They all do it: The rich and the poor
NEW YORK-- The US is clearly merciless when it assails most developing nations of being perpetually corrupt accusing political leaders of lining up their pockets when in power.

Perhaps, in most cases, the charge has been proved right judging by widespread government-sanctioned bribery in some of the world's most corrupt nations, including Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Brazil and Indonesia.

The state of corruption in these countries has been documented by several watchdog groups, including the Berlin-based Transparency International.
Both the US and the 25-member European Union also have strict guidelines on who should-- and who shouldn't-- receive development aid. If a government is neither "transparent" nor "accountable", it is invariably in the doghouse. Both are codewords for corruption-free third world governments-- if ever there are such political animals.

But the US and Western Europe are no bribery-free angels either. A report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) once singled out the corrupt practices involved in doling out contracts in several Western nations, including France.

The Financial Times quotes former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski once describing Washington as "the most corrupt capital in the world." "We have created a culture in which there's no distinction between what is illegal and what is unethical."

Last week one of the biggest bribery scandals in the US came home to roost in Washington DC. Jack Abramoff, a political lobbyist for the ruling Republican Party, pleaded guilty facing at least 10 years in prison for bribery, tax evasion and fraud.

And last month, Republican Congressman Randy Cunningham, quit after admitting he had taken over $2.4 million in bribes to help defence contractors get lucrative government contracts.

But the Abramoff story is described as one of the worst bribery scandals to hit the US capital, threatening the Bush administration because of his close political ties to the Republican Party, and with links to the White House.

Immediately after Abramoff pleaded guilty, President Bush returned $6,000 in campaign contributions linked to the corrupt lobbyist. According to the last count, more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions sourced to Abramoff have been dumped by some 24 Republican and Democratic politicians. Only three of the 24 are from the opposition Democratic Party. The monies are being diverted to charitable organisations.

An average political lobbyist like Abramoff, who steers government contracts to big US corporations, is bribed for his services, and in turn doles out money as "campaign contributions" to politicians who have favoured his contractors.

The tactic is common to both developing and industrial nations. The only difference is that bribery in developing nations is measured in arithmetic proportions, but in rich countries it is measured in geometric proportions.

The kickbacks that Abramoff received from one Indian tribe amounted to over $11 million and from another over $6 million. The monies were given to help Indian tribes open highly-profitable casinos in their reservations, which require federal approval and support from politicians."These are staggering numbers even by Washington standards," a defence lawyer Stanley Brand was quoted as saying. "The big firms do very, very well, but they don't come close to these kinds of numbers."

Meanwhile, the first global instrument designed to assist member states fight corruption in both public and private sectors-- the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)-- came into force last month. Since the UNCAC was open for signature in December 2003, 140 countries have signed it. But only 30 have ratified the treaty so far.

"The Convention's promise is tinged with doubt," says Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International. Labelle points out that three out of every four countries that have signed the Convention have yet to ratify it. "That means that 102 countries clearly recognise the Convention's value, yet will not be bound by its terms as it enters into force."

Labelle said the convention, because of its broad reach across continents, has the potential to address an important channel of international corruption: bribe payments by crooked companies, and extortion by corrupt officials.

The Group of Eight (G8) countries, committed at their Summit at Gleneagles last July, to promptly ratify the Convention, yet only France has done so.
Leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and the US should follow France's example and complete the ratification process, says Labelle.
But they are yet to do so-- even while they are preaching transparency, accountability and good governance to leaders in the developing world.

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