UN states seek more teeth and sting in the corruption fight


By Samisoni Pareti

Ensuring general elections are transparent, free and fair and that the independence of the judiciary are upheld are among key features of the 18-pages political declaration that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Special Session Against Corruption have passed by affirmation.

Called ‘Our common commitment to effectively addressing challenges and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation,’ the declaration is the result of more than two years of work by representatives of member states of the world body.

Starting on Wednesday this week, the three-day special session of the UN General Assembly is the first of its kind to be convened solely on corruption.

“We will maintain, strengthen, develop and implement measures that protect the integrity of the electoral process and promote its accountability to voters, transparency and impartiality in domestic electoral institutions and oversight mechanisms, and transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office, political parties and electoral campaigns, where applicable, with a view to preventing corruption, ensuring accountability, promoting good governance and reinforcing trust in public institutions,” states paragraph 12 of the Political Declaration.

Paragraph 27 focuses on the independence of the judiciary, and member states of the UN ought to “ensure equal access to justice for all and maintain and, when necessary, strengthen integrity, impartiality, inclusivity, due process, fair trial rights, transparency and equality before the law in our national criminal justice systems.”

This new UN document on eliminating corruption shares some of the aspirations of Pacific Island Leaders under the Teieniwa Vision which they adopted in Tarawa, Kiribati in February 2020. Like the Teieniwa Vision, the UN Political Declaration Against Corruption is big on ensuring national anti-corruption bodies are well resourced, and that a huge programme of education and public awareness is key.

Unlike the Teieniwa Vision of the Pacific, the UN Political Declaration does not use the term whistleblowers, but what it may lack in labeling, it made up in specifying the many layers of support and protection UN member states ought to provide “to those who expose, report and fight corruption and, as appropriate, for their relatives and other persons close to them, and will support and protect against any unjustified treatment any person who identifies, detects or reports, in good faith and on reasonable grounds, corruption and related offences.”

Adds paragraph 31: “We will strive to provide a safe and adequate environment to journalists, and we will investigate, prosecute and punish threats and acts of violence, falling within our jurisdiction, committed against them.”

Money Laundering got a lot of mention in the new Political Declaration Against Corruption of the UNGASS where suggestions included promoting beneficial ownership disclosures and transparency in the form of creating appropriate registries.

“We will take measures to prevent the financial system from being abused to hide, move and launder assets stemming from corruption, including when vast quantities of assets are involved. Those crimes undermine the integrity of the financial system, and we commit to promoting the implementation of the Convention and our respective applicable international obligations.

“We will reinforce and enhance inter-agency cooperation at all levels to prevent individuals and companies, other legal entities, and systems used to transfer money, as well as non-regulated or unregistered financial or commercial or non-commercial entities at serious risk of being abused for corruption and money-laundering, from committing or being used to facilitate acts of corruption, and will encourage and support companies and financial institutions in this regard, including to make better use of resources already expended.”

The Declaration calls on member states to be tough on fugitives who seek refuge in their jurisdictions, as well as against public officials who are guilty of “abuse of functions and illicit enrichment.”

Sports should also be safeguarded from corruption, and UN member states must ensure that corruption safeguards remain intact in their COVID-19 pandemic responses.

“We will ensure that appropriate measures are in place to prevent and combat corruption when responding to or recovering from national crises and emergencies, while striving not to negatively impact the speed and quality of responses in such situations.

“In this regard, we recognise the role of supreme audit institutions and other oversight bodies and their functions in upholding policies and procedures for the management of public finances and public procurement, and the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors and other relevant stakeholders, in accordance with domestic law.”

The Political Declaration also welcomes the creation of a new tool in combating cross-border corruption offences, called the Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities, which will be housed under the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).