Pretoria, South Africa – A senior United Nations official on Wednesday lamented the devastating effects of corruption in Africa. Addressing participants at a public lecture at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Under-Secretary-General Antonio Maria Costa, said corruption was the biggest killer in Africa.
“It kills people, it kills the environment, and above all it kills economic development,” he said. Mr. Costa, who was on a brief visit to South Africa, gave some examples of African leaders who have brought their countries to the edge of bankruptcy through their corrupt practices.
“In Nigeria, for example, some 400 billion dollar was stolen from the Central bank by the president. If we take $1 bills, and lay them one after the other, we reach the moon… and back… 27 times!” said Mr. Costa.
But he emphasized that Africa is not the only continent where corruption is embedded in society, citing some recent corruption scandals such as the mafia war in Italy or the bank scandal in Liechtenstein, both in Europe.
Mr. Costa said the 2005 Convention Against Corruption is a blueprint for change. “The convention urges the member countries to concentrate on four major issues: prevention, criminalisation, repatriation of assets and international legal assistance”, he said.
However, governments cannot do this on their own. The private sector also has a role to play. “Only good governance and a good understanding and cooperation between both the public and private sector can tackle corruption”, Mr Costa stressed. “But the process is slow, and it will take time to resolve the problem”.
Mr. Costa called upon the students to “say no to corruption”, adding: “You should say no to any kind of corruption at any time, whether it is bribing or any other form of corruption”, he emphasized. “Fighting corruption starts with each and every individual, because for bribing, you need two persons: the briber and the one being bribed.”
The lecture ended on a light note as Prof. MS Makhanya, the Pro Vice Chancellor of UNISA, hesitated to present a gift to Mr Costa “as it could be interpreted as bribing”.