Monday, 21 July 2008
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the World Justice Forum in Vienna, Austria, at the invitation of the American Bar Association. Held July 1 through 5, the forum brought together leaders representing disciplines of business, education, engineering, faith, human rights, labor and other related fields. The forum was intended to launch new partnerships and initiatives to advance a global "Rule of Law," and to help all disciplines to achieve their goals. Although the Rule of Law was a relatively new concept to me, it's something that has been a part of the legal community for centuries. Its basic principles are:
· The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
· The laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
· The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient.
· The laws are upheld, and access to justice is provided by competent, independent and ethical law enforcement officials, attorneys or representatives, and judges, who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
One of the primary objectives of the Rule of Law is to ensure that all peoples have greater access to justice and how this access can help reduce poverty. Worldwide, there are more than 3 billion people who do not have access to justice and do not live under the principles of the Rule of Law.
You might ask "why is the American Society of Civil Engineers interested in this?" The answer is very simple -- corruption.
In architectural and engineering communities worldwide, corruption is so rampant that more than $500 billion a year is believed lost. The opportunities make it more prevalent within the construction industry, but it is also frequent in the architectural and engineering community, where it can start with subtle influences such as finding the right official to bribe. Fortunately, most cases of corruption are exposed and the individuals brought to justice. Transparency International, a German-based organization, rates nations by level of public and private corruption. Out of almost 200 nations ranked, the United States is 20th. Finland and New Zealand are least corrupt, while Myanmar and Somalia are the world’s worst.
ASCE was invited to participate because of our Global Anti-Corruption, Education and Training Project (ACET). In addition to Transparency International, we have been working with the International Federation of Consulting Engineers, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, the World Economic Forum Partnership Against Corruption, and others. Our objective is to develop and distribute a comprehensive education and training program devoted to the importance of individual integrity among all participants in the performance of engineering/construction projects. With the program nearing completion, we hope to have it available at our annual meeting November in Pittsburgh, including a new DVD, PowerPoint presentations and other materials.
I challenge each of you to look in your community to see if the principles of the Rule of Law are present. Do poor and disadvantaged individuals in your area have adequate access to the legal system? Not just when matters end up in court, but with other issues such as wrestling with debt, clashing with landlords and other legal entanglements. Do you see signs of corruption in the system?
As civil engineers, we believe that we should be building a better quality of life. That doesn't simply mean the physical infrastructures that surround us, but all elements of the quality of life.