Secretary-General Highlights Convention’s Near-Global Acceptance, Hails Money-Laundering Efforts of Nigeria, Tunisia
The battle against corruption was vital to the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia), told delegates today, noting that corruption stifled growth and development.
During a high-level debate to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the President said that institutions, businesses and citizens suffered as corruption destroyed everything in its path. “When they are stopped at checkpoints for bribes, when a bus doesn’t come or a clinic doesn’t open because budgets are mismanaged,” it was ordinary people who endured the consequences, he noted.
While Sustainable Development Goal 16 dealt explicitly with corruption, in fact, the success of the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development hinged on fighting corruption, he pointed out. Governments must not only legislate, implement and enforce laws, but also enlist the media, the private sector, civil society and academia in the battle, he stressed, describing the 2003 Convention as the bedrock of the international community’s anti-corruption efforts.
Also addressing the delegates, Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the near-global acceptance enjoyed by the Convention, as he urged Member States to use it as a platform for mobilizing political and popular support. With 184 States parties, it represented a fundamental recognition that corruption was neither an acceptable cost of doing business nor a necessary evil, but simply an unacceptable crime, he said.
“Those who can least afford corruption suffer the most,” he pointed out as he described its negative impact on economic development, entrepreneurship and foreign investment. When public officials enriched themselves instead of performing their duties with integrity, crimes such as human trafficking and illicit financial flows flourished while schools and hospitals suffered. African countries had taken a leading role in the fight against corruption, he said, praising the anti-money‑laundering efforts of Nigeria and Tunisia.
Echoing that sentiment, Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), recalled that Switzerland had returned €3.5 million to Tunisia in 2017, which he described as a small fraction of the funds lost to corruption every year. Noting that such funds could have been used to build schools, hospitals and roads, he said anti-corruption measures were a prerequisite for sustaining investment in development and for providing basic services to citizens.
Emphasizing the Convention’s instrumental role, he went on to say that its implementation review mechanism had served as a powerful incentive for anti‑corruption reforms. About 60 per cent of countries said that undergoing the review had improved their institutional structures and boosted international cooperation. Calling for more support for the mechanism, he said Member States must respect time frames and provide the necessary funds.
Several delegates shared experiences from their respective countries’ fight against corruption, with Georgia’s representative highlighting extensive reforms that had transformed his country from a corrupt post‑Soviet State into one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Protection for whistle-blowers, e‑governance and obliging public agencies to disclose public information were some of those reforms, he said, noting that a new Freedom of Information Act would soon be presented for adoption by Parliament.
Italy’s delegate acknowledged that his country’s anti-corruption record had been unsatisfactory at the time of the Convention’s adoption, but the situation had changed profoundly after that with significant achievements in the field of prevention. New legislation had been enacted to improve transparency and compliance in both public and private entities, he said, calling upon Member States to address the link connecting corruption, organized crime and money‑laundering.
China’s representative also called on the international community to combat money-laundering, and to strengthen exit and entry institutions. Pointing out that disparities in the legislative systems of different countries were diminishing accountability across borders, she emphasized the importance of seeking common ground and enabling collaborative mechanisms for sharing information and investigations.
Delegates later participated in two interactive discussions featuring panellists from Government and civil society. Moderating the first on “Fifteen Years of United Nations Convention against Corruption Implementation: Trends, Achievements and Challenges” was John Brandolino, Director of the Division of Treaty Affairs at UNODC. Panellists praised the Convention for enabling increased national legislation and awareness, while warning against “numbness” and inaction.
Moderating the second panel discussion on “Achieving peaceful and inclusive societies through preventing and combating corruption” was by Simone Monasebian, Director of the UNODC New York Office. Panellists stressed the importance of independent institutions, protection for whistle-blowers and respect for freedom of the press.
Others participating today were representatives and high-level officials of Portugal, Honduras, Colombia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, United States, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Sri Lanka, Qatar, Bahrain, El Salvador and Guatemala.
A representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union also spoke.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 24 May.
