A Regional Anticorruption Convention in the Asia-Pacific?

In my last post I discussed Transparency International’s proposal for an “ASEAN Integrity Community” (AIC) to promote and harmonize effective anticorruption policies in the Southeast Asian region. The proposed AIC would be part of the formal ASEAN framework but would not impose additional legal obligations on member states. This got me thinking a bit more about whether it would be a good idea to push for a more robust international anticorruption convention, either in ASEAN or in the Asia-Pacific region more generally. (I’m not alone in having at least entertained this idea: the Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission has apparently been developing, and occasionally floating, a proposal for an ASEAN Anti-Corruption Convention.) After all, in addition to the two main global anticorruption conventions—the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention—there are also a number of regional anticorruption conventions, including the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the League of Arab States Anti-Corruption Convention, the Council of Europe’s Civil and Criminal Law Conventions on Corruption, and the European Union’s Convention against Corruption involving Officials. Indeed, the Asia-Pacific region is one of the few regions in the world (along with South Asia, Central Asia, and a handful of others) that lacks a regional anticorruption convention of some kind. Is there a case for creating such a regional instrument in the Asia-Pacific (or, more narrowly, in ASEAN)?

I think, upon further reflection and discussions with people who have much more expertise than I do, that the answer is probably no. But nevertheless I thought it would be worth at least floating the idea, if only to stimulate further discussions. Continue reading

Do We Need an “ASEAN Integrity Community”?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is taking a major step toward greater regional economic integration at the end of this year, with the long-awaited launch of the “ASEAN Economic Community”, a region-wide agreement designed (among other things) to promote the freer movement of goods, capital, and labor throughout the region. Yet many worry that this greater economic integration might exacerbate the region’s already serious struggles with corruption, especially cross-border corruption. Largely in response to that concern, last April Transparency International published a report calling for the creation of an “ASEAN Integrity Community” (AIC) that would, in the words of the report, “create a coherent regional anti-corruption strategy” and “provide space for civil society and the business sector to be able to have input into and shape this regional anti-corruption agenda.”

It’s an intriguing idea, and the report is worth reading. (Full disclosure: I wrote a background paper for one of the meetings TI organized last September to discuss corruption challenges in ASEAN. Indeed, substantial chunks of the background paper that I wrote appear – uncredited – in the TI Report on the AIC.) Certainly, there’s a good case to be made for greater regional cooperation on anticorruption challenges within ASEAN. That said, I found the TI report on the proposed AIC frustrating in several respects, most significantly the vagueness regarding how, exactly, the AIC would operate, and how it would add value above and beyond the existing regional forms and groupings that address corruption issues. I realize that this is an early-stage proposal, designed to generate political momentum for greater action and political buy-in (particularly in advance of the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Malaysia next week), so it may not really fair to criticize the report for being a bit light on specifics. Still, it’s worth reflecting a bit more on what we might hope to get out of something like an AIC, and whether this is the right way to go about tackling what most experts would agree is a genuine and serious set of problems and challenges. Continue reading