Speakers Call for Stronger Action to Prevent Misuse of Government Authority, as General Assembly Concludes Special Session on Corruption
Stronger measures are needed to prevent people in positions of power from misusing their authority for their personal gain, speakers said today as the General Assembly concluded its thirty-second special session on the fight against corruption.
“Nothing offends me more […] than the case of political leaders who are themselves at the receiving end of bribes in return for political favours,” said Duarte Pacheco, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), calling for stringent measures to prosecute cases of grand corruption involving those officials who steal from the public purse with impunity.
While no consensus has been found on the establishment of a criminal court to investigate such cases, it is clear that much more can be done to track ill-gotten money in tax havens, disclose the real beneficial ownership of those assets, and ultimately, put the money back where it belongs.
Cynthia Gabriel, Founder and Executive Director of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, pointed to corruption around the financing of political parties, intelligence-sharing and other areas that has allowed perpetrators to hide from criminal action. This is a huge failure of the international system, she declared, expressing disappointment that no agreement was reached, during the special session, on measures to strengthen international cooperation.
Ibrahim Ameer, Maldives’ Minister for Finance, said that financial statements of all politically appointed and elected public officials are now disclosed to the public. “Our continued efforts and reforms have yielded concrete results,” he said, noting that in 2020 his country ranked 75th in the global Corruption Perception Index, up from 135th.
Libya’s delegate said that although his country ratified the Convention in 2005, instability over the past years has created an environment that fuels corruption. The Libyan people have been pillaged and have lost resources to illicit transfers of funds and assets. “Without concerted international cooperation, nothing can be achieved,” he said, calling for resolutions to prevent such practices.
Haiti’s representative said that in his country, corruption is largely a legacy of the colonial, imperialist model of illegal wealth accumulation, which continues to this day. Outlining domestic efforts, including relatively new legal measures, to reverse those historic trends, he said it has established a raft of anti-corruption institutions including a Supreme Court of Auditors for Administrative Disputes and a National Commission for Public Procurement.
Robin Ogilvy, Special Representative and Permanent Observer of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to the United Nations, said as a result of the bloc’s efforts, 651 people and many legal entities were criminally sanctioned for bribery crimes by the end of 2019. OECD also supports good governance initiatives in the public and private sectors and works to eradicate tax havens. As a result, nearly 100 jurisdictions have exchanged information on some 84 million accounts worth trillions of dollars.
The three-day special session brought together heads of Government and State, ministers, high-ranking diplomats, as well as representatives of observer entities and civil society. The world leaders adopted the Political Declaration, titled “Our common commitment to effectively addressing challenges and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation” (document A/S-32/L.1) on 2 June.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Turkey, Nepal, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Chile, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Andorra, Tunisia and Senegal. An observer from the Holy See also spoke, as did representatives of the International Development Law Organization, the International Criminal Police Organization, the International Anti-Corruption Academy, the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, Fundación para la Democracia Internacional, Transparency International Zambia, the Basel Institute on Governance, and the First Bank of Nigeria.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 7 June to elect its President for the seventy-sixth session.
IBRAHIM AMEER, Minister for Finance of Maldives, said small island developing States face immense challenges, including that of corruption tearing into the economic, social and political fabric of society. While his country attained the status of an upper middle-income country and reduced poverty greatly, it is experiencing a widening income disparity, partly due to corruption. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih launched the “zero-tolerance to corruption” campaign. A presidential commission has been formed to recover State assets and ensure that all legal duties in investigating corruption and abuse of power within State and Government institutions are carried out. Financial statements of all politically appointed and elected public officials are disclosed to the public. A set of fiscal, debt and economic data is published, including weekly COVID-19-related spending reports. “Our continued efforts and reforms have yielded concrete results,” he said, noting that in 2020 Maldives ranked 75th in the Corruption Perception Index, up from its previous place of 135th.
