The newly installed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has taken a major, and for the DRC, unprecedented step in the fight against corruption. At their September 18 swearing in ceremony, each member signed an “Acte d’Engagement,” a one-page letter to Prime Minster Ilunga Ilunkamba containing an ethics code each agrees to observe. Although the code’s provisions are nothing out of the ordinary, what is out of the ordinary is that ministers of the DRC would publicly commit to them. This represents an important milestone in the effort of the Prime Minister and President Félix Tshisekedi to arrest the corruption that has plagued the mineral-rich but desperately poor nation for so long.
Even more out of the ordinary, the signers pledge to resign if they are found to violate any code provision. Most unusually, they agree to post a copy of the letter in their office and to circulate it to their immediate staff and the civil servant they oversee. The one-page letter with code is written in non-technical, easily understandable prose. Ministers cannot excuse a violation by claiming they did not understand it, and its wide circulation and posting in the ministers’ offices increases the chances they will be held to it.
There is no reason why the governments of other nations where corruption is endemic should not follow the DRC’s lead. They too should require leaders to publicly commit to a strong ethics code and to post a copy of the code and their pledge to honor it on the wall of their office. This will remind them and all who meet with them of that commitment.
A translation of the commitment letter/code that each DRC government member signed follows.
Act of Commitment of Government Members
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
I, the undersigned, [Minister’s name] in accepting [ the position of … ]
Declare on my honor to respect the fundamental values, the constitution, the laws and regulations of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I pledge to comply with the terms of the code below:
Code of Conduct for Government Members
Public service values. I confirm that I possess the values of dedication, honesty, integrity, fairness, dignity, and impartiality, and that I will treat my colleagues and the public with respect.
Prohibitions. I will not:
- decide on any matter in which I have a direct or indirect personal interest (conflict of interest);
- participate, either personally or any through an intermediary, in any commercial or professional activity, profession, or paid service (incompatibility);
- disclose government secrets (confidentiality);
- use public property for personal purposes (abuse of public resources);
- receive gifts totaling more than CDF 350,000 [$150] per year from those in professional relationship with me directly or indirectly (impartiality).
Other obligations. I understand that this Code of Conduct incorporates by reference the Code of Conduct for Congolese public officials, No. 017-2002, Decree of 3 October 2002 [here]. I will comply with all provisions of it.
Sanction. I agree that if it is established that I have not complied with the provisions of this code, I will resign my office.
Publicity. I will post a copy of this code in my office and provide a copy to all members of my Cabinet and my administration.
I acknowledge receiving a copy of the Congolese Code of Conduct and an annex explaining this code. If I have any questions these codes or my obligations under them, I will ask the Prime Minister’s Office for clarification.