United Nations General Assembly holds special session against corruption

This report was compiled with the help of the UN media Unit by Samisoni Pareti, coordinator of PINA’s Pacific Anti-Corruption Journalists’ Network project.

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The United Nations General Assembly Special Session against corruption began at the UN headquarters in New York today with strong calls for the redoubling of efforts aimed at eliminating corruption.

Leaders of the world body who spoke at the opening session stressed the importance of meeting the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations as the COVID19 pandemic has derailed the world’s pursuit of these goals.

Current President of the UN General Assembly’s 75th session, Ambassador Volkan Bozkir who is also presiding over the Special Session this week said corruption hits the poor, the marginalized and the most vulnerable the hardest, which is why the world should not, and cannot allow corruption to continue.

“The Political Declaration [which has been adopted by the session] will provide the international community with a road map for countering corruption in the future. It will also help guide countries as they work to fight money-laundering and illicit financial flows — which derail progress on sustainable development — and in critical efforts to recover assets.

Corruption thrives in a crisis, said Ambassador Bozkir, adding that the COVID 19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on supply chains, infrastructure and systems around the world.

UNGA President, Ambassador Volkan Bozkir of Turkey
UNGA President, Ambassador Volkan Bozkir of Turkey

“As the number of COVID-19 positive cases increased, governments responded rapidly, efforts which undoubtedly saved lives. However, they inadvertently led to gaps in compliance, transparency, oversight and accountability, which were exploited by the most corrupt actors. The Assembly’s special session comes at a critical moment as humanity works to roll out a complex global vaccination programme.

“We must learn from this experience, because the next crisis will come, and we will need to be prepared to meet it when it does.”

Curb corruption to achieve SDGs: DSG Mohammed

UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed who spoke after Ambassador Bozkir also raised the impact of the pandemic on the pursuit of the world’s sustainable development goals.

Member states she said needed to restore public trust and faith in the “social contract” by taking concrete action to eliminate corruption.

“In recent years, social protests sparked by anger and distrust have sent a clear message that people won’t tolerate impunity and corrupt practices. Business as usual is no longer acceptable. People are demanding transformation of legal, political, economic and social structures and institutions that have long been indifferent to accountability and transparency.

“Corruption in public service delivery including health and education increases costs, it lowers the quality of service and distorts the allocation of resources. But more importantly, it costs lives. The vulnerable and the marginalized bear the brunt as bribery makes basic services available to only those able to pay putting SDG even further out of reach.”

She added corruption disproportionately impacts women by limiting access to public resources, information and decision-making, and facilitates organized crime and the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.

UN Deputy SG, Amina Mohamed
UN Deputy SG, Amina Mohamed

“The special session is an opportunity to chart a different path forward through a transparent, inclusive and accountable approach to governance that will strengthen the social contract between State and people.

“Expectations are high. I encourage you to lead by example, by realizing the commitments you have made in the draft declaration, with the support of the United Nations system.”

Corruption’s a huge cost on developing member states: Ambassador Askram

The Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Ambassador Munir Askram who spoke next, raised the huge financial costs of corruption.

He is also the President of the Economic and Social Council, established in 1945 as one of the six key organs of the UN, advancing the three dimensions of sustainable development of economic, social and environment.

Addressing the UN General Assembly Special Session Against Corruption on Wednesday morning (New York time), Ambassador Askram called for the elimination of tax havens, opening of a global registry of perpetrators of corruption, stricter controls on international mining companies, and the introduction of a new global corporate tax.

“Corruption stifles opportunities for the poor, condemning them to a life of misery and inequity. An estimated $2.6 trillion — or 5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) — is lost annually to such behavior. Developing countries lose $1.26 trillion — nine times all official development assistance (ODA).

“The pandemic has pushed millions into extreme poverty, resulting in the loss of 250 million jobs. Allowing corruption and illicit financial flows to continue in these circumstances is nothing short of criminal. Robust national and international action is needed to stop the bleeding of developing countries.

In calling for the opening of a global beneficial ownership registry to help identify the perpetrators of corruption, Ambassador Askram also called for the elimination of tax havens.

“The absence of effective mechanism to secure the return of stolen assets has created a sense of impunity among the corrupt and criminals and led to the parking of over $7 trillion in safe havens. Secrecy in jurisdiction and safe havens must be urgently eliminated, nor should difficulties be created to prevent or delay the return of billions of dollars of stolen assets of developing countries. They must be returned unconditionally and expeditiously. New legal instruments should be agreed to facilitate the obligatory return of stolen assets.”

On mining conglomerates, or “international extractive companies,” Ambassador Askram called for; Standards to be created including inter-state agreements that would allow for nullification of corporate contracts if corruption is discovered

Moratorium be imposed on all investor-State disputes, in which corruption is clearly visible, and a Trust fund created to help developing countries pursue the often lengthy, administrative and legal proceedings for the return of their stolen assets.