MIROSLAV LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said that despite the popularity of such words as “transparency”, “regulation”, “accountability” and “governance”, corruption was an everyday reality. Destroying everything in its path, it stifled growth and shattered trust between people and the Governments that served them, he noted. “It can bring entire institutions to their knees”, because decisions and policies did not get implemented. Furthermore, corruption usually meant less investment, he said, explaining that when businesses could not trust that their contracts would be honoured or that anything going wrong would be remedied, they did not invest.
Corruption also diverted funds away from the people who needed them most, he continued, citing the finding by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that in developing countries, funding lost to corruption was about 10 times higher than the amount of official development assistance (ODA). Furthermore, corruption caused suffering for ordinary people “when they are stopped at checkpoints for bribes, when a bus doesn’t come, or a clinic doesn’t open because budgets are mismanaged”, he noted. While Sustainable Development Goal 16 dealt explicitly with corruption, in fact, the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was impacted by corruption, which could prevent the international community from implementing laws, allocating budgets and raising funds, he said.
Noting that the General Assembly had repeatedly called for action on corruption, he described the 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption as the bedrock of efforts in that area. Emphasizing that the primary responsibility for tackling corruption lay in the hands of Governments, he said they had the power to legislate, implement and to enforce. However, they could not do it alone, he cautioned, calling for assistance from the media and the private sector. Civil society and academia were also key players because they monitored progress, he added, encouraging them to continue to use training, advocacy and technology to empower people against corruption.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, said that a solid foundation of trust and accountability was crucial for achieving the international community’s common objectives, such as preventing violent conflict and protecting human rights. Sustainable Development Goal 16 — which called for reducing corruption and bribery, strengthening the recovery and return of stolen assets, and developing effective institutions — was a “global appeal for fairness and a collective demand for justice,” he said, describing today’s event as a timely opportunity to reflect on how the international community could make good on those commitments.
“Those who can least afford corruption suffer the most,” he said, pointing out that it crippled economic development, stifled entrepreneurship and deterred foreign investment. Society could not function equitably and efficiently when public officials, from doctors and police to judges and politicians, enriched themselves rather than performing their duties with integrity. Corruption robbed funds from schools, hospitals, infrastructure and other vital services, he noted, adding that human trafficking and migrant smuggling, illicit financial flows and illegal trade in natural resources, weapons, drugs and cultural heritage were all made possible because of corruption.
He went on to state that the Convention against Corruption represented a fundamental recognition that corruption was neither an acceptable cost of doing business nor a necessary evil, but simply an unacceptable crime. Since its adoption, the Convention had achieved near‑global acceptance, with 184 States parties, and for 15 years, it had served as an international framework for cooperation in strengthening prevention and mitigating corruption risks. Urging all Member States to use the Convention as a platform for mobilizing political and popular support, he praised African countries for taking a leading role in that regard, as illustrated by anti‑money‑laundering efforts in Nigeria and Tunisia. The United Nations would continue to support Member States every step of the way, he pledged.
YURI FEDOTOV, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said every country in the world had corruption offences in its books. Corruption enabled many other forms of crimes, he added, noting that the Convention had been instrumental in helping countries deal with other offences. Effective implementation of the Convention also had great potential to help meet targets relating to sustainable development. Anti‑corruption measures were a clear prerequisite for sustaining investment in development projects and providing basic services to citizens, he said, recalling that Switzerland had returned €3.5 million to Tunisia in 2017, a small fraction of the funds lost to corruption every year. They could have been used to build schools, hospitals and roads, he noted.
Governments must focus on shared responsibility, he continued, adding that the implementation review mechanism had served as a powerful incentive for anti‑corruption reforms. About 60 per cent of countries said that undergoing the review had improved their institutional structure and boosted international cooperation. However, there were still many challenges in mobilizing support for the mechanism, he cautioned, calling on the international community to maintain its commitment by respecting time frames and providing necessary funds so that all countries could implement the Convention. Progress on the 2030 Agenda must be measurable, he emphasized, urging Member States to work together to ensure justice.
