An diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks gives an insight into how the United States ambassador to Senegal, Marcia S. Bernicat, challenged President Abdoulaye Wade on corruption in his country during an interview in February this year.
The text of the cable, dated February 18, 2010 by WikiLeaks, follows:
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DAKAR 000127
AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE PASS TO AMEMBASSY MALABO
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/18
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM KMCA ECON SG
SUBJECT: Ambassador Discusses Corruption with Senegalese President
REF: 09 DAKAR 1069
CLASSIFIED BY: Marcia Bernicat, Ambassador, DOS, Exec; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
¶1. (U) Summary: After nearly two hours of a mostly one-on-one discussion that included lighter and more tense exchanges, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade took the suggestion to demonstrate tangible steps of fighting corruption. Wade relied on his standard defense of the fact there have been no cases of corruption brought to trial in recent years. Despite reports from the budget inspector's court and the inspector general's office, there have been no trials of prominent civilian or political figures since Wade's election in 2000. Wade first claimed that: 1) his political enemies are using the press to make false accusations, 2) it is difficult to prove corruption exists, and 3) as President he cannot possibly monitor everything that happens in his government. He finally acknowledged that it was statistically impossible for his claims that there is no corruption in Senegal to be true, and that he needed to address donor concerns regarding increased corruption in Senegal. Recalling conversations he had last fall with the Secretary and President Obama, the Ambassador urged President Wade to help the U.S. continue to help Senegal by demonstrating through concrete actions a reduction in corruption levels to avoid any governance-related sanctions. End Summary.
¶2. (U) Ambassador Bernicat opened the one-on-one conversation with President Abdoulaye Wade by presenting him with a signed copy of a photo with Secretary Clinton prior to the signing of the MCC Compact Agreement in September 2009 and commending his humanitarian outreach to Haitian earthquake victims. She further praised Wade's January 21, 2010 announcement to his Counsel of Ministers of the importance of fighting corruption and that he was open to the possibility of giving Senegal's Anti-Corruption Commission greater autonomy. She explained, however, that there was growing concern in the United States and among Senegal's other donors and the international community about the increase in corruption in Senegal and impunity towards it. His recent response to a letter he received from the new President of MCC, Daniel W. Yohannes, dismissing the issue, she added, served to underline those concerns.
¶3. (U) President Wade responded initially by explaining that it is difficult to "prove a negative" and that his government does not seek out cases, absent specific details. It is most important, he argued, for a government to demonstrate its political will to fight corruption when it arises, not to go on witch hunts. By way of example, he acknowledged the European Union had raised concerns about the sale of land used to fund the construction of the African Renaissance Monument, but insisted he has satisfied those concerns. He continued with a detailed explanation regarding why the convoluted sale of public land at different prices was required. The Ambassador countered that the opaque way in which the land was sold had lent itself to charges of corruption. (FYI. See reftel - and note that the EU Resident Representative in Dakar found President Wade's explanation unconvincing and remains critical of the land deal. End FYI.)
4.(U) The Ambassador responded to President Wade's request for specific cases to pursue by asking about the status of the forty-nine cases of alleged money laundering that Senegal's Financial Investigative Unit CENTIF has referred to the State Prosecutor since 2005, but which have not yet been brought to trial. Wade initially responded that the GOS did not want to discourage foreign investments by scrutinizing every money transfer. Following the Ambassador's brief explanation that cases brought to CENTIF were part of a well-regulated international system made more robust in the wake of the discovery of the role that terrorist financing played in the 9/11 attacks, Wade convoked both the head of CENTIF, Ngouda Fall Kane, and the new Justice Minister, El Hadj Amadou Sall, to explain the delay. He demurred that he could not interfere in another branch of government, but the Ambassador parried that it was important, given his commitment to end corruption, to follow such cases closely and help break any logjams when they occur. As Senegal was the first Francophone African member to join Egmont in May 2009, it has a special responsibility to lead by example. Sall confirmed that CENTIF cases needed to be taken seriously.
