Anti-corruption body warns of UN-led campaign failure

BALI - A leading anti-corruption watchdog has warned that the UN-led fight against the vice could fail if countries don’t immediately take up new assessment methods recommended by the world body.

A leading anti-corruption watchdog has warned that the UN-led fight against the vice could fail if countries don’t immediately take up new assessment methods recommended by the world body.

Transparency International (TI) cautions that unless the new methodology in assessing countries’ performances against corruption is adopted without delay, efforts by the UN Office on Drugs and Corruption (UNODC) to curb corruption worldwide will hit a dead end.

The meetings organised by UNODC, TI says, could turn into a talking shop if countries party to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) fail to change their mode of assessment.

TI and a number of other civil society organisations are pressing government delegates attending a week-long UN-sponsored anti-corruption conference here, to embrace external assessors instead of internal reviews.

The second conference of countries party to UNCAC which opened on Monday, is yet to agree on whether to maintain a self-assessment mode, but pressure groups are calling for a Nepad-style assessment.

“We need something like Nepad in Africa. Instead of an individual country carrying out its own assessment, member states should peer-review each other,” Jesse Garcia, TI’s senior communications coordinator, told The New Times yesterday.

Under the New Economic Partnership for Africa Development (Nepad)’s APRM mechanism, countries are voluntarily assessed by experts from a selected panel of eminent persons.

Rwanda and Ghana were the first countries to voluntarily subject themselves to APRM review. Both countries are currently implementing recommendations from external assessors.  

“There is a danger if things continue the way they are today despite the promising steps that were taken in the early days of UNCAC,” Garcia added.

However, he said that unlike Nepad where a panel of experts assess countries’ performances, UNCAC member states should review other members, to ensure that governments fully own the process.  The Chair of TI Board, Huguette Labelle, warned participants that the momentum with which UNCAC started would be ruined if a new review mechanism was not put in place.

“Delay in establishing the monitoring mechanism would be a serious setback for UNCAC….If this proves impossible there will be widespread disappointment,” she warned adding: “At a minimum, a time-phased work plan must be developed to ensure that action takes place at the Third CoSP (Conference of States Parties to the Convention).” 

She suggested that the UNCAC Secretariat be and the Working Group on implementation of the Review be instructed to “take all the necessary steps to ensure that well thought-through proposals for the review mechanism and its terms of reference be available for action at the Third CoSP, if not now.”

However, several delegates including those from Arab and Asian countries seemed to prefer a delayed approach on external assessment, with many seemingly wary about possible political influence and partiality of external assessors. Some still doubt whether such assessors would be politically independent of western influence.

“There is need for the mechanism to be impartial, not selective,” a delegate from Jordan said in reaction to Labelle’s presentation.

And each delegation that took the floor seemed to shower praises on their own governments in the fight against corruption. But there was a general consensus that corruption remains at high levels in many countries.

In a joint statement, civil society groups embodied in the Coalition of Civil Society Friends of UNCAC, expressed concern over failure of certain countries to ratify the convention, which came into force in 2005.

‘We applaud the speed at which UNCAC came into force, but note with concern that 33 out of the 140 signatories have yet to ratify, among them the G8 countries of Germany, Italy and Japan and the established financial centres of Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland,’ the group said.

Activists suggest that a meaningful and responsible review would even increase the chances of developing countries to recover money expropriated by corrupt leaders and deposited on foreign back accounts.

There have been increasing calls for the developed nations to help developing countries recover money stolen by corrupt leaders and their cronies, most of which is stored in western banks.

The UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Cost says his office is already developing Terms of Reference spelling out what technical assistance it will provide to countries seeking to repatriate their stolen finances.

The recovery process is jointly undertaken by the UNODC and the World Bank, under an initiative known as ‘Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR)’, although countries are encouraged to try to settle such issues with nations hosting the misappropriated funds.

Another complex question here is whether banks will willingly cooperate, but delegates say smooth and mutual international cooperation holds the magic to achieve this mission. So far, Indonesia, whose corrupt strongman and longest serving president Soeharto died last Sunday at 86, and Bangladesh, have officially asked for UNODC and World Bank’s assistance in recovering billions of state money expatriated to foreign bank accounts by their former leaders.
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