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UNCAC review mechanism: up and running but urgently needing improvement

After 10 years of the landmark UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), greater efforts are needed to enforce its implementation.

The 168 countries signed up to the accord will meet in Panama at the Convention of State Parties (CoSP) from 25 to 29 November to discuss its achievements and shortcomings. Transparency International will be presenting its latest UNCAC progress report in Panama at the conference.

The report provides findings and recommendations about the official UNCAC monitoring process and stresses that the official process is not strong enough to keep countries on track. A convention without a review mechanism and follow-up action is akin to a football game without a referee or scores.

Since 2003, Transparency International has consistently emphasised that an effective, transparent and inclusive monitoring system is essential to maintain the momentum and political will behind the UNCAC.

Some 168 out of the 193 UN member states have ratified the convention, but Germany and Japan – which are G20 members – as well as the Czech Republic and New Zealand have failed to do so.

In 2009 the third CoSP established a review mechanism, the first ever peer-review process for a UN convention. The mechanism is now in its first five-year cycle, assessing how countries perform in terms of the required criminal law framework and enforcement systems.

Transparency International’s report presents findings on 60 of the 69 completed country reviews. The good news is that the monitoring process is up and running and producing results. The bad news is that it contains inherent weaknesses that undermine its effectiveness.

Up and running, producing results

Based on the review schedule, at least 103 countries have completed reviews with support from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Experience with similar review processes show that setting up a review mechanism of this scale is a massive undertaking and requires building up experience and capacity. Although it is good news that the UNCAC review process is up and running, the results are uneven and need further follow-up.

Lack of follow-up

However, without an evaluation procedure the review process lacks effectiveness. Follow-up on the review recommendations is essential to maintain momentum and commitment, as is the case with other anti-corruption treaties from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Council of Europe.

Many of the NGOs surveyed reported that implementation is lacking with no formal review process. Without follow-up, the efforts and resources invested in the reviews may be going to waste.

Lack of public information about the review process and its outputs

A further flaw in the monitoring system is the lack of transparency in the process in the majority of countries, although this seems to be improving somewhat as countries get more acquainted with the process. In 60 per cent of countries, governments made no public announcements about the review. While in 40 per cent of countries surveyed, the contact details of the country focal point, or coordinating body for the UNCAC, were not made available to NGOs.

Equally concerning is the lack of public information about the inputs and outputs of the monitoring process. Most governments have not made public their self-assessments, which provide the basis for the review, nor have most governments agreed to publish the full review report online. Only the executive summary must be published. To date: at least 26 self-assessments and 20 full reports have been released as of 19 November 2013.

The UN Global Compact is calling for anti-corruption to be included in the post-2015 development agenda. Their call to action asks governments to:

1. Fully implement and enforce the tenets of the UNCAC by strengthening anti-corruption policies, laws and enforcement mechanisms to create a level playing field and incentivise good behaviour;

2. Make a commitment to reducing corruption risks from procurement and contract processes of large-scale projects that are designed to support sustainable development;

3. Commit to engaging in competitive and transparent procurement processes through public advertising of all government procurement cases;

4. Commit to disclosing all payments made by the private sector; and

5. Support corporate efforts to disclose anti-corruption implementation, while enhancing corporate governance, innovative collective action and public-private partnership initiatives.

Lack of participation of informed stakeholders

To be effective and have legitimacy, country reviews should involve informed stakeholders from NGOs, academia, and the private sector.

The record on this is mixed: in countries where surveyed NGOs were aware of reviews, it is often only one NGO that’s involved in the process. Therefore there is significant room for improvement in the level of stakeholder engagement.

Unfortunately, the UNCAC review mechanism itself makes transparency and participation optional for states, resulting in a stark inconsistency with the provisions of the UNCAC itself which undermines the credibility of the process.

Major delays and insufficient resources

Furthermore, the review process is far behind schedule. After more than four years of the review process, only 45 executive summaries have been published and the initial plan to review 168 countries by 2015 looks increasingly unlikely.

Delays have a variety of causes, ranging from a lack of political will, to respecting established deadlines, to a lack of capacity. Transparency International recommends that more resources be used to ensure the prompt completion of country reviews.

Positive experiences

In Brazil the NGO Contas Abertas contacted the Brazilian government and expressed its desire to participate in the country visit. When the time came, not only were they invited to meet with the review team, but the government also reached out to five more NGOs. The Guatemalan government also responded very well to the coalition of eight NGOs preparing a civil society parallel review and the government fully supports civil society participation at the CoSP.

Lack of transparency and participation at international level

The lack of transparency and participation in the review process at the international level is even less promising as NGOs have been denied entry to meetings of the Implementation Review Group (the body that oversees the review process) and the Intergovernmental Working Groups on Prevention and Asset Recovery. The review process must be strengthened and supported with external partners to achieve the goals of the UNCAC.


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