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Fighting corruption: the role of the Anti-Corruption Commission

A well-financed and independent anti-corruption agency or commission can be a strong weapon in the fight against corruption. They need support, however, from both the government, judiciary and law enforcement if they are to do their jobs.

Above all they need independence: they need to establish their credentials as independent investigators dedicated to fighting corruption both inside and outside government.

The first anti-corruption commission was set up in Singapore in 1952, followed by Malaysia and Hong Kong, giving Asia the reputation as the “cradle” of anti-corruption agencies (ACAs). Today there are nearly 150 such entities throughout the world.

ACAs often emerge in a context of corruption scandals. They are formed through broad political consensus and are regarded by most stakeholders as the ultimate response to corruption. However, they can find themselves at the centre of political controversy if they decide to investigate those in power.

Thailand’s Anti-Corruption Commission under threat

In Thailand the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which was formed in 1999, is coming under increasing pressure in a tense political situation because it has named the current prime minister in an investigation into corruption in the rice market.

There are allegations that the National Rice Pledge Scheme, which is headed by the prime minister, is involved in a scam that has cost Thai taxpayers US$15 billion over the past two years.

The NACC has had to protect its staff from grenade attacks and issue a statement explaining it is acting as a neutral entity. Government supporters are claiming it is biased and have barricaded its offices.

In 2010 the Thai NACC and the Thai government hosted the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok, a global gathering of more than 1,500 anti-corruption practitioners. During that conference, the president of the NACC spoke openly about the challenges in investigating public figures.

The Bangkok Declaration concluded that the work of anti-corruption agencies needs to remain a national priority, and noted that for anti-corruption agencies to be independent, they must be preserved either in a constitution or an appropriate statute.

Good practice

In 2012 a set of standards and principles on what makes a good anti-corruption commission or agency were agreed upon by the anti-corruption community at a meeting in Jakarta. These include:

  • A broad and clear mandate: ACAs should have a clear mandate to tackle corruption through prevention, education, awareness raising, investigation and prosecution.
  • Legally guaranteed permanence: Anti-corruption commissions ought to be established by a proper and stable legal framework, such as a constitution or a special law, to ensure the permanence of the institution.
  • Neutral appointment of ACA heads: Heads of anti-corruption commissions should be appointed through a process that ensures their independence, impartiality, neutrality, integrity, apolitical stance and competence.
  • Removal of ACA heads and leadership continuity: It is essential for the independence of anti-corruption commissions that their heads have security of tenure and can only be dismissed through a procedure established by law.
  • Ethical conduct and governance: ACAs ought to adopt codes of conduct that set high standards of ethical conduct for their employees and have a solid compliance regime.

Transparency International supports the creation of ACAs to help in the fight against corruption, and calls on governments to support and protect these institutions to fulfil their mandates by ensuring that they are given the independence and resources to do their jobs effectively.

During political crises, such as the one in the Thailand, it is important that no side tries to hijack the agenda of the anti-corruption commission and that the work is allowed to continue free from threats and intimidation.

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