It’s International Anti-Corruption Day, and Global Integrity is having an internal debate over whether anyone should notice. Created with great fanfare as an advocacy tool to build momentum for the UN Convention Against Corruption, this “Day” is leftover hype for a specific policy that has already launched, crashed and burned. Forgive us for not breaking out our party hats.
This sort of bland, omnibus awareness-raising effort always seemed to me like a weird fit with anti-corruption because in so many places we’ve worked corruption is something citizens are already keenly aware of. Like with “corruption” metrics, the labeling problem is here — what exactly are we talking about on the day of “International Anti-Corruption”?
In this case, as Daniel Kaufmann reminds on his blog, we’re talking about the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The UN designated “day” was created in 2003 to “raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in combating and preventing it”. But by now we are painfully aware of the UNCAC’s role in “combating” corruption, which as we detailed last month, has become a debacle of toothless, unpublished self-assessments.
[In] late 2003, the UN General Assembly designated December 9th as International Anti-Corruption Day. It was intended to further the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and encourage countries to sign and ratify it, so to ensure its swift entry into force. The UNCAC was touted by the UN as ‘the first legally binding, international anti-corruption instrument that provides a chance to mount a global response to corruption.’
What happened since then? Countries signed. Countries ratified. Lots of work by secretariats went into process. And so many government officials and others just gathered in Doha in mid-November, in order to reach closure on six years of work regarding implementing the review mechanism for country progress on anti-corruption. But an important group of governments present in Doha, including China, Russia, Egypt, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were against agreement of serious commitment to such implementation…
The resulting review mechanism for UNCAC is toothless. It gives governments discretion in denying inclusion of civil society in reviewing progress, it introduces voluntarism into monitoring progress (rather than mandating it), and it allows governments to be non-transparent and withhold full publication of country reports. Further, they somehow managed to create what is already by design a very ineffective and bloated implementation review group, which incidentally will not even be allowed to review country reports. And they failed to advance on key pending challenges on asset recovery.
All this conspires against the objective of governments fulfilling their obligations under the UNCAC.
Thus, in the immediate aftermath of such UNCAC setback, today, as we face the (UNCAC-inspired) International Anti-Corruption Day, it may be appropriate to have an hour of silence instead, in order to pause and reflect where we are today, and where we need to go instead. Let us reflect, and try to reboot.
Silence sounds good to us, particularly since our original, two-sentence post on this topic was killed in editing because we don’t want you, dear reader, to think we’re all jerks.
— Jonathan Eyler-Werve