SERHAD VARLI (Turkey) said that the Mechanism for the Review of Implementation, set up under the United Nations Convention against Corruption, is a dynamic component which enables States parties to strengthen their national legislation and practices against corruption. Turkey’s review process for the second cycle is currently under way. Turkey enhanced its capacity to counter corruption through numerous legislative and administrative steps, adopted new laws, and modified the existing ones, including the Law on Ethics Commission for Public Officials, the Law on Public Procurement and the Law against the Laundering of Proceeds of Crime. The Turkish Criminal Code was also reformed accordingly, and the national strategy against corruption is carried out with involvement and in close partnership with civil society, the business sector and academia.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal) said that, when COVID-19 requires Governments to spend rapidly and massively from the public coffer, “combating corruption with checks and balances can mean the difference between life and death”. Echoing concerns about the phenomenon’s impact on the achievement of sustainable development and on the public’s trust in institutions, he said it has a disproportionate effect on the poor and most vulnerable people by increasing costs and reducing access to public services, including health care, education and justice. Guided by the long-term national aspiration of its “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali” plan, his Government has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. Its Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority serves as an ombudsman to investigate and criminalize corruption cases in the public sector, and the country has also implemented a related National Strategy and Action Plan. In addition, Nepal sees the Convention against Corruption’s Review Mechanism as crucial and is implementing the recommendations made during its first review cycle, he said.
ANOUPARB VONGNORKEO (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said the special Assembly session is a historic milestone in encouraging countries and international and regional organizations to continue strengthening cooperation in tackling corruption. Reaffirming his Government’s commitment to upholding its international obligations, he highlighted its adherence to the Convention against Corruption and various comprehensive national strategies to combat corruption, including the Law on State Inspection, the Law on Anti-Corruption and the Law on the Handling of Petitions. Other efforts include public awareness campaigns and anti‑corruption‑related teaching curricula from kindergarten to the university level. The country has enhanced its cooperation and exchanged best practices with other countries, regional and international organizations — especially the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) — and successfully participated in two review cycles of the Convention, he said, adding that it also recently completed reviewing Burkina Faso and is now working on a joint review of Niue.
MILENKO SKOKNIC (Chile) said that the fight against corruption is a central element of his country’s foreign policy. Chile takes the Convention against Corruption’s review procedures seriously, as the resulting recommendations and assessments make it possible to amend legislation, strengthen anti-corruption frameworks and improve transparency, integrity and accountability. Underscoring the economic and social consequences of the pandemic, he said that corruption prospers in times of crisis. Anti-corruption strategies must therefore be incorporated into crisis response efforts to ensure an inclusive recovery.
PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka), noting that corruption has been innate to humankind throughout its history, said the phenomenon is multifaceted with deeply entrenched roots. While it affects both the global North and South, much like the COVID-19 pandemic, corruption often impacts developing countries most. It also seriously damages the relationship between Governments and their people. “As long as there are givers, there will be takers,” he said, emphasizing that criminal networks have designed their structures to effectively absorb illicitly obtained funds. Noting that it is estimated that up to 5 per cent of global domestic product is lost annually to corrupt practices, he stressed that through steadfast international unity the global community will be able to overcome corruption. However, the task is not solely one for Governments. Media outlets, the private sector, academia and civil society must all play a role, guided by the Convention against Corruption. As a State party to that instrument, Sri Lanka stands ready to collaborate to combat corruption, he said, also outlining a range of national efforts to that end.
WISNIQUE PANIER (Haiti) described the Convention against Corruption as an unprecedented accomplishment. Spotlighting the recovery of assets as a crucial component, as it lays out a legal framework allowing for the freezing and restitution of illicitly obtained funds, he went on to echo other speakers in emphasizing that corruption today remains a grave scourge and a threat to the security and stability of societies. It also posed threats to democracy, the rule of law and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In Haiti, corruption is largely a legacy of the colonial, imperialist model of illegal wealth accumulation, which continues to this day. Outlining domestic efforts, including relatively new legal measures, to reverse those historic trends, he said it has established a raft of anti-corruption institutions including a Supreme Court of Auditors for Administrative Disputes and a National Commission for Public Procurement. The Government has also developed a national anti-corruption strategy and fully cooperates with international partners to tackle the phenomenon at the global level, he said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that despite implementation of the anti-corruption Convention, its goals have not been met, with such practices, including cross-border crimes, rampant. It is necessary to renew commitment to implementing the Convention, he said, calling for the formation of global alliances and the sharing of best practices on good governance and democracy. Impunity must be combated. Kuwait has undertaken numerous measures, including the establishment of laws to combat the scourge, the creation of the national strategy in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNODC, and the launch of a Government commission to combat corruption.
