U.S. Ambassador Karen Stanton Remarks at the National Transparency Forum Tuesday

Bondia, I am honored to be here with you today at the National Transparency Forum.

The U.S. Government has found one of the best investments we can make is in people and this event is a testament to that fact.  In 2011, we sent Julio da Silva Guterres and Dinorah Granadeiro on exchange programs to the United States.  In 2012 Ariel Mota Alves participated in our youth leadership program.  In 2013 Aderito Do Rosario also traveled to the U.S. as part of an Embassy-sponsored program.   In September of last year, our investment in these talented young people paid off when they joined together to launch their Anti-Corruption Campaign with almost $25,000 in support from the U.S. Government.  We are proud that our investment has led to a campaign which in just six months has conducted anti-corruption workshops in ten municipios for over 600 people to help the citizens of Timor-Leste fight corruption.  All parts of society must join together to fight corruption and improve transparency in government.  The U.S. is committed to helping Timor-Leste and this series of workshops is an excellent initiative to advance that cause.

The dictionary defines corruption as dishonest exploitation of power for personal gain.  That’s simple.  But corruption happens at all layers of society, in all sectors of communities, and with more and more sophisticated tools available to those who would use power for their own, rather than society’s, benefit.  So the issue is simple – but countering it is complex and must be attacked on several fronts.  To combat corruption, a society must have a robust legal framework; leadership from committed elected officials; and oversight and encouragement from civil society and the media.

A strong legal framework is essential to empower governments to investigate and prosecute corruption.  Timor-Leste has made great advances by passing an anti-money laundering law, by the creation of a Financial Intelligence Unit at the Central Bank, and by legislation to make the procurement process for government contracts open and transparent.  However, a comprehensive anti-corruption law is needed to enable the Anti-Corruption Commission to effectively investigate and prosecute corruption by government officials.  A transparent procurement process is not effective if it is not followed and if it cannot be enforced.

Legislation is also needed in the area of corruption prevention.  There is no more effective tool in fighting corruption than transparency in governance.  More than 90 countries have Freedom of Information laws, which are recognized as a prerequisite for transparency and accountability in government.  Protecting a citizen’s right to access public information is an important foundation of good governance and, ultimately, sustainable development.  Freedom of information is also essential to inform the important work of Civil Society Organizations which monitor corruption.

This leads to my next point: political will.  Experience in post-conflict countries has shown that with committed leaders, a nation can reduce corruption from the highest to the lowest ranks.  The new Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Dr. Rui Araujo, has indicated that fighting corruption will be a priority for his government.  He also submitted a list of his assets to the President of the Court of Appeals, and has indicated that his Ministers will be required to submit a list of their assets within 90 days.  We applaud his example and his support for transparency in government.

Lastly it is also up to civil society and civil society organizations to demand accountability and laws that strengthen good governance.  The citizenry must hold government accountable and create the political will to fight corruption.  By making the public, government, and civil organizations aware of the need to continually push for legislation, for law enforcement, and for political leaders to move in the direction of transparency, the work of Civil Society Organizations and forums such as this can make a real difference.

There is a lot of work to be done to achieve these goals.  I’m grateful that these workshops and today’s National Forum are getting people talking.  Hopefully increased attention to the issue will result in a robust legal framework; passage of necessary legislation; leadership from committed elected officials; and oversight and encouragement from civil society and the media.  So, Maun Julio, Maun Aderito, Mana Ariel, and Mana Dinorah, I know you will continue to do great things but I am pleased to see that our investment in you has already paid off!   Obrigada Barak!