As many readers of this blog are likely aware, one of the biggest international anticorruption conferences, aptly named the International Anti-Corruption Conference, scheduled its 2020 meeting for June 2-5 in Seoul, South Korea. It should be patently obvious to anybody that’s been paying attention that this conference absolutely must be postponed in light of the COVID-19 situation. Even if, three months from now, most of the hardest-hit countries have succeeded in “flattening the curve” to some degree, hosting a major international conference–one that will bring together people from all over the world, to meet and interact at close quarters for four days in a country that’s been a COVID-19 hotspot (albeit one that has done a good job getting the outbreak under control) before dispersing back to their countries of origin–is the height of irresponsibility.
So it came to me as a something of a shock that the IACC meeting has not (yet) been postponed. Indeed, just yesterday the IACC sent around an announcement encouraging young journalists to apply for the conference’s Young Journalist Program (offering those selected air travel and accommodations for the Seoul meeting). On the IACC website, the most recent COVID-19 update is from March 11 (over two weeks ago), and says:
We are very mindful of the current situation regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and we understand that many of you are concerned on how it will affect the 19th International Anti-corruption Conference (IACC) in Seoul, Korea, from 2-5 June.
While our strong wish is to get together in early June for the IACC2020 in Seoul to learn from each other and join forces to be more effective in our efforts to end corruption in the coming years, our priority is the safety of all the participants and our staff.
The IACC team is regularly monitoring the global health situation and is in dialogue with the IACC Council and our partners in Korea. A decision to hold the conference, postpone to a later date or any other decision will be made in coming weeks. In the meantime, we will continue our planning.
We appreciate your understanding and recommend caution when making any financial commitments, like purchasing non-refundable flight tickets, until a final decision is reached. We will be updating you as soon as an informed and collectively [sic] decision is taken.
That’s all fine and good, but I think by now and informed decision to postpone the conference can and should be taken (and at the very least, the IACC shouldn’t be posting announcements encouraging people to apply). Come on guys! If the IOC can finally get its act together and postpone the Tokyo Olympics until 2021, surely the IACC can reach a similar decision without further deliberations. After all, shouldn’t the anticorruption community be at the forefront of emphasizing the importance of prioritizing the public welfare over other concerns?
This is indeed true Mathew. Since most organizations/groups have (rightly) restricted travel to stop the spread of the virus, what could end up happening is an event with very very limited meaningful engagement. It would be a waste at all levels and could also undermine the efforts of the medical fraternity in combating the virus.
It certainly seems hard to believe that we would be able to have large-scale international conferences by the beginning of June, even in a best-case scenario. Would it be possible to shift the conference online or move to something like a teleforum format? Of course, this is not comparable to a live conference, but seems like the best option to preserve some level of meaningful engagement without actually putting peoples’ well-being at risk.
UPDATE: Today, April 3, the IACC organizers announced that the conference has been postponed. Here is the full text of the email announcing that decision:
COVID-19 Update: 19th IACC postponed
It is with a heavy heart that the IACC Council, Transparency International, together with our Korean hosts, have decided to postpone the 19th IACC to a later date this year. The 19th IACC will no longer take place from 2 to 5 of June 2020. While being a difficult decision requiring concerted action between all the organisers, our main priority is to protect the health and well-being of our participants, partners, and staff.
The government and people of the Korean Republic have been making enormous progress in limiting the spread of the virus in their territory, setting an example for countries around the world. Yet, the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 is a global challenge that is affecting all of us. During these critical times, we need to be kind and supportive. Safety and health take prominence over any other consideration.
We see the postponement as a unique opportunity to foster a global dialogue about the new challenges posed by corruption, to explore solutions and find ways to promote transparency. The current pandemic increases the importance of jointly carving out new strategies to put an end to corruption and improve governance.
We are currently working hard to find suitable new dates to reschedule the 19th IACC. We will keep you updated as soon as we can on our blog and our social media channels on our Twitter and Facebook.
Thank you for your patience and understanding, and please stay home and healthy. We very much look forward to welcoming you to the 19th IACC later this year!