MUSA A. R. ALSHARRA (Libya) said his country ratified the Convention in 2005 and has since implemented measures, such as creating a law against money laundering and a national committee tasked with implementation of the Convention. However, instability over the past years has created an environment that fuels corruption. The Libyan people have been pillaged and have lost resources to illicit transfers of funds and assets. The Government established offices tasked with recovering these stolen assets, with a decree issued for that purpose in 2017. “Without concerted international cooperation, nothing can be achieved,” he said, calling for anti-corruption resolutions to prevent illicit transfers of Libyan resources. He commended the European Union for helping Libya bolster its national capacity to combat corruption.
ELISENDA VIVES BALMAÑA (Andorra) agreed that the negative impacts of corruption are some of the greatest barriers to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as to establishing more just and peaceful societies around the globe. Noting that re-establishing trust is crucial for democracy and the rule of law to flourish, she said Andorra has put in place a strong normative structure to combat corruption and transnational organized crime. Among other things, it is a party to the conventions against corruption of the Council of Europe and is advancing towards accession to the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Meanwhile, Andorra supports efforts to bring an end to environmental crimes — which are another major obstacle to achieving the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — as well as to the crime of trafficking in persons, she said.
ALI CHERIF (Tunisia), calling for a unified global response to corruption under the banner of the United Nations Convention, agreed with other speakers that the phenomenon and its negative repercussions have been rapidly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the current crisis has further widened the gaps between rich and poor countries. Advocating for the elimination of poor countries’ debts — which will allow them to focus on the urgent challenges of development and combating the pandemic — he underlined the need for the rule of law and good governance to remain the core of the global fight against corruption. Tunisia put in place a National Anti-Corruption Authority, legal protections for whistle-blowers, a law against ill-gotten wealth and a national strategy to combat corruption. A study centre was also established to collect statistics and data on the phenomenon, train officials and raise awareness of the threats posed by corruption. At the present critical moment, countries have a collective responsibility to counter corruption, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and build a fairer world, he stressed, concluding: “The international community must rise to the occasion.”
ABDOU NDOYE (Senegal) said that governance, institutions, peace and security are the three pillars of the Government’s economic and social policy towards 2035. The fight against corruption is one of the cross-cutting components of Senegal's public governance. This commitment has been concretely reflected in the ratification of international instruments on corruption and enactment of domestic laws in line with obligations under these instruments. At the subregional level, Senegal plays an important role in cooperation among States and is home to the headquarters of one of the largest African anti-corruption platforms, namely the Network of National Anti-Corruption Institutions in West Africa, which aims to harmonize legal, regulatory and administrative norms within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
PAUL R. GALLAGHER, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, said that the prevention of corruption requires not only legal mechanisms, but also the promotion of a culture of integrity. Public servants, in particular, must embrace justice, sound financial management, good governance and social responsibility. The virtue of justice must also be enshrined in human society, he said, adding that the rule of law and crime prevention must go hand in hand. Quoting Pope Francis, he said: “True justice is not satisfied by simply punishing criminals. It is essential to go further and do everything possible to reform, improve and educate the person.” In line with the Convention against Corruption, Pope Francis has taken steps to foster transparency, control and competition in the awarding of public contracts and enhancing the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest among Holy See and Vatican City officials, he said.
JAN BEAGLE, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), noted that the world is experiencing a crisis of confidence in public institutions. Since the pandemic began, IDLO has worked with partners around the world to address emerging justice needs, including strengthening measures to combat corruption. In countries, including Armenia, Bahamas, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Somalia and Ukraine, it is helping to make justice institutions more transparent and responsive and enhancing their capacity to prevent, detect and prosecute fraud and economic crime. IDLO is also supporting the work of the Group of 20 Anti-Corruption Working Group chaired by Italy. The judiciary has a critical role to play in the fight against corruption. The Declaration reiterates the importance of safeguarding its independence.
