Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor for me to address this high-level forum on International Anti-Corruption Day on behalf of the citizens of my country, the Republic of Moldova. Despite setbacks we have experienced in the past, Moldova’s citizens continue to believe in fundamental justice. They have once again rallied together to demand from politicians an end to the pervasive graft that has hindered our young democracy.
Moldovans have always struggled for democracy. Yet, throughout the three decades since our country gained its cherished independence, corruption has been one of the key impediments that prevented Moldova from developing the full potential of its hard-working people. Corruption is the reason we failed to create a functional state with equal opportunities for all.
Exploiting the weaknesses of state institutions, corrupt groups stole from the people, used dirty money to buy political parties, and abused media networks to manipulate public opinion and cling to power. While in office, they used government institutions to build up more illegal wealth. The more they achieved their venal goals, the more Moldova failed.
Corrupt governments have plunged Moldova into poverty. Institutions were captured. Impunity and injustice became widespread. A few powerful individuals monopolized economic flows, discouraging investments and eroding opportunities. Financial crimes became the norm. Banking sector fraud amounting to 12% of GDP and the 22 billion dollars laundered through the country are indicators of the magnitude of corruption we faced in the last decade alone. This had severe consequences for our economy, our statehood, and our national security.
But things can be very different. The citizens of Moldova have made their expectations very clear – we must break the vicious cycle of corruption and state capture which has held Moldova back for so long. This goal has united the Moldovans, regardless of their ethnic origin or the language that they speak. People want a cleaner public service, which would be worthy of respect, strengthen societal cohesion, and make the state more functional.
Our fight against corruption includes specific measures – eliminating corrupt people from the justice system including through an extraordinary, external evaluation of judges and prosecutors, building strong anti-corruption institutions, tracing and recovering the stolen money, promoting fiscal transparency and accountability and ending illegal financing of political parties. These are not simple tasks. These are tough, serious, systemic endeavors, which must be waged relentlessly, across the board. We are meeting fierce resistance from those who still benefit from the old system. But the people did not ask us to be nice. They asked us to make sure that everyone follows the rules. And we are determined to do this, in good faith, for the benefit of all citizens, for the common good.
This takes me to my final message. Corruption has to be tackled from both ends. Both where money is stolen from and where money is moved to. Without targeted help from consolidated democracies, we will not succeed. Corrupt officials with their ill-gotten gains should not be allowed to settle and lead comfortable lives in western democracies after looting vital resources from their home countries. The one billion dollars from the banking fraud and the 22 billion dollars laundered through Moldova traveled through the accounts of entities in 60 different countries.
We need more cross-national investigations against cases of large-scale corruption. We need tighter enforcement of international regulations against money laundering by established democracies. Assets should be more easily returned to the people from whom they were stolen. They should improve people’s lives and not be enjoyed by fugitive criminals. I know that what I am asking for is not cost free, it involves delicate trade-offs. But to see the success of democracy in the 21st century, meaningfully enforcing these laws and regulations is a very small price to pay.
My state, the Republic of Moldova, is moving forward. At the same time, we are determined to go after corrupt politicians who have plundered our people in the past. But we cannot do it alone. On behalf of many fragile democracies, I ask for your support in bringing corrupt officials to justice and returning the assets that do not belong to them. They must know that justice will reach them no matter where they flee or how inventive they are in stashing their ill-gotten gains. Together, we can go a long way to bring back those much-needed resources. Otherwise, our will to fight corruption, by itself, is not enough.
This must be a global, collaborative effort, as we all share the view that corruption is the one thing that can undermine democracy regardless of where we live. It undermines institutions, weakens states, and disillusions democratic citizens, which plays into the hand of authoritarian leaders and cross-border criminal groups.
We should combat corruption collectively to uphold and fulfill the promises of democracy for our people - development, freedom, economic opportunities and equal treatment of everyone before the law.