Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director 

Monthly Meeting and Virtual Event of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt

   28 March 2021


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you today to address the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and its members, in my capacity as Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Director-General of the UN Office at Vienna.

The AmCham has always played a valuable role as a platform for dialogue with the private sector in Egypt, supporting robust, fair, and inclusive business and commerce.

Some of you may not be familiar with the work we do at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

UNODC provides technical assistance and capacity building to Member States, as well as extensive evidence-based research, on corruption, crime, drugs and the prevention of terrorism.

We operate in over 80 countries around the world, through a field network spanning 115 offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Our flagship publications include the World Drug Report, issued annually, and the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, issued every two years.

Our Office also acts as Secretariat to the main UN intergovernmental bodies addressing criminal justice, drug control, organized crime, and corruption.

This includes the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, also known as UNCAC.

The Convention is the most comprehensive and effective universal framework to counter corruption on a global scale, with 187 Parties. 

Today, we have chosen to focus our event on one particular area of UNODC’s mandate: combating and preventing corruption. It is a rising priority on the global agenda, more so than ever in 2021. It has also been a clear priority for Egypt during the past few years.

Corruption results in massive financial costs, deepens inequalities, hampers sustainable development, and undermines the rule of law. It is a cross-cutting challenge that takes root in the public and private sectors, across industries and institutions.

Now is the right time to push for renewed international momentum against corruption, as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed long-standing vulnerabilities and presented new opportunities for the corrupt to exploit.

Our fight against corruption must be strategic, systematic, inclusive, and sustained. Integrity must be the anchor of our efforts.

The private sector and civil society are key partners in this fight. You are all instrumental in promoting integrity, and fostering fair, transparent, and accountable environments for business and governance.

Today, I would like to share with you some insights on where we stand  in our joint fight against corruption, and some of the opportunities that we must seize together, including the 9th Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, which will be hosted by Egypt this year.

Specifically, I would like to address a number of key questions. I will focus on the impact of corruption on our societies, the disproportionate effect on women, the plight of Africa as a region that is heavily impacted, and how UNODC is working with our partners to reverse the spread of corruption and counter its impact.

I will start by addressing the foundational question: How is corruption impacting our societies, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?

By some estimates, corruption is costing the global economy more than 3 trillion US dollars every year. That is a staggering amount of money that could be invested into driving growth and development.

The Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular SDG 16, recognize the need to combat corruption as an essential component of development.

Beyond the economic cost, corruption eats away at essential threads in the fabric of our societies. It steals resources away from the public interest, and towards illegal private gain. This erodes public trust in institutions, undermining the rule of law.

In such an environment, crime and conflict are likely to proliferate, and investments and transactions carry great risk.

Corruption enables organized criminal groups to operate across borders, and to launder proceeds of their crimes. These include different forms of trafficking, such as trafficking in persons, drugs, and firearms, as well crimes that have an impact on the environment, such as wildlife crimes.

Notably, corruption can provide channels for the financing of terrorism, including through the profits of criminal enterprises, as recently highlighted by the UN Security Council.

Corruption also stifles economic opportunity for youth, leaving them with fewer prospects and more susceptible to joining criminal and terrorist groups. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we have seen how corruption can dilute public order and trust, impact public service delivery, enable crime, and deepen inequalities.

To tackle corruption in the context of the pandemic, UNODC has produced a number of policy documents and briefs that have identified specific risks.

For example, emergency funds designed to mitigate the economic fallout of the crisis are susceptible to corruption. Fast-track distribution and the need for rapid impact have raised the likelihood of fraud.

In response, UNODC has published guidance on establishing comprehensive mechanisms for oversight and reporting on emergency funds, to verify that they have reached those intended. It is also important to have clear, objective, and transparent criteria for qualification to benefit from such emergency funds.

The deployment and procurement process for vaccines, which is underway now, also carries significant risks.

During deployment, vaccines may be stolen, and the vaccination process itself may incentivize bribes or nepotism.

During procurement, we may see manipulation of tender processes, or supplier collusion to drive up prices. Soaring demand and limited supply aggravate these problems.

Moreover, there are the threats posed by the production of falsified medicines and vaccines, and the involvement of organized criminal groups in their manufacturing and trafficking.

Clear criteria for vaccine recipients will be key. Good practices include mechanisms that allow scrutiny, such as open contracts and transparent public procurement frameworks. E-procurement and digitization can also help limit corruption exposure.