DUARTE PACHECO, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that “nothing offends me more […] than the case of political leaders who are themselves at the receiving end of bribes in return for political favours”. Expressing support for the Declaration’s recommendation to criminalize more consistently trading in influence, abuse of functions and illicit enrichment that involve public officials, he called for stronger measures to prosecute cases of grand corruption involving political leaders who steal from the public purse with impunity. While no consensus has been found on the establishment of a criminal court to investigate such cases, it is clear that much more can be done to track ill-gotten money in tax havens, disclose the real beneficial ownership of those assets, and ultimately, put the money back where it belongs.
JÜRGEN STOCK, Secretary General of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), said that with over 1,600 active law enforcement alerts related to corruption shared among the agency’s 194 member countries, INTERPOL requests for cooperation in corruption cases saw a surge of nearly 30 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year. And 2021 is so far confirming that upward trend. A new, state-of-the-art collaborative platform was recently introduced for authorized users to exchange anti-corruption intelligence. INTERPOL concurs that a reliable, high-quality, timely and effective system is critical to reduce delays in communicating mutual legal assistance requests via official channels. INTERPOL’s “e-MLA” initiative is a turnkey — ready to use — concept and can serve Member States in fulfilling commitments under the Political Declaration and the goals enshrined in the anti-corruption Convention.
THOMAS STELZER, Dean and Executive Secretary of the International Anti‑Corruption Academy, said that the organization — conceptualized to facilitate implementation of the anti-corruption Convention through education and training, has been engaged in fighting corruption for a decade. Over the past year, it has begun to scale up delivery of services to reach the widest audience possible including by enhancing its e-learning infrastructure. The Academy provides crucial anti-corruption tools particularly to practitioners from developing and least developed countries, contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16. The Academy, together with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), now offers joint masters and joint executive diploma courses on anti-corruption and diplomacy. The Declaration calls for the strengthening of the relationship between the Academy and UNODC and other United Nations entities.
ROBIN OGILVY, Special Representative and Permanent Observer of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to the United Nations, underlined the need to continue to fight corruption during the pandemic and as the world begins to recover. Outlining the OECD’s efforts on several anti-corruption tracks, he said it works to fight transnational bribery and related crimes. As a result of those efforts — which constituted the first international legal regime focused on corruption’s supply side — 651 people and many legal entities were criminally sanctioned for bribery crimes by the end of 2019. In the area of strengthening public integrity, the OECD works to shift the emphasis from ad hoc processes to an evidence- and risk-based approach. The OECD also supports good governance initiatives in the public and private sectors, including through its Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying, and it works to eradicate tax havens. As a result of its efforts in that area, nearly 100 jurisdictions have exchanged information on some 84 million accounts worth trillions of dollars, he said.
MARIN MRCELA, President of the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe, said that the Group’s monitoring experience over more than 20 years clearly confirms that several tools are essential to curbing corruption effectively. They include a multidisciplinary approach where repression and prevention go together, legislative measures, sustained political will, and the mobilization and inclusion of civil society and the private sector. The Group’s multidisciplinary recommendations have steered and advanced the fight against corruption. The Group has gradually become a global benchmark for anti-corruption efforts, he said.
MARIA FERNANDA GARZA, Vice-Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce, said that the COVID-19 pandemic pointed to the crucial importance of maintaining integrity and transparency in procurement during times of crisis; preserving the use of due diligence to address risks of corruption and human rights impacts presented by supply chain disruptions; countering illicit practices in times of crisis, such as counterfeit medicines and medical supplies; and addressing corruption risks related to customs. Calling on Member States to commit to establishing an open-ended intergovernmental inclusive expert working group to prepare concrete proposals for additional frameworks and mechanisms to address gaps in the anti-corruption Convention, she said such a group should also consider how the use of new technologies, open data and artificial intelligence can be deployed to speed up the global fight against corruption.
