Last month, the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Conference of States Parties (COSP) was held in Vienna, Austria. In addition to the formal meetings of government representatives, the COSP also featured a number of panels, speeches, and other side events, at which leading experts discussed and debated a range of anticorruption topics. GAB is delighted that Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Professor Juliet Sorensen and her student Kobby Lartey, who attended the COSP, have offered to share highlights of some of the most interesting sessions in a series of guest posts. Today’s post is the first in that series.
Though specialized anticorruption agencies (ACAs) are dismissed by some as redundant or ineffective, last month’s COSP panel on “Revisiting the Jakarta Principles: Strengthening Anti-Corruption Agencies’ Independence and Effectiveness” made a strong case for ACA’s importance to the fight against corruption. (The Jakarta Principles are drawn from a 2012 statement drafted by anticorruption practitioners and experts from around the world; these broad, aspirational principles help anticorruption to protect themselves, and to offer inspiration for their work.) The panel, which included ACA commissioners from Indonesia, France, Romania, and Burkina Faso, as well as representatives from Transparency International, the UNODC, and UNDP, the panel highlighted the diverse struggles and successes of member states’ ACAs.
- The representative from Indonesia’s ACA (the KPK) opened the event by emphasizing how the Jakarta Principles were borne out of concerns over how to protect ACAs from the pressures and attacks on their independence and autonomy. He also spoke about the importance of popular support for ACAs in protecting them from government efforts to undermine or interfere with their work. He cited as an example a recent episode in which the youth of Indonesia mobilized to raise funds, mostly in coins, in response to the government’s delay in funding office space for the KPK. Collecting about $25,000 in coins, the youth presented their raised funds to Parliament for offices for KPK. After the mobilization, the Parliament earmarked the resources for KPK office space.
- The Romanian ACA representative noted that the Romanian press and public frequently question whether the ACA is genuinely independent of executive, but that in fact her ACA has worked constantly to ensure such independence. For one thing, like the KPK, the Romanian ACA has sometimes publicly staked out positions that were distinct from the executive. Moreover, the Romanian ACA representative emphasized how her agency had safeguarded its independence by creating specialized structures within the agency.
- The head of Burkina Faso’s ACA (which has both a prosecutorial and a monitoring role) focused on the relationship between resources and independence, emphasizing that, in keeping with the Jakarta Principles, the agency possesses a level of financial autonomy. Moreover, agency staff receives adequate remuneration, and the agency itself is well-resourced. In terms of public reporting, the law allowed the agency to report its activities and findings at least annually. Finally, the agency is given the power to communicate and engage with the public to ensure the public understands its role.
- France’s representative spoke extensively about the relevance of the Jakarta principles to the new French ACA, Agence Francaise Anti-Corruption. This agency is an independent, specialized unit which mainly serves a monitoring function. The agency’s focus is on setting up a strategy for monitoring corruption and working with indicators which assess the scale of corruption; the agency is also authorized to promulgate regulations to combat corruption. However, though the agency can impose sanctions on organizations or individuals that do not cooperate with its monitoring efforts, the agency does not have prosecutorial power. The French representative emphasized noted both the importance of maintaining the ACA’s independence, and also that the ACA should not work in an isolated fashion, but rather should work closely with law enforcement authorities, the judiciary, civil society, and other agencies. This view was echoed by the UNDP representative on the panel, who stressed that ACA independence does not mean ACA isolation. Yet the UNDP representative also noted that while, effective ACAs ought to collaborate with others to tackle corruption, achieving the right balance between collaboration and independence can be difficult.
- Transparency International’s representative on the panel focused on the importance of strong and effective ACAs in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for anticorruption and governance. In this context, TI’s representative noted that the Jakarta Principles called for independence, prevention, prosecution, and investigation, and that ACAs should take all those tasks equally seriously.