15 February 2008

Antonio Marie Costa has real nerve. He sits in the expensive exclusive resort of Bali admonishing countries to fight corruption when he himself was subject to an investigation which fizzled after a deal was made at the Annan-Riza 38th floor. At the time, the Director of the Vienna office agreed, among other things, to take a floating Pakistani woman, a friend of Riza, in a D-2 post. Costa, who doubles as the Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, had his contract extended three years beyond the outgoing Secretary General's term -- an exceptional arrangement granted to no one else except the Green Mercedes Man.

In Bali, Costa complained that efforts to regain stolen assets were running into resistance from "middle-level bureaucrats with connections, knowledge and entrenched interests who have a lot to lose." How about high-level bureaucrats?!

They were gathering in Indonesia, the most famous cleptocracy where $50 billion has disappeared over the last thirty years. According to The Financial Times reporter, none of them offered a comment "out of deference to their hosts and respect for the ex strongman" Suharto who died and was buried in the nearby island of Java. To place the gathering in its real perspective President Yudhoyono -- a former Interior Minister under Suhorta -- abandoned his scheduled appearance to attend the funeral.

Some participants expressed concern that they may "lose momentum" unless a monitoring system was established soon. Others pointed out to conflicts of interest and "revolving doors" between the private and public sectors. Many stressed that legal obstacles should be cleared to facilitate the return of stolen assets. One of the most outspoken -- and credible -- speakers was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a managing director of the World Bank, once rumoured as potential U.N. Deputy Secretary General. As former Finance Minister of Nigeria, she should know her subject. Former President Abacha had amassed somewhere around $5 billion, from his salary as a retired army officer!

While they focus on dead horses like Ferdinand Marcos, Muboto Sese Seko or Slobodan Milosevic, they divert attention -- intentionally or otherwise -- from where billions are being blatantly stolen without accountability. And while pointing figures at the poor developing world, they tread softly on corruption in rich and powerful countries including influence peddling, paid lobbying for hefty contracts and real "revolving doors."

Instead of theatrical posturing from Bali, the Director of U.N. Office on Crime and Drugs, should be doing his assigned job on precisely Crime and Drugs. Few years ago he told us pompously that we were witnessing the beginning of the end of the Asian Golden Triangle. Instead, it spread further. Afghanistan, which he promised three years ago will effectively control its drug production has in fact become -- with his own admission -- the biggest producer of opium in the world. In Vienna, the ever-traveling "Director" could not produce any single tangible accomplishment during the last six years, except some press clippings about having to return that favoured gun to its generous manufacturer. And there is that initial report of the investigation in New York. Unless Riza happened to shred it -- by mistake, of course.