Prime Minister Rama,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to join you for the opening of this conference, which tackles a very urgent issue for the global COVID-19 response and recovery.
I thank the Albanian OSCE Chairmanship for holding this timely and important meeting, amid challenging and unusual times. And I commend the Chair and the OSCE Secretariat for drawing together such distinguished speakers and an interesting agenda.
Let me share with you some alarming data.
The cost of corruption has been estimated at some 2.6 trillion dollars, or 5 per cent of global GDP.
A considerable percentage of development assistance is lost to corruption annualy.
Now with COVID-19, corruption both large and small is posing new and greater risks to health, finances and the integrity of institutions, and threatening our ability to recover from the pandemic.
All over the world, the virus has overwhelmed health and social systems, unleashed economic turmoil and driven more people into poverty.
According to ILO, in the second quarter of 2020, global working hours declined by 14 per cent, the equivalent to 400 million full-time jobs.
Governments are taking rapid action. Emergency spending, reconstruction and rescue packages, economic aid and other crisis response measures have been deployed to shore up the damage and help people cope in turbulent times.
The IMF estimated that, as of mid-April, approximately eight trillion dollars have been allocated for fiscal support globally, amounting to 9.5 per cent of the world’s GDP.
The need to accelerate expenditures can create opportunities for corruption. Some countries may have to relax procurement rules to allow for speedier disbursements.
Other countries have kept funds as trusts or similar arrangements. Since the money does not constitute government revenues, it may bypass parliamentary budget oversight and government financial management controls and processes.
Public health sector procurement is especially vulnerable to criminals seeking to exploit need and suffering during COVID.
Investigations have already been launched in countries from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Bolivia into alleged corruption involving the purchase of ventilators for hospital intensive care units.
Measures to stimulate economic recovery and a return to business activity, as well as international assistance to developing countries, will be increasing in the next months.
We know that corrupt and fraudulent behaviour undermine aid effectiveness, and now such crimes threaten to prolong or intensify the COVID-19 crisis.
This is in addition to petty corruption, which may be committed by people who have lost other incomes during COVID-19. UNODC surveys found that in one African country, more than 30% of citizens who accessed public services in 2019 paid a bribe.
Corruption risks are higher in less developed countries with low incomes, in fragile and in conflict-affected states, which often have cash-based economies with low financial inclusion which makes them more vulnerable to fraud and money laundering.
Corruption is a transnational threat. Greater global vigilance and enhanced international cooperation to tackle corruption and money laundering, as well as to prevent aid misappropriation, are urgently needed.
Drawing on our role as guardian of the UN Convention against Corruption and the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, UNODC is providing integrated support to address corruption and crime risks in the COVID context.
Through our partnership with both the World Bank and the IMF, we are working to ensure that relevant provisions of the Convention against Corruption, for example addressing appropriate systems of procurement, transparent and accountable management of public finances, and public reporting, are fully integrated into the design of support packages.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we have fast-tracked assistance to Member States requesting advice on increasing financial and fiscal integrity frameworks, including measures that make use of IT.
For example, we are implementing a project supported by the UK Prosperity Fund and piloted in Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, that is helping to digitize procurement processes to reduce corruption risks.
Our Office has directly supported authorities in Indonesia and the Philippines to develop tools to identify fraud and corruption in rapid response disbursements, and conduct oversight.
UNODC is prioritizing support for legislative reforms that have been accelerated due to COVID-19.
We have produced guidance on preventing corruption in the allocation and distribution of emergency economic response packages to address COVID-19 and its aftermath.
In addition, UNODC continues to develop targeted guidance on safeguards in public procurement and the health sector to prevent corruption in the acquisition and distribution of medical equipment, supplies and pharmaceutical products.
Moreover, we have produced two new research briefs on organized crime and falsified medicines in the context of COVID-19.
All of these resources are being shared with Member States and through our field office network, and they can be found on the UNODC website.
This conference highlights the importance of anti-corruption action in the digital era.
Technologies present new risks of crime and corruption, as we have seen in the COVID-19 crisis with the rise in ransomware, fraud and other forms of cybercrime.
New technologies also provide opportunities for innovative responses and to include more stakeholders in solutions, and allow for financial inclusion.
UNODC is actively engaged in the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on financing for development, including to address illicit financial flows in the context of new technologies.
Young people and citizen groups have shown the way in harnessing tech to prevent corruption and improve monitoring of public procurement processes in their communities.
For example, last year UNODC partnered with Facebook to hold a Hackathon for Justice in Nigeria, which led to the development of apps to report corruption cases to the police.
We are working with the Ministry of Education and National Transparency Authority of Greece to organize a national competition for students to develop innovative ways to promote public integrity.
And we are gathering good practices by Member States using technology to prevent corruption in the COVID-19 crisis. These include Croatia’s use of digital platforms to increase transparency in the issuance of e-passes for internal movement.
UNODC is furthermore co-chairing the UN systemwide Task Force on Corruption, is addressing corruption prevention in the COVID-19 response and recovery, and coordinating UN system support and preparations for the 2021 UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption.
The UNGASS, the first to focus on anti-corruption, comes at an opportune moment to take stock of what we have achieved and what challenges lie ahead, to strategically advance the future fight against corruption.
Looking forward, I see opportunities to further develop and strengthen cooperation with Member States and key international and regional organizations like the OSCE, as well as with civil society and the private sector, to advance transparency, accountability and integrity.
The UN Convention against Corruption and its Implementation Review Mechanism provide a solid framework for our partnership.
In addition to UNODC’s longstanding support to OSCE participating States in strengthening legal and institutional frameworks, as of this month our Office has a dedicated anti-corruption adviser for South East Europe, based in Belgrade.
And we will soon be placing a second on-the-ground anti-corruption adviser in Central Asia.
I welcome initiatives to further enhance our work together, including to address gaps in corruption responses identified in the implementation review process.
I also welcome closer cooperation to strengthen integrated, cross-border responses to tackle the nexus of corruption and organized crime, in particular by disrupting money laundering.
Return of corruption proceeds is another area where we need truly multilateral, multi-sectoral solutions, involving international and regional partners, financial capitals, developed and developing countries working together.
Corruption triggers and prolongs instability, enables crime and impedes growth.
The world could not afford to ignore corruption before COVID-19.
Failure to act now will be detrimental to our collective recovery and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Technical assistance is needed to ensure that all countries have the necessary legislation and processes in place, and that law enforcement bodies are equipped with the capacities and resources to tackle crimes.
Preventing corruption, bribery and money laundering as well as returning stolen assets are targets under SDG 16 on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
Anti-corruption action can also serve to unlock progress on the whole of the sustainable development agenda – to eradicate poverty, protect the environment and human rights, empower women and girls, and reduce inequalities.
A more inclusive world is a more resilient world, and in fact, a less corrupt world. Studies by MSCI, Virginia Tech and the China Europe International Business School have found that having women on company boards and in parliaments lowers the likelihood of fraud and bribes. This is because diversity breaks down networks that can facilitate and hide corrupt practices.
Educating and mobilizing youth to play a more active role is also essential to foster a lasting culture of lawfulness and end corrupt practices.
Thank you once again for inviting me, and I wish you productive discussions.