ARELY GÓMEZ, Minister for Public Service of Mexico, said that the 183 nations that had ratified the Convention had committed to fighting corruption. Noting that trust in the ability of institutions to serve the people had come under question in recent years, she stressed that Governments and citizens could no longer afford to think of themselves as separate. Corruption must be recognized as a transnational issue affecting all sectors of society. The Convention helped States to implement measures including various legal reform. Noting that corruption cost some $2 trillion annually, she said that, if properly invested, those funds would enable the world to eradicate poverty in 10 years. Urging Member States to implement policies that would foster a culture of transparency and integrity, she outlined measures that Mexico had taken to punish corruption. The Government remained committed to fighting corruption in a holistic manner, including by working to strengthen the right to public information which greatly enhanced accountability. As part of its effort to strengthen action against international bribery, Mexico was working on a protocol that would allow it to effectively investigate and prosecute such crimes. Reiterating her country’s commitment to the Convention, she declared: “The only option that we have to ensure sustainable development for all citizens is through an open Government for all of our citizens.”
ZOU JIAYE, Commissioner, National Supervisory Commission of China, said the international community must seek common ground and set differences aside, adding that her country’s Government had noticed that some corrupt elements had diminished their legal accountability by abusing disparities in the legislative systems of different countries. All countries should improve their anti‑corruption regimes, strengthen entry and exit institutions and combat money‑laundering, she said, emphasizing that it was crucial to achieve a political consensus regarding collaborative mechanisms for sharing information and for investigations. Outlining national efforts, she said the Government was waging a far‑ranging war against corruption. The ruling party upheld a zero‑tolerance policy and many officials had been punished for corruption in recent years. The recovery of stolen assets was another key area in which China had made significant strides, she said. The National Supervision Commission was an institutional innovation that combined modern Government policies with traditional Chinese administration to create a people‑centred approach to fighting corruption, she said, underlining the organic alignment between China’s targeted anti‑corruption initiatives and the Sustainable Development Goals.
KHATUNA TOTLADZE, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said that thanks to extensive reforms, his country had transformed from a corrupt post‑Soviet State to one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Citing the World Justice Report’s “Rule of Law Index 2017‑2018” naming Georgia the strongest rule of law performer within Eastern Europe and Central Asia, he said the country’s Inter‑Agency Coordination Council for the Fight against Corruption was among its most efficient mechanisms. E‑governance and public service delivery had been instrumental, he said, adding that the Government had prioritized the protection of whistle‑blowers. Georgia had also introduced changes to legislation obliging public agencies to disclose public information, he said, noting that a new Freedom of Information Act would soon be presented for adoption by Parliament. As Co‑Chair of the Open Government Partnership, Georgia had selected “advancing transparency and the fight against corruption” as one of its four priorities, he added.
HELENA MESQUITA RIBEIRO, Vice‑Minister for Justice of Portugal, said her country had ratified the Convention in 2007. Underlining the importance of chapter V, on asset recovery, she said it implied that bilateral cooperation between States parties must be based on mutual trust. Committed to the fight against corruption, Portugal sought to promote the rule of law, enhance citizenship, promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interests in pursuit of a fair society. Highlighting her country’s new code for public procurement, as well as the creation of the Assets Recovery Office, a central register of beneficial owners, and new anti‑money‑laundering and terrorism financing legislation, she emphasized that international cooperation was essential for their success. Portugal also supported training for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement, particularly in Portuguese‑speaking countries, she added.
MARIA DEL CARMEN NASSER SELMAN, Vice‑Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Honduras, said her country’s Government had a proven track record of fighting corruption. Honduras aimed to become a regional leader in transparency, she added, noting its joint national and regional efforts focused on fighting against corruption. Strengthening accountability had been the Government’s main focus, and it stood ready to participate in all constructive dialogue on corruption at the local, regional and international levels. Only a society committed to fighting corruption would be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda, she said.
