Session II: Fostering Integrity and Ethical Conduct in the Public Sector

As prepared for delivery by Fred Turner
Economic and Environmental Forum First Preparatory Meeting
Dublin, Ireland, April 23, 2012

Thank you, Moderator.

Thank you, distinguished panelists, for discussing the critical need for public officials to maintain the highest standards of integrity and accountability. One area where public trust is most sacred is with our elected officials. At the February meeting of this Forum in Vienna, our Irish colleague Ambassador O’Leary observed that “there’s nothing more corrupting than the sight of a rich criminal untouched.” I would take that idea one step further – if that rich criminal is untouched due to his or her position within the government, then this is a truly corrosive form of corruption.

The practice of parliamentary immunity varies across the 56 participating States. The right of immunity is based on the premise that representatives must enjoy certain guarantees to carry out the duties of their office. Immunity from legal attacks that are frivolous or in bad faith can provide the protection and peace of mind parliamentarians need to carry out their mandates.

However, there are still fundamental principles of parliamentary immunity that should apply in all circumstances. Specifically, countries should seek to

(1) Adopt clear, balanced, transparent, and enforceable procedures for waiving parliamentary immunities in cases of criminal acts or ethical violations; and

(2) Provide that the privilege of immunity must not apply to actions taken by an individual before they have assumed office or actions taken after they have left public office.

In addition, participating States should develop rigorous standards of ethics and official conduct for parliamentarians and staff; and establish efficient mechanisms for disclosure of financial information and potential conflicts of interests.

Disclosure of financial information of public officials is a powerful tool called for by the UNCAC. Two best practices are worth highlighting. First, disclosures that are public build confidence and improve oversight.  Second, disclosure systems should be designed to help spot and avoid conflicts of interest, as much as to help identify undue enrichment. Both the G20 and the economies of APEC recently adopted principles in this area that may be useful for countries contemplating public integrity reforms.

The U.S. recently adopted another measure to promote integrity in the public service, through passage of a law that prohibits Members of Congress, officials and employees from every branch of government from using non-public, privileged information for personal gain and creating a disclosure mechanism for finding out when they do.

In our experience, adopting these public integrity measures is just the first step. For the measures to be effective, we have to invest considerable effort in disseminating them, raising awareness among public servants, and training officials on their application.

We encourage the OSCE to highlight the importance of these approaches; foster dissemination of good practices – including by OSCE members – in these areas; and, resources permitting, provide technical assistance in these areas.

We must make every effort to hold ourselves, as bearers of the public’s trust and stewards of the public’s resources, to a standard of absolute integrity in our professional work.

Thank you, Moderator.