5.(U) Justice Minister Sall, the third person to hold the post in the last 4 months, had the advantage of inheriting the delays and
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assured Wade he would investigate the nature of the delays and resolve them as soon as possible. He also claimed to be pursuing a number of other corruption cases at the moment and would have some arrests to report shortly. XXXXXXXXXXXX
¶6. (U) Wade relied only briefly on the argument he used with President Obama last fall - that his political enemies are inciting the press to fabricate stories about corruption, but shifted fairly quickly when the Ambassador asserted that the perception of widespread corruption has now become a reality that only concrete actions can effectively address. Another recurring theme throughout the discussion was that, as President, Wade claimed he could not possibly know the behavior of every government official. The Ambassador contended each time that he needed to create an environment in which it is clear corruption will not be tolerated and follow through by having those guilty arrested and prosecuted, highlighting recent years of U.S. assistance to train law enforcement and judicial authorities in combating money laundering, corruption, and other transnational crimes. The Ambassador then argued that corruption is everywhere in the world and that it is statistically impossible for there to be no cases in Senegal. Wade, who has an advanced degree in mathematics and statistics, chuckled and conceded, agreeing that he needed to demonstrate concrete steps to fight corruption.
¶7. (U) Finally, citing U.S. legislation which now requires Secretary Clinton's certification of each country's budget transparency, the Ambassador urged President Wade to adopt the Integrated System of Public Financial Management "SIGFIP," a computer system whose automation of the budget process will significantly enhance Senegal's fiscal reform efforts by making public funds fully accountable. Wade assured the Ambassador that only he had been successful in reducing the backlog of the final budget review process, but the Ambassador noted that the current backlog meant Senegal would still not meet the standard of the legislation. SIGFIP would be a comprehensive and foolproof way to regulate potential corrupt spending within the ministries. (Comment: Local World Bank officials have promised to pass summary information on SIGFIP to Wade. End Comment)
¶8. (SBU) Tellingly, President Wade ended the discussion by abruptly asking for assurances that the U.S. Government would not deny Senegal the MCC Compact at this point, given its focus on improving conditions of the country's poorest. Ambassador Bernicat explained to him that development assistance was targeted for a country's most needy; MCC Compacts were reserved for the developing world's best performers. She stressed that legislation requires that continued declines in measures of good governance, corruption, or other indicators would result in Senegal losing its Compact, as could other egregious acts that meet with Congressional appropriators' disapproval. That would be especially true of corruption, she added, reminding him that some Members of Congress had expressed their concerns at the time the Compact was signed.
¶9. (SBU) This meeting closely followed discussions in which the European Union Representative, the DCM, and Ambassador made similar points to President Wade's son, Karim, the Minister for International Cooperation, Land Use, Air Transport and Infrastructure. The Ambassador also briefed a group of core donors (France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Canada, European Union, World Bank, and, for the first time in a group setting, China) following a series of individual meetings to compare notes (as is customary) and report on actions to counter corruption in Senegal. The group agreed to continue to place pressure on the Wade administration constructively, in part, by drawing on a common set of talking points condemning corruption to raise the level of intolerance for it in this pre-election season.
¶10. (C) Comment: Several actions (reported septel) taken prior to or following this discussion suggest to the hopeful that President Wade is finally taking steps to curb corruption, but post believes he will walk a fine line between taking these steps and continuing
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to allow those used to helping themselves to government funds to do so to ensure their loyalties remain intact. The striking similarities of the father and son on this issue suggest the two continue to underestimate the importance of this issue to the donors and, increasingly, to the electorate. It also suggests that they continue to work in concert toward preparing the way for a presidential dynastic succession rather than, as some speculate, that Karim Wade was undermining a father increasingly sidelined by his own political missteps of the last few months. President Wade, who reportedly is more frequently frail and distracted, was robust and in command of the subject matter throughout the nearly two-hour discussion. End comment. SMITH