How to Advance the UNGASS Commitments on Corruption Prevention? A Summary of Our IRG Side Event

15 September 2021 –

What should countries do to implement the transparency and anti-corruption commitments they made in the UNGASS Political Declaration? At a side event organized by the UNCAC Coalition on the margins of the resumed 12th session of the Implementation Review Group (IRG) in Vienna, a panel of four civil society experts discussed what needs to be done to advance public procurement and beneficial ownership transparency, access to information, whistleblower protection, and the role of journalists in the fight against corruption.  Moderated by Helen Darbishire from Access Info Europe, the session was attended by more than 50 delegates, governmental experts, and civil society representatives. 

Kristen Robinson (Open Contracting Partnership) on Public Procurement

In the UNGASS Political Declaration (PD), States Parties recognized the need for greater transparency throughout the whole public procurement cycle and the important monitoring role that civil society and the media can play in this regard. The PD also recognized the need for structured, open contracting data and the right of the public to access it. As countries around the world mobilize vast amounts of public money to set up Covid-19 recovery funds, it is crucial that States Parties implement and operationalize the commitments they made during the UNGASS. At the same time, the current guidance from UNODC on public procurement (from 2010) should be updated to reflect the good practice examples that have emerged in this area in recent years. 

Louise Russell-Prywata (Open Ownership) on Beneficial Ownership

The affirmation in the UNGASS PD that beneficial ownership information (BOI) should be “adequate, accurate, reliable and timely” is a welcome step in the right direction and States Parties should move to implement this provision in practice. “Adequate” requires States Parties to ensure that BOI contains sufficient detail to identify the ultimate owners of assets. “Timely” is about obliging companies to submit their complete BO data swiftly, whilst “accurate” entails taking steps to verify the data and to apply proportionate sanctions if companies fail to comply with their obligations. This can be done most efficiently if BOI is collected and shared in a structured format, following the beneficial ownership data standard. Evidence from countries that already have beneficial ownership registries in place shows that implementing the PD’s provision on beneficial ownership is both achievable and impactful as an anti-corruption tool. Moreover, States Parties considering resolutions during the upcoming 9th CoSP should build on the interlinkages that the PD makes between issues such as BOI and Public Procurement.

David Banisar (ARTICLE 19) on Whistleblowing and Civic Space

In recent years, a shockingly high number of journalists and whistleblowers have been killed, many of whom were involved in investigating corruption scandals. This reflects the fact that, although many countries established laws on whistleblowing, they often do not provide much protection in practice. Unfortunately, the UNGASS PD – albeit containing some more progressive language on whistleblower protection – does not make any real progress in this area. Therefore, building on good practices from other UN bodies, such as UNEP’s establishment of a warning system for threats against Environmental Defenders, UNODC could create its own mechanism on corruption-related whistleblowing. Furthermore, UNODC should issue guidance on the protection of journalists and civic space under Art. 13 of the UNCAC and assess how well its 2015 guidance on whistleblowing has been implemented. 

Mathias Huter (UNCAC Coalition) on Transparency in the UNCAC Review Mechanism

In the UNGASS PD, States Parties recognized the important contribution that civil society and the media can make to the fight against corruption. The PD also emphasized that the UNCAC review process is an important source to identify good practices, as well as technical assistance challenges around the world. However, as many of the review’s outcome documents are not accessible to the general public, the process is not transparent and fails to be an engine for reform in many countries. Unfortunately, the PD only refers to States Parties voluntarily publishing their full country report, which so far only 17 countries have done for the second review cycle. Therefore, the UNCAC Coalition encourages all States Parties to join the 28 countries that have already done so and sign the Coalition’s Transparency Pledge, committing to voluntarily publishing all outcome documents of the UNCAC review and including civil society in the process. The UNCAC Coalition will continue to support CSOs around the world in drafting parallel reports on UNCAC implementation in their countries. 

Ways forward

In the ensuing open discussion, the panelists shared good practice examples and existing guidance materials with civil society representatives and States Parties delegations. In her concluding remarks, Helen Darbishire reiterated the importance of transparency by emphasizing that civil society often has solutions to the technical problems that States Parties are facing, but can only contribute if it has access to the necessary information. The session ended with Mathias Huter inviting States Parties that are working on resolutions for the upcoming 9th CoSP to reach out to the UNCAC Coalition for technical input, including good practice examples.