A sustainable recovery from the pandemic must include robust measures for financial integrity. It must be an inclusive recovery, leaving no one behind.

Whether in the context of the pandemic or otherwise, the heaviest burden of corruption is always borne by the vulnerable, the poor, and the marginalized.

The absence of transparency and accountability restricts access to justice, healthcare, and economic relief, for some more than others. Women, youth, the elderly, poor people and people with disabilities are often the ones most affected.

This leads me to the second main question that I would like to tackle today, addressing a dimension of corruption that should not be neglected: How does corruption cause unique and compounded challenges for women?

This month, we celebrated International Women’s Day. It was a great occasion to acknowledge the progress that we have made in empowering women. But it was also an important opportunity to recognize the inequalities that women still face.

There is a direct correlation between corruption and gender inequality. They are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

UNODC recently launched a report titled ‘The Time is Now – Addressing the Gender Dimensions of Corruption’. The key takeaway from the report is that corruption affects men and women differently, and we need to account for those differences in our responses.

Corruption leads to the exclusion of women from decision-making roles. It helps perpetuate negative social stereotypes, and limits women’s economic prospects and education opportunities.

Women suffer disproportionately from certain forms of corrupt practices. They are more often targeted by those who abuse their authority to extort sexual favours, for example. 

Conversely, women who carry out acts of corruption are likely to face stronger sanctions than men who engage in the exact same practices.

To address these imbalances, we must integrate action against corruption with efforts towards gender equality.

Achieving equality before the law is an important step. Protecting women in contact with the criminal justice system, including those who report corruption, will help to empower women and to counter corruption.  

Procurement laws and policies could also benefit from a gender-sensitive approach. 

For example, they could require companies doing business with the government to pay men and women equally, or they could specify that priority will go to bids from female-owned businesses.

Greater inclusion of women can also act as a powerful catalyst for greater integrity. In male-dominated, highly corrupt environments, increases in women’s participation can break the status quo and disrupt networks of collusion.

Instead of being disproportionate victims of corruption, women should be empowered as agents of change against it.

Just as it deepens social inequalities, corruption can also widen the gulf between countries, and have a particularly profound impact on certain regions of the world.

I would like to turn now to Africa, and address my next main question: What is the cost of corruption and illicit financial flows for Africa?

Corruption constitutes a major impediment to development, security and human rights in the continent. It holds Africa back and hampers efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union Agenda 2063.

I would like to focus in particular on the enormous illicit financial flows that leave Africa every year, which illustrate exactly how systemic corruption is draining Africa of its resources.

Illicit financial flows are enabled by corruption, and in turn enable more illicit activity. They allow for the proceeds of criminal and corrupt enterprises to be moved, enjoyed, and re-invested.

The latest estimates by UNCTAD indicate that 88.6 billion US dollars of illicit capital flight are siphoned out of Africa annually. That is close to 4% of the continent’s total GDP, and almost as much as the total annual inflows of official development assistance and foreign direct investment combined.

It is also nearly half of the amount needed to make up the annual deficit for financing the achievement of the SDGs in Africa.

UNODC works with UNCTAD to define and measure illicit financial flows, in order to support governments in monitoring their progress in achieving the SDGs.

Our joint Task Force identified four main categories of illicit financial flows. They are: tax and commercial flows; proceeds of corruption; funds from illicit markets; and stolen assets and financing of crime and terrorism.

Initial estimates indicate that around 3.2 billion US dollars of illicitly moved funds have been returned globally in the period between 2010 and 2020. This represents progress, but it is also a small fraction of the money that has been laundered and concealed.

It is a number that reveals a persisting gap in international efforts, and possibly an absence of political will. Parallel and collective action is needed, including by countries of transit and financial centres.  

On the one hand, stronger prevention measures must be established, to stop illicit financial flows from escaping across borders in the first place. 

This includes stronger compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism measures by financial institutions. It also includes more due diligence by such service providers as lawyers, accountants, and real estate operators, greater transparency in beneficial ownership, and limits on financial secrecy.

On the other hand, we need more robust, swift, and effective international cooperation to return illicitly moved assets after they have already left countries of origin.

At UNODC, we continue to work with our partners at the World Bank to end safe havens for corrupt funds, through the Stolen Asset Recovery, or StAR, Initiative.

The initiative supports developing countries and financial centres to stop laundering of proceeds of corruption and facilitate the return of stolen assets.