AHMAD BIN ABDULLA BIN ZAID AL MAHMOUD, Chair of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, said the Assembly’s special session is being held at a critical moment as countries struggle to respond to and recover from several major global crises. “At a time when we believe there is an urgent need to provide incentives for economic recovery, we must ensure that assistance reaches those in dire need,” he stressed, spotlighting the role parliamentarians must play in that regard. Indeed, the huge amounts of money being spent to address the COVID-19 crisis must not just go to a small minority, and public officials should be held accountable for any abuse. “We as parliamentarians must be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said, calling on the international community to strengthen its cooperation with parliaments and promote international norms against corruption crimes.
MARINA SALA, Fundación para la Democracia Internacional, described her group as an Argentine non-governmental organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council. “Corruption is definitely the core challenge that underlies most of Latin America and the Caribbean’s problems,” she said, noting that it deepens inequality and injustice and threatens the rule of law. Noting that resources that should reach people in need instead end up increasing minority wealth, she said the COVID-19 pandemic “has made everything even worse”. Millions across the region are still waiting for their first dose of the vaccine. While the fight against corruption is failing globally, Transparency International has identified the Americas as a place where corruption and the mismanagement of funds has been spotlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Argentina’s Minister for Health resigned in 2020 after a series of events known as the “VIP vaccination case”, where many people close to the Government received vaccines months before other citizens. Against such a backdrop, she said international cooperation is needed now more than ever to ward off political apathy and address the current crisis.
MAURICE NYAMBE, Executive Director, Transparency International Zambia, called for a sustained focus on combating pandemic-related corruption as the world recovers from COVID-19. Governments must put into place mechanisms to protect livelihood programmes which benefit vulnerable groups. They must also mobilize domestic resources to strengthen their capacity to respond to the effects of both COVID-19 and corruption. That means, among other things, stronger legislative and policy frameworks in such areas as asset recovery and illicit financial flows.
CYNTHIA GABRIEL, Combat Corruption Cronyism, said Malaysia is embroiled in multiple corruption schemes, including the “1MDB” scandal that involves slews of banks, lawyers, accountants and others who used shell companies to steal money for private gain. Stressing that activists play key role in exposing the abuse, she described her experience of being interrogated and attacked by authorities, as well as her efforts to overcome the fear, reprisals and retributions that ultimately led to victories. The former Prime Minister and his allies were charged and are now on trial. Yet, in too many cases, powerful individuals and their enablers enjoy impunity. She pointed to corruption around the financing of political parties, intelligence-sharing and other areas that has allowed perpetrators to hide from criminal action — a huge failure of the international system — and expressed disappointment that no agreement was reached during this special session on measures to strengthen international cooperation. Among other things, she called for protecting whistle-blowers, ensuring that oversight bodies are adequately resourced and taking enforcement action against corruption. “We ask you to go beyond the lowest common denominator of your efforts,” she said, and to include civil society in these pursuits.
GRETA FENNER, Basel Institute on Governance, welcoming several specific provisions in the Political Declaration, said that, in many countries, international cooperation on corruption remains burdened by unnecessary bureaucracy and procedural law that seems to be biased in favour of the defence. However, the reality is that on most days, the fight against corruption still feels like an uphill battle. “The levels of corruption remain incredibly high and not a single country is spared,” she said. Purely legal and technical solutions are just not enough, she said, emphasizing the need to understand the political economy of corruption and to invest in anti-corruption education. She urged States to go beyond the bare minimum, show true leadership, and be fully accountable. Much is needed to successfully fight corruption, but what is not required is another political statement that is not followed through. That is what those who risk their lives every day to fight corruption deserve.
ADESOLA KAZEEM ADEDUNTAN, First Bank of Nigeria, warned that corruption weakens democratic institutions, erodes trust and stifles both economic growth and sustainable development. It is also among the most prevalent constraints of private sector development. The urgency of tackling such abuse comes at no better time than now, amid the COVID-19 outbreak. As a member of the Global Compact, First Bank incorporates the grouping’s 10 principles into its policies and procedures. These guidelines state that businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery. Expressing First Bank’s commitment to conducting business with the utmost integrity, he said it has institutionalized an anti-bribery policy, which takes a zero-tolerance approach to that behaviour, and several whistle‑blowing policies and procedures. Externally, the Bank reports on its anti-corruption efforts through its corporate responsibility report, he added.
General Assembly delegates then observed a moment of silence, after which they officially closed the Special Session against Corruption.