The UN anti-Corruption Convention:

An Instrument that Unites Us in the Fight Against Corruption

Global Forum V

Johannesburg, 3 April 2007

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Attitudes on corruption are changing. As recently as ten years ago, corruption was only whispered about. Few corruption cases were brought to trial. For multi-national companies, bribery was part of the cost of doing business - even tax-deductible. Some countries were ruled by strong men who looted the entire state treasury.

But there are signs of growing intolerance of corruption.

Politicians and chief executives are being tried and convicted. A new case hits the headlines almost every month, and these are big names - Volkswagen, Siemens, BAE, Parmalat, Enron. The bigger the deal, the bigger the bribe and the bigger the excuse to cover it up.

Corrupt governments are being voted out of office. If they refuse to go, they are being thrown out. Public tolerance of corruption is wearing thin.

The UN Convention against Corruption - which entered into force in December 2005 - is both a cause and an effect of this revolution. As the world's one and only global anti-corruption instrument it is a powerful tool for citizens who expect clean government, shareholders who demand transparency, and development partners who don't want their money wasted. 

As you know, the Convention has real teeth.

-         Like far-reaching measures on returning stolen assets to their country of origin - so citizens can get their money back.

-         It obliges States to set up independent anti-corruption bodies with well-funded and professional staff, not just token bodies.

-         It ensures that bank secrecy laws will no longer impede the course of justice - this still comes as a shock to some discreet banks and their crooked clients.

-         It includes measures for preventing and controlling corruption, like criminalizing bribery, embezzlement, and money-laundering.

-         It requires enforcing transparent rules on public procurement, the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns. No more vote buying. 

-         And it means that public officials - all the way to the top - must disclose their annual earnings and financial assets. That should help explain how civil servants earning $300 a month can afford to live in luxury.  

Does that make some people in the public and private sector uncomfortable? Well it should.

Adherence to the Convention is becoming a leading indicator of a government's willingness to address corruption seriously.

Africa is doing better than most continents: 29 African countries out of 53 have ratified the Convention - that's better than 50%. But that means that 24 of you have not. If you need assistance, either in ratifying or implementing the Convention, my Office is willing and able to help.

UNODC is not only custodian of the Convention, we are a provider of technical assistance. This is essential because many of the measures made possible by the Convention - like asset recovery, overcoming bank secrecy, and exposing illicit enrichment - are new to all States and require new skills and knowledge. If we do this well, leaders who turn into kleptocrats will find no safe haven for themselves or their money.

Nigeria has effectively recovered large amounts of stolen assets with the help of UNODC. We continue to work with the Nigerian Government to refine and strengthen their fledgling prevention and recovery systems. We proudly partner with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission - in a $30 million project - to ensure that the devastating effects of corruption will stop plaguing Nigeria. This involves:

-         strengthening the capacity of the Financial Intelligence Unit;

-         strengthening judicial integrity; and

-         improving anti-money laundering capacity.

Such concrete initiatives can help Nigeria to enhance good governance and financial accountability, and reduce fraud and corruption.

Or take the example of South Africa which has shown its commitment to implementing joint projects with UNODC on judicial integrity. Or the Ministry of Justice in Kenya that last month co-sponsored a specialized training seminar on anti-corruption investigation and prosecution. 

This is what the public - your tax payers and electorate - expect. Not just talk, but action.

That also applies to meetings like this. This Forum has no doubt cost our gracious hosts a lot of money. If we just talk with no outcome and no follow up, we are guilty of the misuse of public funds. Let's not allow inter-governmental meetings on corruption to become missed opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some may say that governments - particularly with blemished records - have only signed up to  the Convention cynically, to appear tough on corruption knowing that there will be no consequences. Well, if that is the case, those governments are in for a surprise.

It was evident from the first meeting of State Parties to the Convention, that took place in Jordan last December, that civil society, businesses, members of Parliament and anti-corruption agencies take the Convention seriously and intend to hold governments accountable. The genie is out of the bottle. 

Independent anti-corruption bodies are becoming more assertive, although there are still too many toothless, token bodies. This needs to change. Let's leave this meeting with a commitment to review, with UNODC if you like, the effectiveness of your anti-corruption agencies.

Companies - particularly in the extraction industries like oil and mining - are  becoming increasingly vocal in complaining about the real costs which corruption imposes on them and their customers. As a result, there is growing use of the practice of Publish What You Pay. This needs more universal application.

Parliaments are becoming more scrupulous in their oversight function. The media - sensing the public mood - is becoming more investigative. NGOs are blowing the whistle.

But there is an even more compelling reason to stop corruption - self interest. I don't think anyone here needs to be convinced about the harmful impact of corruption. It stunts development. It discourages investment. It undermines democracy, breaks public trust, and enables organized crime. In short, it hurts everyone. This continent has suffered more than most.

Rooting out corruption can help break the cycle of poverty, disease, crime, and conflict.

This is not a North-South or an East-West issue: there are no teachers and pupils. It is a global issue and a shared responsibility.

Investors should stop exploiting Africa's rich resources, polluting its environment, undermining the rule of law, and fuelling conflict through corrupt practices.

Donor countries should practise what they preach - cracking down on corruption at home instead of simply telling others what to do.

What about the UN, you may ask? I agree - it too must practice what it preaches. Indeed, it should hold itself up to the same standards that it expects from Member States. To that end, I am urging all members of the UN family to adopt the UN Convention against Corruption as their standard of integrity.

All countries should strengthen their immune systems against the threat posed by corruption by implementing the measures included in the UN Convention against Corruption. It is the most comprehensive, universal and even-handed way of tackling this global challenge.

Without it, governments would have to develop ad hoc strategies that would be judged by a slide-rule based on perception. And donors would each apply their own standards which could make them subject to criticism of moving the goalposts, having hidden agendas, or being overly subjective.

The UN anti-corruption Convention puts all parties under the same lens and sets clear rules which should be applied equally to all. In addressing a politically loaded topic, it is an opportunity to unite States rather than divide them. It is a point of convergence.

It also takes a constructive approach, encouraging states to lend a hand rather than pointing fingers.

Therefore, I urge you to harmonize your national and regional anti-corruption strategies - like in the African Union or NEPAD - with the UN Convention against Corruption.

I urge you to take advantage of existing technical assistance, as Nigeria and Kenya have done by inviting asset recovery and money laundering assessments. 

I urge you to improve the effectiveness of this instrument through the Conference of the States Parties: for example, by developing a monitoring mechanism that scientifically measures progress within countries rather than a perception-based index that ranks them. I congratulate Lesotho and Tanzania for expressing interest in participating in a pilot project. 

In your negotiations with donors, I urge you to remind them to stick to the common blueprint of the UN Convention when introducing measures to strengthen integrity so that we all follow a common logic, within a common framework, based on commonly agreed standards. In this way, donors can see the Convention as an insurance policy, while recipients can use it to leverage resources and establish partnerships that can stimulate development. This is certainly a point that we are stressing in our growing partnership with the World Bank and major development banks.

In conclusion, while corruption hurts us all, the UN Convention against Corruption can help us all.

Let us work together to make sure that it reaches its full potential so that we have a better chance of stopping corruption and building integrity.

Thank you for your attention.