“Tax fraud, evasion and avoidance represents a major portion of the overall volume of illicit financial flows, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reporting that curbing corruption could deliver $1 trillion annually in tax revenues across the world — or 1.2 per cent of global GDP, money that could be used by Governments to support health, education and infrastructure.

“A minimum global corporate tax would be a good first step to end tax crimes. Current institutional environment of international tax cooperation is dominated by voluntary forums and bilateral tax treaties, with no universal tax convention to compare with the Convention against Corruption, the work of the United Nations Tax Committee to be made completely intergovernmental, with negotiations initiated for devising a global United Nations tax convention.”

Conference of the States Parties was inclusive: Ambassador Amimi

Ambassador Harib Saeed Al Amimi, the President of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption took to the podium next, as the conference he chaired took the lead in preparing the draft political declaration that went before the special session today.

The process he said, was inclusive and open-ended, and included contributions from member states, UN system entities, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental groups and the private sector.

In addition, the Conference held its eighth session from 16 to 20 December 2019, adopting 14 resolutions and 1 decision. Those covered a diverse range of areas including asset recovery, safeguarding sport from corruption and enhancing the effectiveness of anti-corruption bodies.

The Conference adopted the Abu Dhabi Declaration, which focused on enhancing collaboration between the supreme audit institutions and anticorruption bodies to more effectively prevent and fight corruption. In that vein, the United Arab Emirates recently committed $5.4 million to support the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to implement the Abu Dhabi Declaration, added Ambassador Amimi.

UNGASS’ Political Declaration a welcoming tool: UNODC Executive Director Waly

The lead UN anti-corruption agency is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and its Executive Director Ms Ghada Waly also addressed the opening session today of the UN General Special Session against Corruption.
A global action against corruption is needed now more than ever, Waly said, why the commitment from member states at the first ever General Assembly special session against corruption should be welcomed.

“The COVID-19 crisis has derailed development progress, while corruption, bribery and illicit financial flows have stolen away resources when we can least afford it. In every region of the world, corruption has compromised emergency responses, health care, education, environmental conservation and job creation, leaving countries less equipped to recover and leaving ever more people behind.

“Now, as our still-fragile societies take steps towards a more resilient future, we must reject cynical profiteering and exploitation of public trust. Rebuilding must be done with full transparency, accountability and integrity in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

UNODC Executive Director, Ghada Waly
UNODC Executive Director, Ghada Waly

“The comprehensive and forward-looking approach enshrined in the Political Declaration before the Assembly acknowledges both the pervasive nature of corruption, and the need for greater political will and practical action to step up the fight against an enemy that shows little sign of retreating.”

Waly pledged the support of UNODC as she welcomed the Political Declaration’s recognition of the United Nations Convention against Corruption as the universal instrument against corruption, as well as the need for research and better measurement of the phenomenon and its impact.

She adds the newly launched Globe Network — for which UNODC serves as secretariat — will link up various anti-corruption law enforcement authorities to pursue more agile cross-border cooperation and proactive information sharing.

“We have the opportunity to reinvigorate and innovate, to strengthen good governance and the rule of law, so we can tackle present problems and equip future generations to meet the challenges to come. We hope that 2021 will be remembered as a turning point when Member States and their partners rose together to combat corruption, restore trust and generate real change for a fairer world.

Waly’s address to UNGASS was delivered via video, as the headquarters of UNODC is located in Vienna, Austria.

Youths need a greater role in fighting corruption: Youth Representative Ibrahim

Serena Ibrahim’s address was also transmitted via video before the General Assembly.

She is originally from Lebanon, founder and executive director of the Youth Against Corruption and spoke at today’s special session of the UN General Assembly as the representative of youth delegates from around the world that attended the 2021 UN Special Session Youth Forum last month.

“We call upon you, our world leaders, to prioritize the fight against corruption and ensure that citizens’ well-being and equal access to basic services are top priorities in your national agendas, strategies and visions. To that end, we urge leaders to prioritize education on integrity and anti corruption; give youth a greater role in the intergenerational fight against corruption at the global level; invest more in innovative anti-corruption solutions, including through emerging and innovative technologies; and ensure a safe environment for youth to act as whistle-blowers, watchdogs and national monitors.

Youth Advocate, Serena Ibrahim of Lebanon
Youth Advocate, Serena Ibrahim of Lebanon

“We call for efforts to create youth agencies to enhance collaboration; ensure judicial independence and effective separation of powers; strengthen transparency and accountability in health care procurement, including on COVID-19 vaccines; guarantee media independence and strengthen civil society; and restore broken trust in elected officials.”

Ibrahim also underlined the need for more transparency in the United Nations Conference against Corruption Implementation Review Mechanism, stressing that publishing full country review reports is crucial to hold Governments accountable to commitments they have made.

The UNGASS against Corruption continues in the next couple days and will conclude on Saturday morning, Fiji time.

SOURCE: PACJN (Pacific Anti-Corruption Journalists Network)