StAR also assists countries in developing capacities, legal frameworks, and institutional expertise to trace and return stolen assets.

It is a strong example of our comprehensive efforts to support Member States, in Africa and beyond, in stemming the flow of illicit financial flows, and countering corruption and its effects.

I would now like to share with you, more broadly, an overview of the role our Office plays in the global fight against corruption, by addressing my final main question: How can we formulate effective and sustainable responses to corruption, and what does the UN Office on Drugs and Crime do to support countries in this regard?

Confronting corruption requires both abundant political will and effective operational capacity.

It needs transparent, inclusive, accountable, and robust institutions, from the judiciary, to the legislature, to law enforcement. We need to effectively detect, investigate, and prosecute corruption, in order to put an end to impunity and allow for integrity to take hold.

Access to justice for all and rule of law build resilience to corruption and the conditions conducive to corrupt practices.

Prevention is a necessary first line of defence, and a cornerstone of the UN Convention against Corruption: an entire chapter of the Convention is dedicated to prevention.

Transparency and integrity must be promoted through awareness-raising, education and the media.

Countries should strive to elaborate national anti-corruption strategies, establish dedicated independent bodies to fight corruption, and put in place systems of asset declaration for public officials.

They should also leverage new technologies to increase transparency and to better prevent and detect corruption and facilitate public reporting.

UNODC provides comprehensive legislative and technical assistance to countries around the world, to enable the creation of laws and policies that bolster integrity, transparency, and accountability, and reinforce measures against money laundering and terrorist-financing networks.

We also build the capacities of law enforcement and criminal justice officials, and support asset recovery frameworks and mechanisms.

In addition, our Office reinforces container control, customs, and border management.

In the period from January 2019 until June 2020, UNODC assisted 87 countries in reviewing legislation and policies, and facilitated the creation and development of anti-corruption institutions in more than 20 countries.

We also trained around 1,200 officials from more than 70 countries to prevent, investigate and prosecute corruption offenses.

In the context of the pandemic, UNODC is providing technical assistance to support recovery with integrity.

This includes a project we launched on “COVID-19 Anti-Corruption Response and Recovery” in October 2020, funded by the US.

The project supports several countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa to improve transparency and oversight in public procurement, and better protect whistleblowers. 

UNODC was also an active supporter of the initiative launched by Canada, Jamaica, and the Secretary-General of the UN on ‘Financing for Development in COVID-19 and beyond’, which explored concrete options for financing solutions to the health and emergency crisis for everyone.

UNODC contributed to three of the six pillars of the initiative: namely financial inclusion, sustainability, and illicit financial flows.

Our Office also places great priority on our work against corruption in Africa, due to the severe damage caused by corruption in the continent, as I have already outlined.

For example, in West Africa and the Sahel we are providing assistance to enhance frameworks for countering money laundering and terrorism financing; in Southern and Eastern Africa we are supporting the training of prosecutors; and in Northern Africa we are helping develop the capacities of national authorities to prevent and trace illicit financial flows generated from human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

We are engaged with regional and sub-regional partners who help us address the needs and priorities of Africa, including the African Union, the African Development Bank, the economic communities, and the African Prosecutors Association.

Last month, UNODC launched an ambitious new ‘Strategic Vision for Africa’, covering the next ten years.

This vision adopts a transformative approach to our work in the continent, placing people at the heart of our responses, and leveraging innovation and stronger partnerships to maximize impact on the ground.

One of the key pillars of the strategy is developing our efforts to eliminate corruption and curb illicit financial flows in Africa.

In Egypt, we continue to cooperate fruitfully with the authorities on anti-corruption.

UNODC works closely with the Egyptian Administrative Control Authority, including on the development and implementation of anti-corruption strategies, as well as training and capacity-building to implement the UN Convention against Corruption.

Alongside our work with governments, our Office is keen to engage with other stakeholders, such as the private sector, which has a vital role to play in supporting integrity.

UNODC works closely with the private sector on identifying and mitigating corruption risks and strengthening prevention.

A great example is our long-standing partnership with the Siemens Integrity Initiative. The initiative has supported UNODC projects in 12 countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, providing more than 9.5 million US dollars in funding over the last 12 years.

UNODC’s Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, based in Cairo, is currently implementing a regional project funded by the Siemens Integrity Initiative, on “Strengthening private sector capacities to prevent corruption and enhance integrity in the Arab Countries”.

