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Unpacking the key anti-corruption ingredients for constitutions

Ahead of the presidential elections, Transparency International Ukraine and five other organisations are calling for changes to the country’s constitution for greater accountability, transparency and access to information, including the creation of an anti-corruption commission. Civil society in Ukraine is addressing an issue that many agree on: The constitutional design of a country can make or break its fight against corruption.

Ukraine is but one of several countries where citizens are calling for anti-corruption amendments to their constitutions. Experts estimate that around five countries get new constitutions each year and another 30 make revisions to old ones.

How exactly can a constitution impact corruption?

A well-designed constitution can set up solid governance structures that promote the rule of law, protect fundamental rights and guarantee the separation of powers between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. This includes respecting the right to information, creating an independent judiciary and designing mechanisms to hold the different state branches to account. In this context, corruption can be effectively prevented and addressed through existing governance mechanisms.

Determining a best practice for constitutions is not an easy task. Constitutions are highly context-specific and it is difficult to transfer constitutional experiences from country to country.

Some of the most common practices include: (all listed constitutions can be accessed here):

  • Creating mechanisms to ensure the integrity and accountability of public officials: Found in many constitutions – such as Belize (1981), Colombia (2005) and Serbia (2006) – provisions can include asset declaration requirements, codes of conduct and conflict of interest provisions for all public officials, as well as publishing budgets and carrying out independent audits.
  • Upholding the integrity of political life and the democratic process: The democratic process should remain free from undue influence and capture by special interests. Some constitutions have specific provisions on the financing of political parties and electoral campaigns. Examples of this can be found in Thailand (2007), Greece (2008) and Dominican Republic (2010).
  • Upholding the integrity and primacy of public interest as the governing principles of the state: Countries that have adopted such a reference include Qatar (2003), Colombia (2005) and Angola (2010).
  • Creating institutions to monitor and investigate corruption: Often in the form of specialised anti-corruption agencies, this is an approach taken by countries such as Thailand (2007), Bhutan (2008), Kenya (2010) and Morocco (2011).
  • Making acting with integrity a fundamental duty for all citizens: Not as common, examples of this can be found in Bhutan (2008), Bolivia (2009) and Madagascar (2010).
  • Explicitly committing the state to combating corruption: Countries that have adopted this approach include Nigeria (1999), Sudan (2005) and Ecuador (2008).

Civil society can play a crucial role in helping strengthen the government’s fight against corruption.

In Tunisia, for example, over 300 civil society organisations provided input to the consultation with the National Constituent Assembly. Transparency International’s Tunisian partner I Watch also provided citizens with a way to interact with the new constitution by setting up a website that enabled citizens to vote and give their opinions on each article.

Transparency International works in many countries to both enshrine and improve the fight against corruption in a country’s constitution. For example, both Transparency International Croatia and Transparency International Mexico contributed to making access to information a constitutional right in 2010 and 2013 respectively.

Transparency International Nepal submitted a series of anti-corruption recommendations to the country’s parliament in 2011. These included mandatory codes of conduct and asset declaration for public officials, ensuring merit-based appointment of Supreme Court judges, and requiring audits of political parties.

Creating a solid constitution is an important step in the fight against corruption. But governments must ensure that what is promised and committed to on paper becomes reality.

For more on anti-corruption clauses in constitutions, see the overview compiled by the Anti-Corruption Helpdesk.

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