TEDx Euston is part of TED, a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". TED was founded in 1984.

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