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OAS: minimize corruption risks, excessive use of emergency powers during COVID-19 crisis

Corruption will put lives at risk and undermine national and regional economic recovery from the pandemic

The Organization of American States (OAS) must take all possible measures amongst its member states to minimize corruption risks, strengthen transparency and exercise reasonable emergency powers during the COVID-19 crisis, Transparency International and its National Chapters in the Americas said in a letter to the organisation’s General Secretary.

“We are deeply concerned that the need for governments to act quickly to address the COVID-19 crisis is leading to increased corruption risks. Even at this stage, serious corruption scandals that jeopardise lives and livelihoods have been exposed,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair, Transparency International. “Exceptional times require exceptional measures but this does not imply a blank check for decision makers. The disproportionate use by governments of emergency powers and surveillance technology during the crisis threatens democratic values and undermines basic checks and balances.”

In a context where every dollar counts, it is critical to the effective use of emergency funds that AOS plays an active role in helping ensure that public decisions are not captured or distorted by vested private interests for their own gain. Steps must be taken to prevent corruption methods such as bribery, undisclosed lobbying, opaque political donations, overpricing, or by leveraging conflicts of interest or revolving doors between the public and private sectors.

While recognizing the need for governments to act quickly and for rapid financial assistance in order to save lives and protect livelihoods, Transparency International has identified five key areas where the OAS can take measures itself, or provide support to governments, in order to minimize corruption and strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law:

1. Articulate and demonstrate OAS and its Joint Summits Working Group’s commitment to anti-corruption during the COVID-19 crisis. Highlighting the importance of transparency and anti-corruption to saving lives and livelihoods will help underscore that the pandemic will not weaken the Organization’s commitment to this agenda.

2. Ensure that state of emergency and emergency powers are exercised in a reasonable way and in compliance with international law. Emergency powers must be limited in duration and scope, exercised only for the purposes for which they were granted, and be respectful of the rule of law, proportionate, transparent and subject to control.

3. Promote transparency and accountability in public procurement. AOS should help countries Mitigate against loose requirements that contribute to unequal competition and bidding wars, and rushed measures that result in low quality or faulty goods, price gouging, undue influence and limited access to information.

4. Monitor audits by internal audit bodies and third parties. Information on how public funds are being disbursed should be swiftly and fully available to the internal audit bodies of the ministries or government agencies in charge of responding to the crisis, as well as to citizens.

5. Accelerate implementation existing anti-corruption and anti-money laundering frameworks. Corrupt individuals will continue to rely on existing mechanisms and networks to make bribe payments, as well as to hide and launder the proceeds of corruption. These risks grow when resources and attention are focused elsewhere.

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