FERNANDO CARRILLO, Inspector-Attorney General of Colombia, said corruption was much more modern today than it had been just 15 years ago. “Our citizens are calling for concrete action,” he said, adding that corruption was the worst enemy of democracy and stability. Its severe effects on economic and social conditions were clear. He stressed the importance of independent judiciaries and press freedoms in ensuring that State abuses were known and could be addressed. It was essential to examine the finances of criminal structures, he continued, emphasizing the need to seize the assets of those involved in corruption. Organized crime lived and breathed through corruption, and yet the response of the international community and Governments had been rudimentary. Colombia had drafted a set of norms for the recovery of the assets of those involved in corruption, among other measures, he said, adding that, as a member of an oversight body separate from the executive branch, he wished to underscore the need to improve the judicial sector and ensure protection for whistle‑blowers.
FRANCESCO VIGANÓ, Judge of the Constitutional Court of Italy, noting that his country’s anti‑corruption record had been unsatisfactory when the Convention was adopted, reported that the situation had changed profoundly. Several prosecutions had been carried out in recent years, but the most significant achievement was in the field of prevention, he said. A 2012 law had established a national anti‑corruption authority, and new legislation had been enacted to improve transparency and compliance in public and private entities. Italy’s efforts in asset recovery had been remarkable, he added, calling upon Member States to address the link connecting corruption, organized crime and money‑laundering. Promoting the rule of law and human rights was a precondition for the fight against corruption, he emphasized.
YURIY LUTSENKO, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, said the Convention was not only the basis for bringing national legislation in line with internationally accepted principles on fighting corruption, it also facilitated international cooperation. Recalling that the former President of Ukraine had fled the country after misappropriating billions of dollars, and had enjoyed full support from the Russian Federation, he condemned that country’s action as a violation of international commitments. Highlighting Ukraine’s ambitious institutional reforms, including its anti‑corruption agency, asset recovery offices and special prosecutors, he noted that 1,700 corrupt officials had been convicted in 2017. Nevertheless, “if you have a breach in your ship, using a pump is not enough,” he said, calling on the international community to step up the fight against corruption, especially now that criminals were perpetrating sophisticated transnational scams involving foreign bank accounts and cryptocurrencies.
KAMRAN ALIYEV, Deputy Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan, said his country had enacted comprehensive institutional and legislative reforms, and within a short period, established a modern legal framework that was in compliance with international standards. Among the first 35 countries to ratify the Convention in 2005, Azerbaijan had adopted the Anti‑corruption Act in 2004, and had implemented three action plans since then. The country had participated in the first implementation review cycle in 2012, he said, recalling that a representative of its Anti‑Corruption Directorate had served as an expert in the review cycles of Côte d’Ivoire and Mexico, and would participate in Albania’s review. The Prosecutor’s Office had also participated in various projects of the Network of Anti‑Corruption Prosecutors.
ANDREY AVETISYAN, Ambassador‑at‑large on International Anti‑Corruption Cooperation Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that since the adoption of the Convention back in 2003, tangible progress had been made in the fight against corruption. More work remained, however, including in addressing investigative challenges and the lack of adequate data. It was difficult to track and identify illicit income, he added, emphasizing that an international agreement on asset recovery would help to clearly define measures in recovering and confiscating stolen funds. The Russian Federation’s interaction with the implementation review mechanism had proven effective and robust, he said, adding that it was a major donor to the most significant anti‑corruption projects conducted by UNODC. It also continued to provide considerable financial support to the review mechanism. Joint projects between the review mechanism and the Russian Federation were being successfully carried out. Anti‑corruption education was also a focal point, he said, stressing the importance of an upcoming conference on corruption in sport.
