20 August 2021 –
Through our Africa anti-corruption platform, closer engagement and calls with the members of our community in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the recent publication of several civil society parallel reports on national UNCAC implementation, we have learned about numerous developments and good practices in the region. Both in the UNCAC review process and beyond, this has been reflected through the enactment of new policies and practices, and commitments to international initiatives which favor transparency in numerous African countries. The below outlines findings and highlights from the continent in several spheres:
Transparency in the UNCAC review process
The review mechanism of the UN Convention against Corruption allows countries to keep key documents, namely the self-assessment checklist and the full country report, secret; only a brief executive summary of the findings has to be published. However, several countries from the region have chosen to be more transparent:
- Nigeria has published all three key documents from both its first and second UNCAC review cycle, namely, the self-assessment checklist, the executive summary, and the full country report.
- Mauritius, which is the sole country in the region that has signed the UNCAC Coalition’s Transparency Pledge, has also published both the self-assessment checklist and the full country report, for the second cycle of the UNCAC review (covering corruption prevention and asset recovery). In addition, it has published a comprehensive follow-up report with information on measures taken after completion of the second cycle review, in light of recommendations provided to the country.
- In the second review cycle, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Eswatini, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique and Tanzania have voluntarily published their full country reports.
Civil society inclusion in the UNCAC review process
In many countries, civil society organizations have contributed their expertise during the different stages of the UNCAC review, including by providing input in the preparation of the self-assessment checklist. In Ghana, CSOs participated in consultative meetings to mainstream the UNCAC review process into the national anti-corruption plan. In Kenya, representatives of academia, civil society, and the private sector were included in the committees set up to coordinate and oversee the national review process. In Zimbabwe, civil society was invited to provide input to the official reviewers in the second review cycle. In Benin, civil society was actively involved in the development of the government-approved National Integrity System Assessment and the Integrity Promotion and Anti-Corruption Action Plans, which constitute the current national strategic framework for the fight against corruption.
In addition, several multi-stakeholder training workshops on UNCAC implementation, organized by UNODC and the UNCAC Coalition, brought together national governmental focal points and civil society representatives, who later provided meaningful input to the review process in a number of countries, including in Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan and Ghana.
Civil Society Parallel Reports
The UNCAC Coalition supports CSOs in producing a civil society parallel report, covering articles of the second cycle UNCAC review, which deals with Chapters II (Preventive measures) and V (Asset recovery), as a contribution to the implementation review process. In recently published reports (2021) from the Africa region, several good practices were shared:
- In a report on UNCAC implementation in Zimbabwe, produced by the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa, the establishment of specialized anti-corruption courts in Bulawayo and Harare was recognized as a good practice. Giving judges the opportunity to specialize on anti-corruption, it improves the judge-to-case ratio, thereby potentially promoting case resolution efficiency. Since their establishment in 2018, the courts have prosecuted five former Ministers, with two having been successfully convicted and currently serving their prison terms.
- The report on UNCAC implementation in Benin, produced by Social Watch Benin, highlights that Benin’s Law on Criminal Procedure allows for the defense of the collective interests of certain categories of victims and grants legal standing to civil society organizations to bring cases in the public interest. Under this same article, it is also possible to bring a civil action for compensation for damage caused by a crime, offence or contravention in relation to acts that directly or indirectly harm such collective interests. Since 2018, around ten corruption cases have been brought before the courts through the filing of civil action complaints by Social Watch Benin and the Association for the Fight against Racism, Ethnocentrism and Regionalism (ALCRER).
- A report on UNCAC implementation in Madagascar, produced by Transparency International Initiative Madagascar, makes mention of a bill on the protection of human rights defenders drafted by the Ministry of Justice of Madagascar which was reviewed in consultation with civil society. Civil society and the High Council for the Defense of Democracy and the Rule of Law (HCDDED) organized workshops aimed at revising and adopting the Ministry’s draft law in accordance with international standards. This approach allowed for several amendments to be made to the initial draft, including the addition of a definition of whistleblower in the Malagasy legal corpus; the right of access to information; specific protection for defenders working in environmental protection and protection for defenders against online defamation or harassment.
