Anti-Bribery Treaty Takes Root Amid Doubts
By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service
United Nations, 16 December, (IPS): The much-ballyhooed U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), aimed at rooting out bribery and corruption worldwide, has a long way to go before it can be successfully implemented by the 191 member states.
"The convention's effectiveness as a legal instrument depends on meeting treaty obligations, including enacting necessary domestic laws and regulations and establishing appropriate enforcement mechanisms," Palitha Kohona, chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, told IPS.
The convention, which came into legal force Thursday, has been hailed as the "first global instrument designed to assist member states to fight corruption in both the public and private sectors".
Kohona said that national governments are "legally obliged to give effect to treaty commitments in good faith".
"However, some countries may not do so due to various factors, including paucity of resources," he added.
Since the UNCAC was unveiled in December 2003, 140 countries have signed it. But only 30 have ratified the treaty so far.
"The Convention's promise is tinged with doubt," says Huguette Labelle, chair of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI), the global watchdog body tracking corruption worldwide.
Labelle points out that three out of every four countries that have signed the Convention have yet to ratify it. "That means that 102 countries clearly recognize the Convention's value, yet will not be bound by its terms as it enters into force."
Labelle said the convention, because of its broad reach across continents, has the potential to address an important channel of international corruption: bribe payments by crooked companies, and extortion by corrupt officials.
In its annual rankings over the years, TI has consistently listed Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia as three of the world's most corrupt nations.
All three countries have signed the treaty, but only Nigeria has so far ratified it. Pakistan and Indonesia, along with 100 other countries, are therefore not bound by the terms of the Convention.
In a statement released Thursday, Transparency International pointed out that the Group of Eight (G8) countries committed at their Summit at Gleneagles in July to promptly ratify the Convention, yet only France has done so.
Leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States should follow France's example and complete the ratification process, TI said.
"Ratification isn't about getting credit for signing an agreement. It's about making it come alive. Every country in the world should take the pledge: 'We will not let criminals hide within our borders or pass their stolen money through our banks. We will not let corruption happen here'," the group added.
"This is a matter of urgency. Many countries are in the process of ratifying the Convention. But until all nations are bound by the Convention's terms, like water through the cracks, criminals will find ways to breach the dike," TI's Labelle said in a statement.
At a U.N. panel discussion on the Convention Thursday, Washington's Ambassador John Bolton asserted that, "Governments, institutions and individuals need to do more than just voice a political statement. Resolutions here in New York are only helpful if they are followed by concrete initiatives."
Reiterating a theme he has pursued aggressively since being appointed to the post in August, Bolton argued that "we have also to ensure that our own houses are in order, and that includes the United Nations".
"We must not allow the oil for food scandal to be swept under the carpet," he said, referring to an inquiry into corruption in Iraq's 1995-2005 U.N.-run humanitarian programme.
"It is never positive to shine a light on its own institution and discover corruption. As the United Nations is an instrumental force to fight corruption, it should not be guilty of the charge itself."
But according to U.N. Under-Secretary-General Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the UNCAC represents "a victory for millions of ordinary citizens around the world".
Given the inclusion of a mechanism that allows countries to recover billions in stolen assets, the UNCAC is considered "a landmark achievement", he said.
"People forced to pay bribes for basic services, or victimized by extortion, or forced to live in poverty because corrupt leaders are plundering the country's natural resources have a chance to live better lives," he added.
The principles articulated in the Convention require member states to construct compatible and concrete legislation to counter corruption, according to the United Nations.
Asked how effective (or ineffective) the convention would be if national governments fail to adopt local legislation to conform to the U.N. treaty, Gillian Dell of Transparency International told IPS: "Important as they are, the adoption of anti-corruption conventions is only a first step and only significant if there is follow-up."
The key is sustained national implementation by all participating countries, via implementing legislation and changes in policies and practices, she said.
This calls for action by governments, civil society organisations, the private sector, international institutions and others to maintain the political will and momentum reflected in anti-corruption conventions.
She said that the more committed governments will need to encourage and support those of their peers who are proceeding slowly, reluctantly or with inadequate resources.
"Citizens and civil society organisations will need to be active in pressing their governments to make the conventions a priority, by reminding them of convention requirements and holding them accountable to convention standards," Dell said.
International institutions can help keep anti-corruption conventions high on the international agenda and provide fora for discussing progress.
"Experience teaches that in order to ensure that the commitments made are translated into action, a convention needs an intergovernmental monitoring process," Dell said.
UNCAC Chapter VII provides for review of implementation by the Conference of States Parties.
The first Conference of State Parties to the Convention is to be convened within a year after entry into force of the Convention and regularly thereafter and will need to act to ensure that there is a serious review process, with any associated structures that are needed.
Asked if corruption can be eliminated by legislation and treaties, TI's Dell said: "The adoption of conventions by assemblies of governments, such as the U.N. General Assembly or regional assemblies, establishes international consensus on the matters covered."
This consensus, she said, is further strengthened when they are signed by a significant number of the governments in those assemblies. They become binding when a predetermined number of countries ratify them.
"Anti-corruption conventions and instruments are especially important in providing a framework for addressing cross-border issues. They also serve to establish valuable common standards for domestic institutions, policies, processes and practices, which are of assistance for anti-corruption efforts at national level," Dell said.
The standards and requirements for governments established by international agreements cannot easily be dismissed given their international backing, he added.
- Inter Press Service News Agency -