UN pushes for recovery of nations’ stolen assets

A United Nations anti-corruption conference opened on Monday in Bali, Indonesia, to among other things, discuss how the world body can help member states whose assets were expatriated to foreign banks by corrupt officials, recover the resources.

A United Nations anti-corruption conference opened on Monday in Bali, Indonesia, to among other things, discuss how the world body can help member states whose assets were expatriated to foreign banks by corrupt officials, recover the resources.

Delegates from some 118 countries are attending the five-day high-level conference, which coincided with the death of former Indonesian president H.M Suharto, who himself is accused of stealing huge sums of his country’s finances.

Indonesia, which has been pursuing Suharto’s alleged corruption case, and Bangladesh are the only countries that have so far officially sought technical assistance from the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), to recover state finances believed to be on foreign bank accounts.

Rwanda is among the states party to the UN Convention Against Corruption and the country’s government and civil society representatives were due to attend.

Delegates will also explain what their respective countries are doing in relation to the implementation of the Convention, and share ideas on how to support a solid peer-review mechanism among member states.

Already, sixteen countries have completed their self-assessment and submitted reports. The UNODC Executive Secretary Antonio Maria Costa called for more countries to both ratify the convention and undertake a peer-review process.

This is the second edition conference. Participants and UN officials hope that it will set the pace for the much needed international cooperation in the fight against corruption and tracing and crackdown on corrupt officials.

“Self-assessment is not for the sake of ticking boxes to gratify the Secretariat or to please peers. It is an obligation sanctioned in the Convention in order to measure progress in its implementation…..It shows you are putting your house in order, thus gaining better negotiating power in these deliberations,” Costa said.

The conference will be characterised by smaller working groups and cluster meetings, one of them being a peer-to-peer media forum due on Thursday during which journalists from mainly developing countries will share their experiences in investigative reporting, primarily on corruption issues.

The scribes attending the conference at Nusa Dua Hotel will discuss how to act as whistleblowers while observing their professional integrity.

However, some journalists say the legal environment in which they operate make it difficult for investigative reporting besides the associated financial constraints.
“For instance, forty-eight out of fifty-three countries in Africa have insult laws,” a South African journalist said.

Costa promised that UNODC would continuously encourage governments to create favourable working conditions for not only journalists, but also the civil society and other non-state players. He also urged non-state stakeholders not to sit back as only watchdogs but to act as “guide dogs”.

In a speech read for him by Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, A.S Widodo, at the opening of the conference, Indonesian President Dr Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono urged countries to avoid serving as sanctuaries to wanted former corrupt leaders, adding that corruption is “a devil with devastating effects to our societies.”

Widodo said that the president failed to show up as he was supposed to attend Suharto’s burial ceremony.

Participants at the conference observed a minute of silence in remembrance of Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for more than three decades, and will officially be mourned by the entire nation for a week. Suharto, 86, died on Sunday in the country’s capital city, Jakarta.

Suharto, described by some as one of the most brutal and corrupt leaders of the 20th century, was rushed to hospital on January 4 with heart, lung and kidney problems.
However, UN officials say the organisation cannot force countries hosting stolen resources to surrender them to the demanding nations, saying both sides need to reach a mutual understanding with only “technical assistance” from the UNODC.

But officials said UNODC was developing Terms of Reference (TOR) on how to better provide technical assistance to countries seeking to repatriate stolen resources. Corruption is said to have taken its toll especially in African and Asian countries in primarily past years, although Costa said there was relatively increased political will to tackle the vice.

He however reckons that the war on corruption is not a smooth ride. “The ability of developing countries to fight corruption is very, very, very weak …..because of the high levels of sophistication with which corruption is carried out,” he said.

The conference is running under the slogan ‘We all Have the Power and Duty to Say No to Corruption’.
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