COVID-19: Governments must ensure transparency and uphold anti-corruption provisions

19 May 2020 –

The effective implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption is now more important than ever

The UNCAC Coalition calls on governments to ensure a high level of transparency in their response to the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in order to make their responses more efficient by reducing losses due to corruption, fraud and waste. As many countries are mobilising extremely large sums of emergency funding to respond to the crisis, the public, civil society and the media must be able to monitor and evaluate how public resources are used. 

“In this time of crisis, as civil liberties are curtailed and systems of checks and balances are weakened, it is more crucial than ever to ensure that key transparency and anti-corruption principles of the UN Convention against Corruption are effectively implemented”, says Mathias Huter, Managing Director of the UNCAC Coalition. 

Under the Convention, 186 countries around the world have committed to establishing procurement systems that are based on transparency, competition and objective criteria in decision-making. In their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments should ensure the proactive publication of information regarding public procurement processes and public access to all relevant documentation, including bid evaluations, awarded contracts, their implementation and the closure of projects. Crucially, this should apply to contracts awarded under emergency procedures, which should only be made use of as a last resort. Furthermore, the public needs to have access to information, to registration data of companies, their filings, as well as their direct and beneficial owners, in order to monitor who benefits from public contracts. 

It is also crucial that governments ensure transparency and accountability in the management of public finances, as they have committed to doing under the UNCAC: Governments should ensure full transparency and adequate oversight over the resources allocated to responding to the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, the names and identities of companies and entities that receive emergency assistance or funding, whether in the form of grants or low-interest loans, should be publicly disclosed, as well as details of the support provided and any conditions linked to this aid. 

Civil society organisations play an essential role in monitoring the use of public resources and in holding decision-makers accountable. Governments have committed to promoting the active participation of civil society in the prevention of and the fight against corruption, under Article 13 of the UNCAC. It is thus essential that governments ensure adequate space for civil society organisations, as well as the media, to operate – even in times when civil liberties are temporarily curtailed to protect public health.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of governments have taken measures to limit transparency and public access to information. Effective access to information is pivotal not only for preventing and detecting corruption and ensuring accountability, but also for promoting public trust and tackling misinformation. 

“During the coronavirus pandemic, access to information is more important than ever, as the public needs to know exactly what their governments are doing to tackle the crisis and are held to account for their decisions”, says David Banisar, Chair of the UNCAC Coalition and Head of Transparency at Article 19. “Above all, governments must not use the pandemic as an opportunity to cover up incompetence, corruption or wider human rights abuses.”

Whistleblowers often play a critical role in uncovering cases of corruption, nepotism, fraud, waste and other problems of concern to the public. During the crisis, many have come forward revealing problems with the emergency responses, leading to improvements. But many have been sanctioned or threatened for doing so. It is thus critical that countries adopt and implement legal frameworks that ensure the full protection of whistleblowers who report wrongdoing, in both the public and private sector.

The UNCAC Coalition also calls on all donors supporting countries in addressing the health and socio-economic crisis caused by COVID-19 – multinational organisations, governments, foundations as well as other private donors – to ensure the highest levels of transparency when providing assistance.

Donors should publicly disclose details on the financial and non-financial aid delivered, any conditions linked to this support, the names and other identifiers of companies that are awarded contracts, as well as their beneficial owners. Transparency is essential to enable civil society organisations and the public to monitor the delivery and use of aid in all its forms. Furthermore, donors should include anti-corruption measures in the emergency funding they provide to help ensure that funds are not inappropriately channelled, stolen or wasted, but effectively reach those most in need. 

About the UNCAC Coalition

The UNCAC Coalition is a global network of more than 350 civil society organisations in over 100 countries, committed to the monitoring and implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The UNCAC is the only universal binding anti-corruption mechanism and has been signed or ratified by 186 countries and the European Union.

Twitter: @uncaccoalition

Contact: Mathias Huter, Managing Director
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