Another much needed climate change: Towards integrity in governance

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa

Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption
Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, 28 January 2008

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This week Bali hosts a second major conference on climate change. This time the goal is to curb corruption and foster progress towards an environment of integrity.

I hope you appreciate the metaphor.

In this meeting you can decide, and set targets so as to curtail the poisonous emissions of bribery, graft and greed that have overheated our administrations - public and private.  You can promote the generation of clean power in governance: renewable energy based on the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Let me, therefore, invite you all to be as perseverant (in the negotiations) and as conclusive (in the outcome) as your peers were a few weeks ago, while attending the conference against global warming, right here in Bali.

There could be no more appropriate a host for these two Conferences than President Yudhoyono. Mr. Minister, please pass on to him our appreciation for Indonesia's generous hospitality and our respect for his leadership in reducing both global warming and large-scale corruption. We join him and the people of Indonesia in paying our respects to former President Suharto during this period of mourning.

Three tasks ahead

Ladies and Gentlemen, since you want to promote climate change in governance, I urge you to proceed step by step and concentrate on three priorities:

·               Step one , explain what you have done to fight corruption in your country and to implement the UNCAC Convention;

·               Step two , tell us which additional anti-corruption measures are needed, including those that may require technical assistance;

·               Step three , support the quick development of a solid peer review mechanism. Corruption is a communicable disease, within and across countries: in some places, like a pandemic, it is out of control. The world expects you to evaluate the measures you have undertaken and the progress made to avoid further contamination.  

Let me elaborate on these three steps and then extend the call for support to other stakeholders, most notably the corporate world. Before doing so, let me express my gratitude for the constructive support provided by the Friends of the Convention.

Step one: self-assessment

The first task this week is based on self-appraisal of what you have accomplished at the national level, and the problems encountered. So many of you (more than half of the State Parties) have completed the implementation check-list.  This is a helpful step. I am, of course, concerned by the absence of the other half of the Convention's shareholders. Why so many absentees, especially from Africa? If the problem is lack of expertise, UNODC can provide technical assistance. If the problem is benign neglect, please realize that your delay is hurting others.

Self -assessment is not for the sake of ticking boxes to gratify the Secretariat or to please peers. It is an obligation sanctioned in the Convention in order to measure progress in its implementation. It is also in your self-interest: it shows you are putting your house in order, thus gaining better negotiating power in these deliberations.

To show how far we still need to go to reach the goal of measuring common progress against corruption, let me latch on to my earlier metaphor and pursue it further.

After decades-long discussions about the planet's rising temperature - the other conference's concern - a quadruple agreement was reached here in Bali in December: global warming is caused by humans; it can be quantified; measurable action is needed; and target setting negotiations are soon to start.

I hope as much for this second UNCAC conference, though we start from far behind as, at the Amman session, the agreement was embarrassingly limited.

Of course, around the world people recognize that poverty, rotten infrastructure and income inequality stem often from corruption-driven governance, both private and public. Also people realize that they can react: high costs and poor services inevitably usher in electoral tipping-points.  Yet, we do not know, and cannot estimate as yet the extent of the (corruption) problem, its trends over space and time, and the impact of remedial measures. To many of you, Kyoto-type target-setting is unacceptable. This puts us at an embarrassing disadvantage with respect to our climate change friends. They can measure global warming to a very fine degree, while a measuring device to appraise progress towards integrity does not even exist.

Self-assessment is the beginning of such measurement: it addresses questions you must have had in mind before boarding the plane for Bali.

Questions like: did we apply all UNCAC preventive measures?

  • Get public officials to disclose earnings and assets, and establish rules on funding to political parties and electoral campaigns?
  • Create an independent anti-corruption agency and tighten up oversight of procurement and the management of public finances?
  • Have we strengthened judicial integrity, and put in place measures to ensure that public officials are hired on the basis of what they know rather than who they know?

What about the issues related to criminalization and law enforcement .  You must have asked yourselves:

  • Have we adopted all legislative and other measures to make corruption a criminal offence?
  • Does our legislation enable the freezing, seizing and confiscation of assets, as well as the protection of witnesses, experts and victims?