JAMES WALSH, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the United States, said the Convention remained of critical importance in preventing, criminalizing and addressing corruption. While the United States remained focused on fighting corruption, commitment to the Convention on the part of States parties remained indispensable. International mechanisms to address and fight bribery had directly improved national reputations, he noted, emphasizing that international cooperation through bilateral frameworks was essential to investigating and prosecuting criminals. The United States had seized or frozen billions of dollars in relation to corruption investigations, he said, adding that President Donald J. Trump had announced new plans to more effectively target those engaging in corruption and violating human rights. In addition to providing $100 million to international programmes aimed at fighting corruption, the United States also focused on helping transparent institutions. The United States looked forward to having its own practices reviewed by the implementation review mechanism in 2019, he said.
KHALID ABDULMOHSEN ALMEHAISEN, President of the National Anti‑Corruption Commission of Saudi Arabia, said his country’s Government had aligned domestic laws with the Convention through a national integrity and anti‑corruption strategy that had become the basis for organizing domestic efforts on that front. Emphasizing that the struggle against corruption could only succeed through a clear vision, he said Saudi Arabia’s vision entailed a constitutional approach emanating from King Salman’s declaration that there should be no immunity for anyone accused of corruption. Several partnerships and different mechanisms had been implemented to realize that vision, he said, noting that the recent review had highlighted a number of best practices in Saudi Arabia, which was working to address the review’s observations.
LAURA ALONSO, Secretary of Public Ethics, Transparency, and Fight Against Corruption of Argentina, said her country had enacted new legislation and established electronic systems to facilitate the reduction of corruption in infrastructure projects, resulting in great savings. Argentina was drafting its first anti‑corruption plan, she added. Calling on each and every nation to follow a collaborative approach in the fight against corruption, she praised the Convention’s implementation review and assessment process, noting that Argentina would shortly enter the review’s second cycle and was working actively on prevention and asset recovery.
The Assembly held the first panel discussion of the day on the theme “Fifteen Years of United Nations Convention against Corruption Implementation: Trends, Achievements and Challenges”. Moderated by John Brandolino, Director of the Division of Treaty Affairs at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it featured four panellists: Laura Codruța Kövesi, Chief Prosecutor, National Anti‑Corruption Directorate, Romania; Guo Xiaomei, Deputy Director General, Department of Treaty and Law, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China; Akere Muna, Member, High‑level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, and Sanctions Commissioner, African Development Bank Group; and Huguette Labello, Former Chair and current Individual Member, and Member, Advisory Council, Transparency International.
Ms. KÖVESI recalled that her country had ratified the Convention in 2004, a time when corruption was a systemic problem in Romania. Now, 15 years later, things had changed radically and the country was “a positive model in the region”. The courts had convicted 27 high‑level officials and several cases were pending, she said, adding that the Directorate had ordered major seizures. Romania had implemented three important recommendations offered by the Convention — efficient criminal legislation, a specialized prosecutor’s office and an independent judiciary. Emphasizing the independence of the prosecutors and the judiciary, she stressed that an independent justice system was of fundamental importance in a democratic society.
Ms. GUO said the fact that the Convention had attracted 184 States parties was one of its biggest achievements because that demonstrated strong international commitment. China had been aligning national legislation with the Convention by treating embezzlement and the bribery of foreign public officials as crimes, among other steps. The criminal law had been amended three times since the country became a signatory. Furthermore, the provision of international criminal judicial assistance was an ongoing process. Emphasizing the importance of prevention, she said the Government was making significant efforts to that end by streamlining and decentralizing the administration and promoting openness in its own activities.
Mr. MUNA said that, as an activist, he had found the advent of the Convention to be extraordinary. Describing corruption as an “existential” issue in Africa, he said elections were increasingly fought around that topic, and thanks to the Convention, the level of consciousness on the continent had risen to the level of making corruption a moral question. However, the danger was that “too much discourse could cause numbness and that could lead to inaction,” he cautioned, noting that in some countries, the fight against corruption could even be weaponized politically. Noting that the recovery of stolen assets was especially important for Africa, he stressed that the Convention must be more robust in that area. “Fifty billion dollars leaves the continent every year; what do we do to get that money back?” he asked, pointing out that banks were complicit in that activity. There should be escrow accounts in which money could be deposited during corruption investigations, he suggested.
