Interview with Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International
9 April 2008 - Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International (TI), the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption, recently stressed the importance of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). "It is the only global convention we have and it is so important to apply it well and effectively." Her call to Member States is plain: take the next step towards establishing a robust monitoring system of the Convention. Only then can countries be held to account.
The rapid rate of ratifications, 107 since the Convention came into force in December 2005, is an achievement. Labelle, however, does not want to see it lapse into insignificance. Countries must explain what they have done to fight corruption and implement the Convention. They should find out what further tools and skills they need to build in integrity, and should develop a mechanism to measure their progress in addressing corruption. Efforts by countries at self-assessment have so far been halfhearted, according to TI.
Time is not on the side of billions of people all over the world for whom the effects of corruption are literally life and death matters. Corruption robs them of education, healthcare and basic services, undermines the quality of life and stunts economic growth. "Without the development of a concrete plan to assess country progress in implementing the treaty, the Convention will be nothing more than a dead letter, robbing the most vulnerable of their best chance at a better life," she cautioned.
Earlier this year in Bali, Indonesia, some 140 Member States met to chart the future of the Convention. Out in force, TI was represented by its top leadership as well as over 30 of the organization's national chapters and a broad coalition of civil society partners. They lobbied governments to take concrete steps, not just on a review mechanism, but on the return of assets stolen by corrupt leaders and stashed abroad, and stronger measures to prevent corruption. They also focused on technical assistance for lower-income countries to implement the Convention, protection for whistleblowers and mutual legal assistance between countries in investigating and prosecuting corruption.
The results fell far short of the progress civil society groups had hoped for. "Although we were disappointed with the lack of concrete resolutions in Bali, we see opportunity on the horizon," says Labelle. "Leading up to the next Conference in 2009, there will be opportunities for countries to move forward on a comprehensive peer-review mechanism."
Nor will Transparency International be resting, she added. "We want to help maintain the Convention's momentum and are busy preparing monitoring proposals for State Parties to consider. The Convention is the best hope for the global fight against corruption and for better lives; we will make sure it stays top on national and international agendas."
Ultimately, TI believes that the success of all aspects of the Convention hinges on the strength of a monitoring programme. "Reviews must be transparent, available immediately to citizens, and inclusive of input from civil society, private sector and unions to bring balance and legitimacy to the process. Governments should welcome that," says Labelle. Also, the number of test pilot projects should be extended to more countries, especially in asset recovery and prevention of corruption.
Still, she concludes on an optimistic note. "I see quite a lot of political will on the part of many countries. Difficulties arise for countries that have never been through this process - there has been no convention for Asia, for example." Countries are not always ready. "Governments that have been closed and secretive may feel threatened by external review. They must see that this is to their advantage. If they are perceived as corrupt they will not have foreign investment but social instability; but some countries have to discover that."