Corruption is best fought together, hence the importance of international cooperation .

  • Are we ready to make, or respond to requests for extradition or mutual legal assistance?
  • Are our law enforcement agents trained to cooperate internationally?

Finally, the vexed question of recovering stolen assets . You must have wondered, not least for the sake of self-interest:

  • Do we have the laws and the oversight capacity to recover looted assets?
  • Do we have financial intelligence to assist others pursuing the same goal?

Governments and UNODC alike will listen carefully to your presentations this week, to see what corruption control measures you have put in place, and how much clean, renewable public energy in government you have generated.

Step two: the need for, and the delivery of technical assistance

Our second task this week is to identify the need for, and the delivery of technical assistance.  Self-assessment can help identify what still needs to be done - and why, when and how technical assistance is required.

Cross-examination of the check-lists has already provided an insight.  Normative assistance (especially for model legislation) is in high demand. Help is also requested to develop national anti-corruption plans, supported by proper financial and judicial structures.

UNODC, together with other institutions attending this meeting, can put at your disposal an impressive array of expertise:

·               To establish and support anti-corruption authorities; 

·               To declare asset ownership and procurement procedures;

·               To build judicial integrity and especially honesty in the courts;

·               To train government officials and financial intelligence units.

·               And, of course to recover looted assets and arrest kleptocrats.  

Technical assistance is a practical business, leading to tangible results. Take the example of the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon launched last September in New York, together with World Bank President Zoellick and myself. Developed on the basis of UNCAC, it helps states knock down barriers that make asset recovery so complex. I acknowledge the cooperation with the World Bank and warmly welcome here in Bali the StAR super-star, Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

In asset recovery, time is of the essence. The media recently asked how much money we already recovered and how many crooks we put behind bars. Well: not so fast. But also: not so slow! Stolen assets rot quickly in idle bank accounts, rusty yachts, decaying real estate and devalued securities. The sooner legitimate owners engage in asset recovery, the greater the chances of finding some of the wealth looted from central banks and national treasuries.

The StAR Initiative has progressed well into its preliminary phase. Assessment missions have been carried out in two countries. We have received requests from other countries:  I look forward to tomorrow's Ministerial round-table to map out the future course of action.

While the StAR alignment is good, I fear it could be disturbed by hidden gravitational forces. We have detected some black holes that threaten to pull the StAR system out of its orbit.  In a number of countries, (i) at the highest level there is political will and commitment to recover stolen assets. Also, (ii) at the operational level, I have noted a desire to do the right things, even if capacity and some institutions are lacking. But these good intentions at the top and at the bottom of national administrations are threatened by un-fathomable adverse energy:  (iii) middle-level bureaucrats with connections, knowledge and entrenched interests. In all areas of governance (central and local authorities, the judiciary, economic administration, the service providers), these shady intermediaries have a lot to lose by StAR and (people tell us) are trying to block its implementation. I urge you all to neutralize these black holes in your administrations, so that asset recovery can take place, inspired by politicians and put in place by technicians.   

Step three: reviewing implementation  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

let me turn now to the third step, your main task for this week -- to create a review mechanism as mandated by the Convention. Thanks to the 16 States participating in the pilot project, we have made good progress and learned useful lessons.

The pilot program has made it possible to assess the costs and benefits of what is needed and possible for monitoring implementation of the Convention.  The 16 volunteers have opted for a non-intrusive system, strengthened by the commitment to improve it as needed. This, I hope, will be fortified by expanding the number of participating countries, by deepening and widening its coverage, and by setting a deadline for its general roll-out.

Participating states have opted for a mechanism that is:

  • Constructive, rather than critical
  • Need-driven, rather than imposed
  • Owned by the contracting Parties, and not conceived by bureaucrats
  • Accountable to peers, with third party validation,  
  • Based on measurable benchmarks, and therefore concrete.

With such DNA lined up, the UNCAC monitoring mechanism could become the envy of our environmental friends who are ahead in terms of measuring the earth's warming, but face even tougher target-setting negotiations in the years ahead.