Ms. LABELLO noted the impact of corruption on people lacking the power to say “no” when asked for a bribe, saying her organization found it necessary to work with ordinary people as much as with Governments and other institutions, because the trickling down did not happen often. Many capitals around the world were discovering that the cost of properties bought with illicit money were rising so high that citizens could no longer afford real estate prices in their cities. That was part of the unfinished business of corruption, she said, noting that increasingly, money was moving through the Internet. Cryptocurrencies were enabling the hiding and legitimizing of illicit funds, she added. Acknowledging that there was more legislation now than there had been 15 years ago, she called for greater access to information and urged Governments to increase transparency by publishing their data. The space for civil society was decreasing in many countries, she noted, warning that the international community would be moving backward, not forward, unless it fought against that trend.
The representative of Italy, speaking in the ensuing interactive dialogue, emphasized the need to distinguish between perceptions of corruption and reliable data. When a country had strong and independent institutions and an active civil society, more cases of corruption came to light, thereby raising the perception of corruption, he pointed out, encouraging UNODC and other actors to collect reliable data and to develop specific indicators.
The representative of Singapore said the fight against corruption must start in each country’s “own backyard”.
Other speakers were representatives of Myanmar, Libya, Montenegro, Morocco, France, Gabon, Ukraine, Ecuador and Rwanda.
SARATH JAYMANNE, President’s Counsel and Director General, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption of Sri Lanka, said his country’s Government was committed to democracy, good governance, an independent judiciary and the rule of law. Noting that his Commission had arrested two high‑ranking officials on bribery charges, he said such developments reflected the independence of State institutions, declaring: “These arrests marked a landmark in our work on anti‑corruption, as this was the highest‑ranking official to have been arrested, while in office, in 60 years.” Ensuring the independence of such commissions from any kind of political influence was crucial in fighting corruption and restoring confidence in the system, he emphasized. “There can be no sustainable development if corruption abounds,” he said, underscoring the importance of today’s gathering in paving the way to realization of the 2030 Agenda.
IBRAHIM ALI ABEL, Director of the Transparency Department, Administrative Control and Transparency Authority of Qatar, said the adoption of the Convention in 2003 had represented a paradigm shift. It reflected the growing recognition that corruption was no longer just a domestic issue. Qatar attached great importance to anti‑corruption efforts, with the Government taking steps to promote the international instrument in every sector of society. The Government continued to harness its capacity, he said, noting myriad national initiatives, including a programme to honour individual and institutional anti‑corruption efforts. Qatar was also focusing on building fair systems of justice in addition to countering organized crime and terrorism. In cooperation with UNODC, it aimed to promote the capacity of States by boosting its own judicial integrity.
MOHAMED JASIM ALKHEDRI (Bahrain) noted that crime had far‑reaching consequences both in economic and social sectors. Bahrain was focused on training its civil servants to combat corruption, which was critical for any State wishing to realize the 2030 Agenda. The Government had taken the necessary measures to align its anti‑corruption goals with the Convention and was ready to launch the third cycle of review, he said, adding that Bahrain stood ready to reach its anti‑corruption goals in order to ensure socioeconomic advancement for all.
RUBEN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBUN (El Salvador) said his country had been a State party to the Convention since 2004. Emphasizing the role of healthy institutions in fighting corruption, he said strong and effective institutions were indispensable in that regard. They must be able to overcome the poverty and insecurity faced by vulnerable populations. El Salvador’s work in fighting corruption had been recognized at the international level, where the country had been invited to share its experiences and best practices, he said. Having adopted measures to provide public access to information, he said the executive branch alone had processed more than 35,000 requests to make information available to citizens.
JORGE SKINNER-KLEE (Guatemala) said it was essential to address various factors that fed corruption, and it was also important that the justice system function with fairness and integrity. International assistance had been instrumental in Guatemala’s battle against corruption, particularly in the areas of money‑laundering and drug trafficking. The task of modernizing the State, and the justice system in particular, required a unique approach that took into account the need to protect witnesses and whistle‑blowers, among others.
