Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon from Vienna. My thanks to our World Bank colleagues for inviting me to the launch of this important global report.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is proud to be a long-term partner of the World Bank through the Stolen Asset Recovery, or StAR, Initiative, which helps to end safe havens for corrupt funds.
International financial institutions play an absolutely crucial role in supporting countries to prevent corruption.
Building and strengthening broad partnerships with the World Bank, as well as with civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders, has been a top priority for me since I started as UNODC Executive Director in February, and I am glad I could join you today for this timely discussion on enhancing government effectiveness and transparency.
The world stands at an inflection point for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals on time, facing increased burdens with fewer resources as our societies are still reeling from the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
According to the latest Goalkeepers report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, extreme poverty has gone up by 7 percent in just a few months because of the global pandemic, ending 20 years of progress.
This global report thus comes at a critical moment.
I say “critical” for two reasons.
One, with the COVID crisis, the urgency to step up anti-corruption action has never been greater.
Emergency funds are being rapidly disbursed to rescue economies and people in need, and fast track spending is more susceptible to corruption.
We have already seen from all regions of the world reports of corruption and fraud in the health sector and with the procurement of vital medical equipment.
Governments need enhanced guidance and support to address risks.
The economic downturn is also heightening vulnerabilities to criminal exploitation and corruption.
Transnational organized crimes, including human trafficking and migrant smuggling, drug and firearms trafficking, wildlife crime and maritime crime, are enabled by corruption.
Women, minorities and marginalized groups suffer disproportionate and compounded impacts of corruption through exclusion from economic relief and access to justice, as well as from diverted and restricted health care, among other challenges.
The second reason I believe we are at a critical moment is that even before the pandemic, momentum was gathering to improve global anti-corruption responses.
Next year, in June, the UN General Assembly will hold the first-ever special session against corruption.
The ongoing UNGASS preparatory process will benefit from the insights of IFIs, including the knowledge of the Bank, as captured in the report we are launching today.
As part of preparations, governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society are discussing problems and approaches, including to prevent corruption during crises.
Even beyond agreeing on the importance of anti-corruption in the immediate COVID response, all stakeholders involved have clearly recognized that corruption results in an enormous loss of resources, often constituting a substantial share of state budgets, and thus helps to fuel poverty and inequality.
The international community understands that we need to work together better to tackle these challenges, including by preventing corruption risks more effectively, and by fully enforcing our existing frameworks.
Moreover, in the lead up to UNGASS 2021, the Secretary-General has spearheaded efforts to improve UN system-wide coordination to address corruption challenges at the global, regional and national levels.
We have adopted a Common Position on Corruption, which was developed by the Global Task Force on Corruption led by UNODC, along with the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and UNDP, and which aims to improve delivery and impact of anti-corruption support to Member States.
Next month, the G20 under the presidency of Saudi Arabia will be holding the first ministerial level meeting on anti-corruption.
UNODC has been supporting the Saudi G20 Presidency and the anti-corruption working group, including through the development of the Riyadh Initiative for Enhancing International Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Cooperation.
The initiative aims to create a global operational network that will build and enhance direct, informal contacts between law enforcement practitioners, which can make a decisive difference in successfully pursuing complex, cross-border corruption and money-laundering cases.
UNODC is also helping to develop a Compendium of Good Practices on Combating Corruption in the Response to COVID-19, based on a survey of G20 countries.
As we can see, corruption has been gaining prominence on the international agenda.
Combatting corruption is in fact an explicit target under SDG 16.
More importantly, it has been recognized as a keystone action that can help governments get back on track to achieve the whole of the sustainable development agenda.
The COVID-19 crisis has intensified awareness of the acute dangers corruption poses – to state budgets, to infrastructure and services, and to lives, and it has increased understanding that robust anti-corruption and financial integrity efforts can support a more inclusive and sustainable COVID response and recovery.
It is in this context that I very much welcome this assessment from the World Bank.
By sharing examples of anti-corruption policies and tools, and how some countries have made headway in the fight against corruption in areas of public procurement and infrastructure, state-owned enterprises, customs, service delivery and more, the report represents a valuable resource.
It shows that progress, albeit incremental, is possible, even in extremely challenging contexts, if there is political will and commitment. It also demonstrates that the fight against corruption must be strategic, systematic and sustained.
Topics highlighted by the report, including citizen engagement, technology, and the role and effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies, tax and audit administrations, and justice systems, as well as its focus on developing countries, are very pertinent from UNODC’s perspective.
The report’s key messages resonate well with UNODC’s experience as custodian of the UN Convention against Corruption and its implementation review mechanism, and with how our office tailors technical assistance to Member States.
The Convention also promotes a holistic multi-stakeholder approach, with an emphasis on solutions that address the specific needs and situation of a country. UNODC has moreover found that regional approaches to anti-corruption support can bring advantages such as enhanced peer learning.
I was particularly interested in the report’s suggestions for technology-supported reforms in developing countries, and for identifying gaps in the use of new technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence machine-learning, blockchain, cloud-based platforms, biometrics and “fin-tech” to better prevent and detect of corruption.
More integrated use of technologies in the fight against corruption, as well as addressing the threats and exploitable loopholes that come with new technologies, present evolving challenges that will keep us on our toes as governments seek to stay ahead of the criminals.
Finally, as the report emphasizes, achieving long-term economic growth and sustainable development depends on partnerships, shared commitment and trust - between governments, the private sector, civil society, international and regional organizations and communities.
With this in mind, I look forward to exploring how we can work together to seek innovative solutions to prevent and tackle corruption for a fair and inclusive COVID recovery, to build back better and achieve the SDGs. Congratulations once again on the report. Thank you.