In our process, success will also depend on whether we can set a centre of gravity for the entire exercise. We do not have an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. My Office, of course, through this Conference's Secretariat has been a source of energy, with a strong mandate and an objective perspective to promote the multilateral review by administering the process.  But this needs to be more structured, with clearer definition of its role. I therefore urge you all to strengthen this executive arm that has served you all - allow me to say - so well in the run-up to this Conference.  To my colleagues I address an exhortation: keep working well, and you too will receive a noble (if not a Nobel) recognition.   

By the end of this week, I hope you will have agreed on the review mechanism.  If you decide to postpone the decision and just wish to increase the number of volunteers for another round of tests, I will feel disappointed. I will then, at a minimum, ask you to agree to commit yourselves to settle this matter at the next Conference. This also seems to be the recommendation of the Friends of the Convention. I appreciate the offer made by Qatar to host the third session in late 2009: activating the review mechanism with tasks, targets and deadlines should be the centrepiece of the roadmap to Doha.

Honest governance is good business

The climate change fostered by the UNCAC Convention cannot take place without concurrence by the private sector. Actually, it is exactly at the intersection between the public and the private sectors that I see integrity most needed - and threatened.

All too often corporations have bribed their way into public contracts. Many of them, and some of their CEOs, have paid a heavy price. But retribution and law enforcement, while needed, are not sufficient. Integrity in business must be the result of recognizable private-sector self-interest, a way of reducing the cost of business and improving a company's reputation.  This can only happen if the playing-field is levelled, for example by universal respect of Article 12 of the Convention.

The challenge is to get companies to join forces with the public sector, by promoting:

  • Greater cooperation with law enforcement;
  • More rigorously respect for the Know Your Customer rules.
  • Codes of conduct to prevent conflicts of interest, and safeguard good commercial practices.
  • Extension of Publish What You Pay to other sectors, together with the Kimberly Process.
  • Respect of conflicts of interest rules, to thwart (former) public officials from soliciting business from the government.
  • Independent audit of off-the-book accounts, double book-keeping, fake expenditure and the destruction of financial records.
  • Finally, no State should promote bribes by making them tax deductable.  

In order for business to join forces, I invite it to agree to a Corporate Integrity Charter that spells out how to align operating rules to the universal principles of the UN anti-corruption Convention.

A mechanism to review compliance with the Charter - the private sector equivalent of this Conference of State Parties -- could be considered.  A company's compliance with the Charter could be recognized with a UNCAC seal -- call it the Integrity Blue Emblem.

A Shared, Society-Wide Responsibility

Ladies and Gentlemen, corruption hurts us all. Fighting it is a shared responsibility.

Therefore, in addition to the formal consultations this week we have organized events to engage a cross-section of society. Let the message of this Bali Conference be clear:  we all have the duty and the power to say "no" to corruption.

That includes UN bureaucrats. Our Secretary General has called on multilateral institutions to lead by example. UNODC has urged that the integrity rules of international organizations be aligned to the principles of the Convention. I am glad that the proposal that my Office made to the UN System's Chief Executives Board for system-wide Institutional Integrity is gaining momentum. I urge you all to give full support, as progress is likely to be made at the special session of UN sister organizations later this week.

I urge the representatives of civil society at this Conference to think about how they can support climate change towards integrity in governance. I ask civil society to be the system's guide dogs, not just watchdogs.

On their part, Parliamentarians, while exercising oversight, must ensure implementation of the Convention and the needed political agenda. 

Media as well as writers, artists and the film industry can expose corruption and raise public awareness about its causes and its threat. They can - and should - make heroes of corruption busters (I have in mind people like Nigeria's Nuhu Ribadu) - corruption busters who are risking their lives daily. I look forward to this afternoon's special event called Artists for Integrity during which journalists, writers, and actors will highlight what they have done/can do to fight corruption. When it comes to affecting public opinion, popular culture is more effective than many inter-governmental resolutions and UN Secretariat reports.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I urge you to seize this opportunity to live up to the expectations of billions of people around the world, sick of the misuse of their resources.  This sort of climate change is needed and possible: let us work together to make it a reality.