GAB welcomes back international anticorruption consultant Alan Doig, who contributes the following guest post:
The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which came into force in 2005 and has been ratified by 187 countries, is the oldest and most comprehensive Convention solely devoted to the prevention, detection, and investigation of corruption. Yet today UNCAC, for all of its importance, is not serving as an effective blueprint or framework for promoting innovative and effective responses to corruption. There are four main reasons for this:
- First, perhaps due to UNCAC’s genesis in the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, UNCAC is skewed too heavily toward the criminal justice aspects of anticorruption, as demonstrated by the fact that nearly 80% of UNCAC’s substantive Articles relate to law enforcement, asset recovery, and related issues.
- Second, UNCAC left too many key terms undefined or underspecified, allowing for significant interpretation (or misinterpretation) of the Articles, and some 40% of UNCAC’s substantive Articles are non-mandatory; these factors tend to undermine the efficacy of the Convention.
- Third, UNCAC’s review mechanism is too slow and fragmented, and fails to employ a sufficiently holistic framework that assesses performance and progress in implementation and impact.
- Fourth, and most significant, UNCAC is not amenable to updating. This has meant that issues which were only emerging back in 2005, such as political-party funding or beneficial ownership transparency, only received limited attention. Issues that were once addressed, if at all, through ad hoc references scattered throughout the Convention are assuming more importance. The difficulty of updating the Convention derives in part from the insistence of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that UNCAC may be used as a legal document suitable for treaty purposes—even though other international instruments serve similar purposes and its value as a treaty has been limited (as demonstrated by, among other things, the fact that UNCAC has been used for mutual legal assistance only 17 times in over a decade).
So, with a reboot of the existing Convention unlikely, maybe it’s time for a new Convention—an UNCAC Mark II. An UNCAC Mark II— which we might perhaps call the UN Convention on the Prevention of Corruption (UNCPC)—could provide a framework that promotes innovative, flexible, and forward-looking means to address corruption challenges, going beyond technical and compliance approaches.
The main focus of the proposed UNCPC, as the name implies, should be on mainstreaming prevention of corruption, both for its own sake and as a means toward wider objectives, such as trust in public institutions, good governance, and the rule of law. Chapters of such a convention could address, for example: risk assessment, developing strategic approaches, promoting public integrity, transparency and accountability, managing the political and partisan dimensions of public life, preventing profiting from corruption, prioritizing citizen-facing public services, and developing measurable progress and performance. In particular, and largely missing from the current Convention, a UNCPC should address the roles and expectations of a wide range of named in-country public and private sector organizations, as well as in civil society, to collectively mainstream the Convention as part of their work.
Such a Convention needn’t start from scratch. Its contents and coherence would come from synthesizing and integrating the wide range of the corruption prevention initiatives, most of which post-date UNCAC. These include, for example, the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Anti-Corruption Strategies, the international standard on anti-bribery management systems (ISO 37001), the Council of Europe’s work on public ethics, the extractive industries and other transparency initiatives, and the work of organizations like the UN Global Compact and the UNCAC Civil Society Coalition. The contents of a new Convention could also draw on the empirical evidence from GRECO reviews and Transparency International National Integrity Studies. Engaging with all these organizations, who have a stake in prevention, will foster a collective sense of ownership, and they can also take a leading role in monitoring and reviewing implementation of the Convention.
In contrast to UNCAC, this proposed new Convention should not seek global membership. Rather, the UNCPC should require both serious substantive commitments and acceptance of a rigorous whole-Convention peer-review system focused on demonstrable performance and progress. At the same time, evidence from practice on the ground will inform an equally rigorous review and revision of the Convention to ensure its relevance. The overall goal is a more comprehensive and dynamic Convention that provides a collective, mutually-supportive approach to anticorruption, one that seeks to achieve meaningful results within realistic timeframes.