PATRICIA ANN TORSNEY, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said corruption was a global phenomenon in developed and developing countries alike, where it posed a serious threat to the rule of law, jeopardizing the fair distribution of resources and impeding socioeconomic development. It was fitting that the global community was taking stock of progress achieved in the last 15 years, she said, emphasizing the critical need to fight all forms of corruption. Describing the Convention as unique, she said that in combating corruption, parliaments themselves should stand as beacons of integrity and transparency.
The Assembly then held a panel discussion on “Achieving peaceful and inclusive societies through preventing and combating corruption”. Moderated by Simone Monasebian, Director of the UNODC New York Office, it featured the following panellists: Fernando Carrillo, Inspector‑Attorney General of Colombia; Laura Alonso, Secretary of Public Ethics, Transparency and Fight against Corruption, Argentina; Raffaele Piccirillo, Head, Department of Justice Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Italy; J.C. Weliamuna, PC, Chairman, Special Presidential Task Force on Recovery of State Assets, Sri Lanka; and Klaus Moosmayer, Chief Compliance Officer, Siemens AG and Head, Global Siemens Compliance Organization.
Mr. CARRILLO said the time of statements was over, and it was time to pinpoint the exact challenges preventing countries from realizing their anti‑corruption targets. Recalling Colombia’s efforts in fighting drug trafficking and other ills, he declared: “You cannot achieve development unless you tackle corruption.” It undermined health‑care and education systems, he added, underscoring the need to strengthen institutions in order to “roll out the standards”. Institutions must have sufficient autonomy, he emphasized. “We need to respect freedom of the press and protect whistle‑blowers.” States must be able to ensure that effective and appropriate punishment could be handed out to perpetrators of corruption, said, adding that Colombia had striven to ensure that its institutions were able to address such challenges. He emphasized the need to take advantage of all technological advances. “We need to ensure the management of big data so that we can use it properly.”
Ms. ALONSO emphasized the need to address the lack of trust and institutional credibility. A good and robust civil service made it possible to pinpoint areas that were vulnerable to corruption. Foreign service recruitment must be based on merit, she said, cautioning that it was very easy to get bogged down in red tape. She outlined the difficulties and challenges of recovering stolen assets, adding that technological advances had enhanced transparency and helped Argentina to save substantial funds through the elimination of unnecessary bureaucratic practices. In terms of asset recovery and protection for whistle‑blowers, she said it was essential to set standards and enact laws that specifically addressed emerging challenges in those areas. States must exchange data that would enable them to detect people or entities participating in corruption, she added.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Liechtenstein criticized the tendency to mix up asset return with illicit financial flows, pointing out that the latter could include, but were not limited to, stolen assets. Illicit financial flows could encompass the proceeds of organized crime, such as trafficking in drugs, illegal arms or human beings. Different components of illicit financial flows called for separate and distinct analyses to benefit the design of effective policy responses, he emphasized.
The representative of Nigeria noted that the term “illicit funds” was being used to refer broadly to proceeds of corruption, bribery, tax evasion and other crimes. The term “illicit funds” must replace “corruption”, which would require broadening the scope of the Convention and ultimately the creation of a new treaty to tackle the broad scope of illicit financial flows as well as their recovery and return, he said.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that his country’s war against corruption was hindered by inadequate resources, adding that some people feared to cooperate with law enforcement agents.
The representative of Austria said his country had developed a mobile app to sensitize young people to corruption. In addition, workshops were being organized in schools to teach children how to recognize and avoid corruption.
Mr. PICCIRILLO, highlighting the link between corruption and organized crime, recalled his own experiences as a law enforcement professional in Italy. In some cases, he said, white collar professionals formed partnerships with organized crime gangs, which were sometimes exploited by the latter. Italy’s anti‑corruption strategies had taken that evolution, as well as the link between corruption and organized crime, into account. On asset recovery, he said Italy had recently reformed its so‑called anti‑Mafia code, and outlined the ways in which law enforcement confiscated illicit funds and made use of them in communities. The Government had met some serious obstacles in that area, he added.
