Remarks by Ambassador Colleen Bell
for Transparency International Sziget Festival Press Conference
August 12, 2016
Thank you very much, Jó napot kívánok, it’s great to be here with Jozsef and Transparency International.
I am delighted to participate in and contribute to this event. Thank you for your courageous persistence and dedication to the promotion of transparency, accountability, and good governance every day here in Hungary.
Fighting corruption is notoriously difficult, it requires a long term commitment, and success is often hard to measure. Events like these raise awareness to the importance of combatting corruption, and the studies that you conduct teach us how we can better direct our efforts.
While the dangers are stark, I think we are reaching a turning point in this fight as nations around the world realize how dangerous corruption is to our societies and to our security. How are we going to build schools and hospitals, train our labor forces, and address the many problems our societies face if corrupt officials are pilfering the resources?
In the United States, we are making progress in returning some of this money back to the people. In July, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was seeking to recover over one billion dollars in assets that corrupt Malaysian government insiders stole from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund. This is the largest action in a series of investigations rooting out embezzled funds hidden in the United States. As Secretary Kerry said in May, “The money that we are able to send back to a country is the opportunity to provide a desk and a chair in a school, or shelter and health care. It’s an opportunity to meet the needs of nations.”
We are also working to make embezzlement more difficult. Our Treasury Department in May enacted new rules that require banks to identify owners of shell companies that deposit funds in their institutions. These rules will make it harder for criminals to hide assets and launder money through shell companies.
Corruption, however, is not just about a few bad leaders transferring funds to off shore bank accounts. The effects of corruption are much further reaching. Corruption breeds instability and violence and alienates our citizens, often causing them to lose faith in the state. This frustration can drive them to the streets as we saw in the Arab Spring and the Maidan Movement. Terrorist groups appeal to these grievances to fuel recruitment and justify violence. The violent extremism that is pervasive in many parts of the world stems in part from the exasperation people feel that the system is rigged against them.
We are fortunate that violent extremism is not common in Hungary and the region, or in the United States for that matter. Surveys indicate, however, that many young people believe that it is impossible to get ahead without resorting to corruption — a clear sign that they think the system is set up and is not working for them. Many young people across the world feel disillusioned with their leaders and left behind by their governments.
For these reasons, the United States Government has made the fight against corruption a top priority. At the recent Global Anticorruption Summit held in London, Secretary Kerry announced a number of new initiatives. In 2017 in Washington, the United States will co-host with the United Kingdom the inaugural meeting of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery. The forum will work collaboratively to recover and return assets to the people harmed by corruption. We will join several countries to establish the International Anticorruption Coordination center in London. This center will coordinate cross-border investigative communication, increase data sharing between financial hubs, and assist developing countries with corruption cases. Secretary Kerry also announced over seventy million dollars to fund new programs that will promote transparency and accountability.
In Hungary, we will continue to work and partner with the Ministry of Interior through the International Law Enforcement Academy to train law enforcement officials to combat transnational organized crime. In May, ILEA held a regional anti-corruption training for judges and prosecutors from Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, and Hungary. We will also continue to support civil society organizations, like Transparency International, that are doing such important work to strengthen the rule of law and accountability.
When I raise these issues, people frequently mention to me that corruption is part of the culture. That it is impossible to change. I believe that by confronting corruption in a systematic and rigorous way, and by doing the hard work of educating people about the importance of transparency and accountability — this culture of tolerating corruption will change. Working together with government and civil society to raise awareness and empower citizens, just as Transparency International is doing here, I believe we can make enormous progress.