It is being implemented in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and the UAE.  We are assisting these countries in improving legislation to combat corruption in the private sector.

In parallel, we are providing guidance to companies and small and medium enterprises to develop anti-corruption compliance programmes and codes of ethics.

In Egypt, 40 participants from the private sector were trained in 2020 and 2021, in collaboration with the Egyptian Anti-Corruption Academy. We have further training activities planned on corruption risk assessment and internal controls.

We have also worked in very successful partnership with today’s organizers, the AmCham, on cultivating integrity in the private sector.

In November 2020, UNODC organized a webinar together with the AmCham in Egypt to raise awareness among the members of the Chamber on corruption in the private sector and its damaging effect on business.

The Chamber has an important role to play as a champion of corporate compliance and collective action programmes in the private sector.

We will continue to cooperate with the Chamber to reach out to the private sector in Egypt, and to promote the use of our upcoming private sector risk assessment toolkit, which is now being finalized.

Bringing all of these efforts together in a cohesive vision is key to ensuring that there are no gaps in our approach.

UNODC has developed a new corporate strategy which aims to enhance accountability, agility, and effectiveness across our Office in all areas of work, over the next five years.

Combating corruption and economic crime is one of the thematic cores of our new strategy, and represents a major priority going forward.

I believe that 2021 is shaping up to be a milestone year for the global anti-corruption agenda.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the important recent developments that we can build upon, as well as the main upcoming events during the year.

In August 2020, UNODC successfully co-led a Global Task Force to establish a UN Common Position to Address Global Corruption.

This position aims to substantially improve the UN-system’s anti-corruption support to Member States.

In October of the same year, the G20 held its first-ever ministerial meeting on anti-corruption. The meeting launched the Riyadh Initiative, which aims to establish a global network of law enforcement practitioners to enable direct, informal cooperation, making it easier to pursue complex, cross-border corruption cases.

I am very proud to share that UNODC is tasked with establishing this global network and will be serving as its Secretariat.

At the beginning of this month, the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice was convened, organized by UNODC in cooperation with the host country Japan.

The political declaration adopted by the Congress, the “Kyoto Declaration”, contains a number of strong commitments on effective action against corruption, and its linkages with other forms of crime.

Looking forward, June of this year will witness the first-ever Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Corruption, a landmark event for international anti-corruption efforts.

The political declaration that will be adopted by the session is now being negotiated by Member States in Vienna.

Some of the topics addressed by the current draft of the declaration include anti-corruption measures in the private sector, effective and inclusive participation of all stakeholders, and the role of anti-corruption in international investments.

Businesses are encouraged to submit contributions to the political declaration, giving them an opportunity to engage in the global policy-making process.

On the margins of the Special Session, a forum for the private sector will be organized by UNODC together with the UN Global Compact, as a side event.

It will give high-level business representatives the opportunity to discuss the implementation of the political declaration with their counterparts in the public sector.

The political declaration will serve as a blueprint for joint commitment and efforts against corruption in the coming years.

These developments reflect a tidal wave of momentum for international anti-corruption action.

We have the opportunity to capitalize on this, and to take it further, at the end of the year in Egypt.

Egypt will be hosting the 9th session of the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption in Sharm El Sheikh in December. As the guardian of the UNCAC and the Secretariat to the Conference, UNODC will be working closely with Egypt to ensure the success of the event.

The previous session of the Conference, held in Abu Dhabi in 2019, was attended by 1,600 delegates from 161 States Parties, as well as 17 intergovernmental organizations, over 60 NGOs, and other entities.

It resulted in the adoption of 14 resolutions, and a vast number of important recommendations, including on integrity programmes in the business community, and greater engagement between the public and private sectors on anti-corruption.

I am very excited for the opportunities presented by the upcoming 9th session, especially in light of the groundwork that is being laid beforehand.

The outcomes of the Sharm El-Sheikh Conference have the potential to lead into a remarkable new phase for international, multi-stakeholder cooperation.

In 2020 I was very pleased to celebrate the International Anti-Corruption Day in Egypt. I am now looking forward to tapping into our shared commitment to integrity once again, to support a successful Conference of the States Parties.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate my thanks to the AmCham in Egypt for giving me the chance to address all of you today.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime will continue to engage with different stakeholders, to build a united front against corruption in both the public and the private sectors.

I hope that what I have shared with you today will inform your efforts to combat corruption and support integrity, and will encourage you to reach out and work together with us. I very much look forward to our discussion.