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New UNODC publication examines impact of corruption on the environment

Jakarta (Indonesia), 9 April 2012
- Indonesia remains heavily affected by criminal deforestation. It is estimated that the country loses 1.6-2.8 million hectares annually (equivalent to 4-7 football pitches per minute) to illegal logging which, itself, relies on corruption, the cooperation of officials and the involvement of transnational organized criminal syndicates.

UNODC's response to this problem involves a number of approaches: working with government partners and law enforcement - conducting studies - facilitating discourse between parties - and raising local and international awareness. All of these interventions are intended to draw attention the powerful links between official corruption and the destruction of the environment.

In line with this approach, UNODC recently published 'Corruption, Environment and the United Nations Convention against Corruption'. Available in Bahasa Indonesia and English, the report compiles the views of six experts from across the globe as presented at a UNODC-organized side-event, "Impact of Corruption on the Environment and UNCAC as a Tool to Address It", at the 4th Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in Marrakesh, Morocco, in October 2011. Co-hosted by UNODC Indonesia and the Corruption and Economic Crime Branch, UNODC HQ in Vienna, the side-event received generous support from the Governments of Norway and Indonesia.

"This publication highlights the impact of corruption on the environment," says Mr. Ajit Joy, UNODC Indonesia Country Manager. "The writers, all specialists in their field, illustrate - often quite graphically - how corruption is a serious threat to the environment. They also critically look at responses to environmental corruption and suggest ways that UNCAC can be used to counter this."

In his section, Mr. John Sandage, Director of the Treaty Division Affairs at UNODC HQ argues: "Countering corruption to protect our environment and to ensure sustainable development is not an option, it is a necessity".

In the report, the experts point out how corruption facilitates environmental crimes including illegal trafficking in endangered wildlife species, water supply, oil exploitation, forestry, fisheries and hazardous waste management.

Common practices include the misappropriation of funds during the implementation of programmes related to environment, and bribery in the issuance of permits and licenses for resource exploitation. Weak governance, they argue, is a major facilitator of environmental crimes - and can have massive impact on government revenues. But it is not the only factor.

In her section, Ms. Tina Søreide, Senior Researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, outlines corruption and illicit capital flows in the oil sector and argues that the huge revenue losses for the governments involved are only partly due to specific weaknesses in local oil sector governance.

"Petroleum-related corruption is an international problem, with players and money crossing borders," Ms. Søreide says. "Petroleum revenues are stolen and used to buy power and weaken democratic mechanisms.

"The challenge of petroleum-related corruption is too big for a developing country with weak government structures to solve on its own. Political responsibility rests very much in capitals such as London and Washington, D.C., and countries like Switzerland and Luxembourg, where money can be hidden or where the governments condone illicit capital flows," she concludes.

In their chapters, the two Indonesian representatives speak sharply about the specific challenges faced there from corruption in forestry.

"Illegal logging takes place due to grey areas in regulations covering licenses and permits," said Mr. Trio Santoso, of the Directorate of Investigation and Forest Protection, Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. "But the perpetrators of illegal logging are mostly trans-nationally organized financiers (backers).

"Illegal timber is trafficked into Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China and Europe. Timber from Borneo is harvested illegally, sold to China seemingly as legal timber, then legally marketed to Europe or America,' says Mr. Santoso.

"Indonesia on its own cannot combat illegal logging since it is a transnational organized crime. This makes Indonesia dependent on international cooperation, especially in combating the international illegal timber trade and in enhancing law enforcement in the forestry sector."

His compatriot, Mr. Donal Fariz, researcher for Indonesia Corruption Watch, concurs noting: "Indonesia's forests, the lungs of the world, are the world's most rapidly disappearing forests. Forest crimes involve criminal syndicates based in many countries.

"Besides ecological risks, forest crimes lead to huge loss of state revenue. One of our studies estimated that close to US$1 billion in state loss occurred in Kalimantan alone in the last year," says Mr. Fariz. "Criminals in forest crimes should be judged under anti-corruption laws," Mr. Fariz argues.

To more effectively combat corruption, the experts advocate an integrated approach that enhances cooperation between NGOs and the private and public sectors. They agree that UNCAC - with its comprehensive focus on corruption prevention, effective law enforcement, international cooperation and asset recovery - could easily supplement treaties such as the Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste, the Bamako Convention or CITES.

The experts conclude by noting the need for states to integrate anti-corruption strategies such as transparency and accountability in environment legislation and policies.

In her chapter, Ms. Thi Thuy Van Dinh, Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer at UNODC HQ in Vienna, details the various UNCAC provisions which need to be part of environmental legislation and policy, and notes that: "Several provisions of UNCAC would neatly fit into any environmental regulation. This would clearly help to prevent and prosecute the corruption that affects environment."