UNCAC Coalition Speech to UN General Assembly Thematic Debate on "Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development"

New York, 26 June 2012, by Saad Filali Meknassi.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I am Saad Filali Meknassi of Transparency International Morocco and member of the Coordination Committee of the civil society coalition for the UN Convention against Corruption, or UNCAC Coalition.

We would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak, for the first time, before a special session of the UN General Assembly. The UNCAC Coalition is a group of over 330 organisations from over 100 countries worldwide, focused on promoting the ratification and implementation of the UNCAC.

Please allow us then to share with you in this thematic debate of the UNGA what we have learned in the course of our work:

  • First, corruption is a crime that imposes major damage on our societies and hinders development, and there is deep public concern about this. The protests of the Arab Spring expressed a public anger and frustration about corruption that goes well beyond the Arab world.
  • Corruption is not a problem that concerns only a special group of vulnerable countries. All countries are affected and all countries are involved in an interconnected way in our globalised world. Corruption doesn’t just involve mafia networks selling arms and drugs but businessmen paying foreign bribes to win major projects and bankers manoeuvering international finance and accepting deposits of embezzled funds. Sad to say, there is now what appears to be a global ‘industry’ in the export of corruption and associated criminal activity. Solutions must therefore address both the supply and demand side of the problem.
  • This is the reason why we believe that the UN Convention against Corruption should be given the highest priority by member states. It represents the key consensus, commitment and framework that we have as a global community in the fight against corruption. This is also the reason why the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocols require real support and collective action from both governments and civil society.
  • As a result of these conventions many countries have introduced legislative reforms. But most countries are far from doing enough to address corruption. Even where the right laws are in place, the authorities in too many countries fail to enforce them against high level officials who squander their country’s resources in cahoots with businessmen, financial services and gangsters. And where they try, they are still often stymied by lack of assistance from other countries.
  • To keep up the pressure to follow through, governments have created a review mechanism to check country compliance with the UN Convention against Corruption and it started up in 2010. It has just commenced the third year of review. We applaud that. But we are concerned at how difficult it is for civil society groups and other stakeholders to contribute to the review process and to learn about its results. The UNCAC calls for transparency and civil society participation in the fight against corruption but this is not being practiced systematically in the review process for that same convention. The irony will not escape you.

This debate you are having today, we believe, is a most timely one for the global community. We would like to submit the following recommendations for your consideration:

  1. Increase the involvement of civil society in the mechanism to review compliance of states with UNCAC provisions, to get better and more credible results. NGOs and other stakeholders should be able to make inputs to country reviews. And NGOs should have observer status in the Implementation Review Group, which is the oversight body for the review process – this is called for by the rules of procedure but is not being systematically practiced. The UN and States Parties should also ensure that the Civil society unit of UNODC receives regular, consistent and sufficient funding for its operations in order to maintain independence and to efficiently deliver on its mission.
  2. Reinforce UNCAC implementation. Member states that have not yet ratified the UNCAC should do so promptly and those that have ratified should move from laws to practice. They should also involve civil society and other stakeholders in the implementation process.
  3. Reduce secrecy, improve transparency. In line with UNCAC, member states should improve access to information generally and with regard to criminal law enforcement should gather and make available data on the corruption cases they are investigating or prosecuting. Citizens must be enabled, through improved access to information, to assess their own government’s efforts to curb corruption. Governments should also collect and make accessible information on the real and beneficial owners of the shell companies that provide cover to the corrupt and the criminal. This will help uncover concealed corruption funds.
  4. Improve cross-border exchange of information to support investigation and prosecution. Corruption and crime are not anymore limited by national boundaries. Authorities across different jurisdictions should assist each other’s judicial systems in the prosecution of corruption. It is important to stop criminals from escaping across borders with the proceeds of corruption.
  5. Improve whistleblower protection. Many members of the UNCAC Coalition and others around the world face serious risks when they blow the whistle on corruption cases. Governments should take vigorous action to protect them and ensure they are not targets.

Needless to say, high-level commitment and action is required. We therefore call on governments who have jurisdiction over the world’s major banking centres to do more in addressing the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and crime.

Mr. President, with great respect, we would again like to express our gratitude for providing us generous time today to share with you our own observations and recommendations on the way forward.

Thank you and good day.