Good practices on key anti-corruption policies
In Nigeria, civil society is closely involved in monitoring the return of stolen assets from Switzerland (and several other countries) in the return of the so-called ‘Abacha loot’. A part of the returned assets are being distributed among highly vulnerable constituencies and impoverished populations; others are used to pay for new infrastructure projects. The Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice (ANEEJ) has called for strong civil society involvement and monitoring of the use of returned funds, such as in the case of the return of $73 million of the Malabu Funds to Nigeria by the UK in 2018.
Beneficial Ownership Registries
Open Ownership tracks countries across the world which have made some form of commitment to beneficial ownership transparency (i.e., the public disclosure of the individuals who ultimately own and control a company or another legal entity), whether fully or partially, covering the whole economy in a centralized and/or public format. Over 30 African countries are among the committed, with Egypt, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa fully committed to beneficial ownership transparency. However, the implementation of these commitments is still a work in progress in many of these countries.
National Budget Transparency
The Open Budget Index assesses the public’s access to information on how the central government raises and spends public resources, pointing to weak transparency and oversight of government spending. In its international ranking of countries, based on a transparency score out of 100 as the maximum positive score, South Africa shares first place globally (with New Zealand), scoring 87 points. Other African nations among the top 50 in the Index are Uganda, Namibia, Ghana and Kenya. However, the Index also highlights that most countries in the region need to do more to ensure adequate transparency of their national budgets.
Open Contracting Partnership provides a global overview of commitments to publishing open contracting data about all stages of the contracting cycle, from planning through to delivery, in a way that is meaningful, timely and accessible to the public. Opening up contracts to such scrutiny, and involving the public in line with the open contracting principles, can save countries money, reduce corruption, make contracting fairer for businesses and empower citizens to more easily track contracts that affect them. 16 African states are actively working on bettering procurement transparency, including Nigeria and Kenya.
Access to Information
The Global Right to Information (RTI) Rating ranks countries based on the strength of their national legal frameworks for the right to access information held by public authorities. While the majority of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa has yet to adopt access to information legislation and grant citizens the right to information, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tunisia, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia rank among the top 25 countries on the list, scoring highly in categories such as the scope of their respective national RTI legislation and sanctions and protections under the law, among others. It is important to note that the RTI Rating only assesses the quality of the laws, not how the law is implemented and access to information is granted in practice.
A report by the Government Accountability Project and the International Bar Association found that several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have enacted provisions on whistleblowing, namely Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. However, in most of these countries, the report did not find a single published court case on the protection of whistleblowers in cases of retaliation. While 33 relevant cases were identified in South Africa, the judge ruled in favor of the whistleblower in only a quarter of those.
UNCAC Coalition Regional Meetings
The UNCAC Coalition has brought CSOs from the continent together for two virtual regional meetings. During the first meeting on public procurement in times of Covid-19, speakers from Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya shared their country perspectives and best practices:
- TI-Zimbabwe and others tracked the beneficial owners of companies that were awarded public procurement contracts during the Covid-19 pandemic;
- The Ugandan-based Africa Freedom of Information Centre published a study which revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic significantly increased public procurement corruption risks in the country;
- Kenya has taken steps to partly implement UNCAC Art.12 and 14 by establishing a beneficial ownership register. However, contrary to international best practice, the register is not publicly accessible;
- TI Kenya submitted several access to information requests to increase public procurement transparency;
- The Namibia Institute for Democracy observes that, as a result of education and awareness-raising campaigns targeting youth, anti-corruption awareness in society is growing.
For the second meeting on whistleblower protection, speakers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Namibia and South Africa discussed legislation in their respective countries and advocated for stronger enforcement of whistleblower protection mechanisms. It was remarked that civil society in DRC has managed to mitigate some of the risks for whistleblowers by forming partnerships with national authorities such as police forces, as well as with international organizations, exposing cases through their channels.