Civil society at the 13th IRG – Interview with TI Papua New Guinea

10 August 2022 –

The 13th session of the Implementation Review Group (IRG) met in Vienna between 13-17 June to discuss the performance of the review mechanism, the state of implementation of the UNCAC, technical assistance, and follow-up to the UN General Assembly special session (UNGASS) against corruption.

Mr. Yuambari Haihuie, Deputy Director – Partnerships and Policy at Transparency International Papua New Guinea (TI PNG) was invited to form part of the official state delegation to the meetings. While states parties are strongly encouraged to include civil society representatives in their delegations in light of the fact that civil society is not granted access to the formal plenary sessions where country situations are discussed, Papua New Guinea was the only known country to have done so.

The UNCAC Coalition interviewed Mr. Haihuie in between IRG meetings to discuss the unique experience of forming part of the state delegation, as well as to reflect on one year since the publication of TI PNG’s civil society parallel report on the implementation of UNCAC Chapter II (on preventive measures), and how the report’s recommendations have made an impact in the country.

Yuambari Haihuie, Deputy Director – Partnerships and Policy from TI PNG with members of the UNCAC Coalition Vienna Hub

How was producing a civil society parallel report an important and useful exercise for TI PNG?

Authoring a parallel report gave support to a local NGO (TI PNG) in the context of a global process (UNCAC implementation and review). While TI PNG has previously been engaged with the UNCAC Coalition in 2012 for the production of a report on the first cycle of the UNCAC review, this was a continuation of that exercise. In the past decade, TI PNG has grown as an organization and developed more expertise. Specifically, writing the parallel report was a way of looking at PNG’s progress on a number of key points in our anti-corruption agenda, acting as a stock-taking exercise which was both useful and timely.

How has the parallel report empowered your organization to continue raising the need for reforms in Papua New Guinea?

The 2021 parallel report has given TI PNG the ability to position itself prior to the government’s own review on UNCAC obligations. The report was produced a year before the government’s peer review process was completed, which gave impetus for state actors in the country to take action.

The report was also presented to our National Anti-Corruption Strategic Task Force (NACSTF) in 2021, a full year before completion of the peer review. It was an opportunity for us to ensure that we were able to engage in dialogue with the state in terms of its UNCAC obligations.

How was the parallel report received by the government? What was their response to your recommendations?

The report was welcomed by the NACSTF specifically the Department of the Prime Minister and National Executive Council as NACSTF co-chair. The report was also shared with individual state agencies interviewed by TI PNG during the writing process. The recommendations contained within the report were useful for the peer review process because they provided up-to-date information, helping the PNG government in its own preparations for the country visit in 2022, as well as accurately portraying civil society views on UNCAC implementation. Domestic authorities did not strongly oppose any of the findings in the report, which was well-placed to inform them in the run-up to the country visit.

How were you invited to be part of the government delegation?

This happened as a result of the peer review process: during the online country visit, TI PNG was invited to participate in the whole three day process, providing technical assistance and compiling documentation that was used in the drafting of our own civil society parallel report. The government of PNG has also made an effort to involve civil society actors to add to the credibility of the review process, especially with regards to the implementation of anti-corruption measures. Formally, TI PNG received a letter from the Prime Minister’s office to participate in the IRG as part of the state delegation, in addition to being informally supported through recognition of our work and expertise on meeting UNCAC requirements in the country.

Why should other States Parties involve civil society representatives in their delegations?

Involving civil society actors adds credibility to the process, in terms of having views beyond that of the state which are reflective of the context within a country. This gives a more rounded update on where countries stand; a more holistic assessment of the anti-corruption situation within a country. Civil society is quite vocal in PNG, and we are aware of the freedoms within our jurisdiction, which may not be the case in other countries. For progress to be meaningfully achieved, domestic non-state actors must be included in order to address the problems of corruption.

How can civil society contribute to UNCAC conferences as part of a state delegation?

Through the sharing of expertise. State actors are often siloed in their approach to anti-corruption: one focal agency might have a narrow view of efforts in the country. A strength of civil society is that it is much wider and broader in its outlook – it possesses a body of expertise, with a domestic, regional and international understanding of issues which can and should inform state actions.

States Parties spoke to this point in several IRG plenary panel discussions, referring to active consultation with civil society for information and assistance on their domestic UNCAC commitments. Even if civil society presence in the room was lacking, it was reassuring to hear the prominence of civil society, which serves as some form of validation. This contrasts with a number of States Parties which are less inclined to involve civil society actors at all.

What are your takeaways from this IRG week and meetings?

It’s good to see the UNCAC mechanism implemented across different jurisdictions, with countries coming together to share experiences and challenges. It was interesting to hear about the common struggle to measure the level of impact of programs developed domestically, and compare to what we have done locally.

PNG has largely focused on legislative reforms (passing key acts of parliament) and prevention methods (through reforms in education) as part of its anti-corruption efforts. It is encouraging to see the commonality of actions and challenges among States Parties during the plenary sessions, but also to see opportunities for engagement and other avenues for anti-corruption efforts in countries. The civil society side events on the sidelines of the IRG, although few and far between, contribute to giving a holistic approach of what UNCAC implementation could look like.

What was something about this experience that surprised you?

I was surprised, or disappointed, by the lack of civil society participation in the plenary discussions. There were not many other civil society representatives, even from relatively liberal delegations who were vocal about supporting civil society participants. I took it for granted that civil society would be in the room, or at the very least, having one body representing civil society interests in the room. The state delegation from PNG took pride in being the only delegation to include civil society at these meetings.

Other review mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Council in Geneva have a clear civil society input process. Coming from the Pacific region and being used to open engagement and interaction between the state and civil society, I did not expect such delineated interaction here. It seems that in some regions, only certain channels of communication are used, suggesting that UNCAC implementation is exclusively a state activity.

The constraints on civil society participation in the IRG meetings is also concerning. The fact that certain written submissions were not accepted by UNODC because they mention specific country names is counterproductive, and contributes to the closed-door setting of the plenary sessions. Further, the lack of disaggregated data presented at the NGO briefing does not paint a clear picture of the composition of non-state actors in the review process, considering that individuals from the private sector may be considered in the same category as civil society actors.

How are international commitments like the UNCAC useful for you to push for change on the national level?

International commitments are only useful insofar as being actively implemented by States Parties. The UNCAC requires states to be inclusive under Article 13, but if states do not give prominence to such Conventions, they are less useful. In the case of PNG, UNCAC ratification was something civil society pushed for. Civil society has to be inbuilt in the process: such is the practice with our NACSTF which gives space to TI PNG and other civil society actors to contribute.

It is not a general rule that international commitments are domestically useful. Civil society should be opportunistic about nourishing international commitments, fostering relationships and supporting international commitments by providing information and expertise.

After this week of IRG meetings, my state delegation will brief focal points back in PNG. As a participant, TI PNG will add the recommendations from its parallel report to the briefing, which is an avenue for further action and gives credibility to our organization as a participant in this process, as more than just a domestic actor.

To learn more about the 13th session of the IRG, the side events and written submissions from the UNCAC Coalition, check out our dedicated website page. Take a look at TI PNG’s parallel report here, and find out more about their anti-corruption work on their website.