Mr. WELIAMUNA said conflicts had generated unprecedented opportunities for mass corruption, an “infection” that existed everywhere, including in times of peace and stability. Dealing with it required determined and courageous leadership. Post‑conflict societies required special attention as they transitioned to peace. Many countries, including Sri Lanka, used nineteenth‑century instruments to fight the threats posed by modern corruption, he said, adding that corrupt networks continued to slow down strenuous Government efforts and had ruined many institutional structures. “People do not trust corrupt institutions and leaders,” he said, stressing that sustainable development required both long‑term and short‑term solutions to fight corruption.
Mr. MOOSMAYER asked whether a big organization could ever be immune to corruption. “My answer is no,” he said, underlining the need for a bottom‑up approach whereby staff could be open with their concerns and report incidents of corruption. It was essential to protect whistle‑blowers in that regard. Today, more than 2.5 billion people were connected by social media, he said, pointing out that a Google search on corruption produced more than 55 million hits. Digitalization and social media made it more challenging for perpetrators to thrive in darkness, he said, adding that the rule of law and collaboration among all stakeholders were instrumental to anti‑corruption efforts. He expressed that corruption would be taken up at the 2019 high‑level political forum on sustainable development.
The representative of Slovakia said that without national-level implementation — supported by the unique evaluation mechanism and the inclusion of anti-corruption measures into the work of relevant institutions — victory in the fight against corruption would remain elusive. He also cited his country’s specialized criminal court and national anti-corruption unit.
The representative of Greece said his country’s Government had established multiple legal initiatives targeting different aspects of fighting corruption, ranging from the framework for founding political parties to recovery of stolen assets. Furthermore, the country had participated actively in the implementation of the Convention’s review cycles.
The representative of South Africa called for continued strong political commitment to the Convention, noting that her country was actively involved in technical assistance, exchange of information, asset recovery and other forms of international cooperation.
A representative of the European Union said that its member States had taken several steps towards criminalization, freezing, confiscation and recovery of assets and international cooperation. In 2015, the bloc had launched an anti‑corruption programme entailing the sharing of experiences. It also offered participants a forum in which to seek inspiration for legislative, policy and institutional reforms.
The representative of the Philippines said the President had enacted an anti‑corruption campaign with far-reaching consequences. Everyone was encouraged to report corruption, which was often facilitated through international complicity, whereby money stolen in one country must be hidden in another, she said.
The representative of the United States noted that several General Assembly resolutions focusing on corruption had blurred the lines between aspirational goals and binding commitments under the Convention. Member States must work together to implement the Convention rather than create additional treaties, he emphasized.
A representative of INTERPOL said that the organization’s anti-corruption unit had accumulated years of valuable experience and had developed a set of unique tools to help Member States address challenges relating to financial crimes and asset recovery.
Also participating were representatives of Brazil, Belgium, Indonesia, Cabo Verde, Egypt, Kenya, Nepal, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Turkey, Angola, Mexico and Italy.
Mr. LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said that, in addition to its traditional forms, such as bribery and extortion, corruption was also manifesting itself in the financing of international terrorism and the increasing exploitation of systemic and institutional weaknesses by criminal networks. Technology had changed the landscape, with cryptocurrency making it easier to hide money, he added. However, the digital age also made it difficult for bad deeds to be hidden and blockchain technology was making services more transparent. Noting that many delegates had spoken about the importance of better data collection, he said that measuring corruption was essential to tackling it. Corruption also fuelled conflicts and environmental destruction, he continued, emphasizing that the role of the United Nations as coordinator and advocate was very clear. One example was the cooperation between UNODC and the World Bank on the recovery of stolen assets. Describing the 2030 Agenda as a tool-box, he emphasized that Goal 16 was one of the most valuable tools in that box. “The good news is that we are using it,” he said, describing the Convention as a powerful driver of both prevention and accountability.