Address to UNCAC Implementation Review Group

Filed under - Conventions

Speech by Iftekhar Zaman, Head of Delegation, 20 June 2012 – Vienna, Austria
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Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,

It is with immense pleasure and a deep sense of satisfaction that I take the floor on behalf of Transparency International (TI). Many of you would recall and hopefully recognize, TI played an important role in pushing for adoption of UNCAC and has been a key driving force behind the introduction of its Review Mechanism. The Convention’s ratification or accession in many of the States Parties also took place thanks to our campaign. That my own country Bangladesh acceded to the Convention in February 2007 was the result of nearly 3 years’ campaign by TI-Bangladesh and our engagement with the Government.

Like many other TI Chapters around the world we have also been engaged in strengthening the hands of our government to implement the Convention and facilitate that the benefits of this unique Convention are reaped by the people. Let me just add that TI-Bangladesh worked closely with the Government in enactment of two very important laws, namely the Right to Information Act and Whistleblower Protection Act which are indispensable for implementation of UNCAC. We have been intensely engaged with the Government that the independence and effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh is ensured and sustained. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is so important that this Convention is enforced and monitored, with civil society playing its rightful role.

Today the IRG has taken an important step towards this by setting aside a full day for civil society. As my friend and colleague Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director of TI  says, corruption is a crime against society, and therefore requires social solutions, which cannot be achieved without the participation of civil society.

We at Transparency International recognise that the UNCAC review process is highly demanding. We know that it requires expertise and coordination that cannot be summoned overnight. It is to the great credit of the participating countries and UNODC that the process is going smoothly. Transparency International is also very appreciative of the excellent collaboration with UNODC in preparing trainings for CSOs about the UNCAC review process, most recently in South Africa in March 2012

Transparency International and other civil society organisations are supporting the review process with 4 new country reports on UNCAC implementation and an overviews document, launched at this meeting. We are pleased that the Executive Summaries of these documents are official documents of this meeting and published on its website. We are pleased to have received positive feedback on the recommendations in our overview document.

The review process has fine achievements to date. We are pleased that many countries have accepted country visits and inputs from civil society organisations, be it in my own country Bangladesh, as well as countries from Brazil to Burundi. And some governments have published their responses to the Self-Assessment Checklist. We are also delighted that UNODC has recently brought online a Country Profiles page, representing a one-stop shop for countries in the review process. This is something we had suggested to UNODC some time ago. It will make it much easier for the wider public to ascertain the status of the process in their country, rather than searching through various IRG and COSP documents.

Two decades ago, when Transparency International was created, we could not have imagined that one day there would be a global arrangement in which experts from one country would visit another to make sure that commitment to fight corruption is met. When the Convention came into force very few of us also expected that we would also have a review process in which civil society will be so closely involved. We have come a long way indeed.

However, we have some causes for concern. Most notable among these is the issue of openness. At the end of the second year of the review process, less than 20 country executive summaries have been published online. And all of them are from the first year of review. This means that more than 50 reports are still outstanding as the third year of the process begins. We call on governments to find ways to expedite the process.

We believe that to increase the impact of the Convention, the review process can, and must, be improved. Let me make three suggestions for improving the review process: time, trust, and transparency.

  • First of all, time. The review process could be made more effective if the timetable for country reviews and the focal point were published. This would allow civil society and business to give its input faster.
  • Secondly, transparency. All government responses to UNODC’s Self-Assessment Checklist and all full reports should be made public. Today, only about a dozen self-assessments have been made public. That is not enough.
  • Thirdly, trust, which can only happen by having a participative process. Civil society inputs should be accepted and put to good use by reviewed governments and reviewers, identifying where they agree or disagree. Civil society should also be involved in the process of deciding technical assistance, and indeed in some cases civil society organisations can provide such assistance.

Let us remember, after all, that article 63 of UNCAC itself requires exchange of information with civil society.

Permit me to share with you some of the barriers we in Transparency International Bangladesh, and my colleagues in more than 90 countries around the world, face in trying to use UNCAC to make change. Either for lack of due appreciation of the benefits of UNCAC or for a deficit of political will, the true ownership of the Convention is yet to be developed in many cases. In many cases there are resource constraints, lack of knowledge, technical capacity and skills needed to make the Convention work. But, we also often observe that even when domestic legal regimes are compatible with standards and principles of the Convention, gaps in enforcement and practice persist, which can be addressed only by full commitment to build institutional capacity to truly and effectively criminalize corruption without fear or favour.

There are even examples of institutions of accountability subjected to partisan political influence that make room for impunity to corrupt practices. In some cases there are gaps in transparency.

  • Few countries are providing enough information about enforcement. Let’s say you are a member of the public, or the media. You want to know what your government is doing to prosecute corruption. In practice, you will struggle to find that out in too many countries.
  • When it comes to whistleblower protection the gaps are also often the same as well as with the liability of legal persons and foreign bribery, among others.
  • And in many countries the enforcement challenges include insufficient independence of enforcement authorities together with inadequate resources, expertise and training.

To conclude, as we prepare for the next review process in a year, we encourage all Member States to honour their commitment to the involvement of civil society in the UNCAC review process, a role that is enshrined in the Convention itself.

The events of the Arab Spring as well as work of Transparency International around the world remind us that there can be no effective fight against corruption without citizen involvement, and that Governments ignore civil society only at their own risk. No one can be oblivious of the fact that in the ultimate analysis power belongs to the people, and it is only by the mandate of the people that power is entrusted to the Government. People have the right to know, and they have the right and responsibility to participate in matters of public interest.

Thank you Chair, thank you ladies and gentlemen.

Country / Territory - International   |   Austria   |   Bangladesh   |   Brazil   |   Burundi   
Region - Sub-Saharan Africa   |   Europe and Central Asia   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Access to information   |   Accountability   |   Civil society   |   Conventions   |   Governance   |   Human rights   |   Law enforcement   |   Media   |   Private sector   |   Public procurement   |   Public services   |   Transparency International   |   Whistleblowing   
Tags - UNODC   |   Cobus de Swardt   |   Whistleblower Protection Act   

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