Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption Richard Nephew’s
Opening Remarks at Press Briefing at U.S. Embassy Zambia
June 9, 2023, 9-10 a.m.
As written for delivery
Good morning! My name is Richard Nephew, and I am the Coordinator for Global Anti-Corruption at the U.S. Department of State. I have had a great visit here in Lusaka and I look forward to talking with you all this morning.
Over the past three days, I have met with individuals across government, civil society, and the private sector to learn about the challenges and opportunities to continue the fight against corruption here in Zambia.
The fight against corruption, both internationally and domestically, is a foreign policy priority for the United States. This is reflected not only in the release of our first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, but also in President Biden’s establishing combating corruption as a core national security interest.
We are also demonstrating our commitment to this cause through our multilateral work, especially through hosting the 10th Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption — also known as the UNCAC COSP — in Atlanta this December. And, of course, we hosted the Summit for Democracy together with Zambia and other partners, where anti-corruption is a core pillar.
We appreciate the Government of Zambia’s role in co-hosting the second Summit and extend our gratitude for making the event a success. We look forward to continuing to partner with Zambia to sustain and strengthen our democracies to better deliver for our peoples.
These actions, from releasing the strategy to hosting the Summit and the UNCAC COSP, highlight U.S. recognition of corruption’s corrosive impacts globally, in our countries, and in our communities.
Corruption enables criminality, erodes good governance, stifles economic growth, increases inequality, and reduces faith in government. It makes it harder for everyday citizens to provide for their families, have faith in their government, and receive public services like healthcare and education.
It tilts the economic playing field against hardworking people and makes it harder for them to provide for their families. Corruption is little more than theft, undermining the opportunity for a better future for us all.
We recognize that corruption is not unique to any one country or region of the world – we struggle with corruption in the United States as well and see the damage that it can do in our own society, which is why President Biden has made fighting corruption such a priority at home and with partners abroad.
The U.S. anti-corruption strategy organizes our work to fight corruption under five mutually reinforcing pillars:
- modernizing, coordinating, and resourcing U.S. government efforts to prevent corruption;
- curbing illicit finance;
- holding corrupt actors accountable;
- preserving and strengthening the multilateral anti-corruption architecture; and
- improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance resources to achieve anti-corruption policy goals.
Core to our work across these pillars is coordinating and collaborating with our government, civil society, and private sector partners both at home and internationally to make lasting change in the fight against corruption.
Here in Zambia, that means leveraging tools available and leaning on the strong partnerships that my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy have developed. As many of you know, Ambassador Gonzales has been speaking out on corruption challenges and engaging with members of the media like yourselves to shine a light on these issues. I commend Zambia for its commitment to root out corruption within the government and applaud the latest step toward ensuring accountability among public servants engaged in pervasive corruption.
We look forward to seeing the criminal justice system play its part and for Zambia to secure convictions for gross acts of corruption past, present, and future. Holding corrupt officials responsible before the law is crucial to root out corruption once and for all.
This work is not easy. It requires sometimes confronting friends, partners, and allies who have done the wrong thing. Anti-corruption work requires tough conversations, made all the worse by the fact that corruption is — at its heart — a betrayal of one’s oaths and responsibilities for personal gain.
Because of this, fighting corruption can also seem embarrassing, as governments — such as mine — are forced to admit that we have a problem that must be addressed. But, to my mind, there is no embarrassment or shame to come from confronting corruption. There are criminals in every country on earth; if there is shame, then we all must suffer it.
The question is what we do about these people and how we respond when we identify them and their crimes.
Corruption will not be stopped overnight, but it can be prevented through action to hold criminals accountable and systematic reforms that 1) enhance transparency, particularly in public procurements, access to information, and asset declarations by public officials; 2) empower robust media and civil society to conduct oversight; and 3) bolster strict accountability mechanisms. Zambians play a crucial role in the fight against corruption by demanding action on these efforts from elected officials.
Transparency and access to information are key, and an empowered media and civil society are crucial to leveraging that transparency to analyze dynamics and identify corruption.
We are working with Zambia on several initiatives to counter corruption, including:
- supporting local governments to improve public procurement processes to ensure citizens receive public services;
- providing technical assistance to investigative bodies to strengthen case management practices and procedures;
- strengthening central anti-corruption institutions, processes, and policies, including those related to beneficial ownership, asset disclosure, and oversight by civil society organizations;
- strengthening public financial management at the government level; and
- supporting the efficiency and accountability of the drug commodity supply chain.
All of these partnerships and efforts to root out corruption will pay dividends in the long-term here in Zambia. Fighting corruption helps level the playing field, improve the business climate, and achieve inclusive economic growth, which I know are all priorities for the government and everyday Zambians. Fighting corruption can also strengthen citizens’ confidence in their government, knowing they have equal access to the vital services they need to survive and thrive.
As I mentioned, the United States is not immune to the challenge of corruption, but we also know that we are not alone. We can likewise benefit from fighting it alongside our partners and take lessons from the work our friends are doing to counter it as well. That is why a key part of my travel is to listen to what my partners are already doing, to share that information with the right people back home, and to likewise share strategies and tools that I’ve gathered from all the regions of the world. I will certainly do that after I leave Zambia.
Corruption is a global problem that we have to fight humbly and that we cannot take on alone. The Biden Administration has been clear that strengthening democracy and fighting corruption start at home, by taking an honest look in the mirror and renewing our own democratic institutions.
The case for taking action against corruption is clear, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Zambia in its efforts to combat corruption.
Thanks for your time, and I welcome your questions.