Note: A complete summary of today’s General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said corruption corrodes public trust, weakens the rule of law, seeds conflict, destabilizes peacebuilding efforts, undermines human rights, impedes progress on gender equality and hinders efforts to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It also hits the poor, the marginalized and the most vulnerable the hardest. For all those reasons, the world cannot — and will not — allow corruption to continue. Calling on parties to redouble their efforts and build upon progress already achieved, he said United Nations Member States have adopted the Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime and against Corruption and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development. They also convened the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The Political Declaration to be adopted today builds upon that existing architecture, he said, noting that it will provide the international community with a road map for countering corruption in the future. It will also help guide countries as they work to fight money-laundering and illicit financial flows — which derail progress on sustainable development — and in critical efforts to recover assets. “Corruption thrives in a crisis,” he said, noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on supply chains, infrastructure and systems around the world. As the number of COVID-19 positive cases increased, Governments responded rapidly, efforts which undoubtedly saved lives. However, they inadvertently led to gaps in compliance, transparency, oversight and accountability, which were exploited by the most corrupt actors. The Assembly’s special session comes at a critical moment as humanity works to roll out a complex global vaccination programme.
Against that backdrop, he urged policymakers to leverage the special session to take concrete measures to prevent and address corruption, emphasizing that recovering from the present global economic downturn will require concerted efforts and vigilance to end corruption. “We must learn from this experience, because the next crisis will come, and we will need to be prepared to meet it when it does,” he stressed.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the international community is beginning the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals behind on its promise, as inequalities and injustices laid bare by the pandemic are further compounded by corruption. “This special session acknowledges the need for Member States to restore public trust and faith in the social contract by taking concrete action to eliminate corruption,” she assured.
Recent social protests have sent the clear message that people will not tolerate cynical, corrupt practices, she said. They are demanding transformation of legal, political, economic and social structures that have long been indifferent to accountability and transparency. Stressing that corruption in public service delivery increases costs, lowers quality and distorts the allocation of resources, she said the vulnerable bear the brunt, as bribery makes basic services available only to those able to pay. Corruption also disproportionately impacts women, limiting their access to public resources, information and decision-making. It fosters organized crime and the exploitation of natural resources.
Moreover, she said inadequate oversight and transparency during the COVID-19 crisis has led to the diversion of funds from those most in need, while those who unveil corrupt practices risk retaliation and reprisal. The special session is an opportunity to chart a different path forward through a transparent, inclusive and accountable approach to governance that will strengthen the social contract between State and people. The United Nations System Common Position on Corruption — designed to coordinate the Organization’s support for Member States — sets out measures that will integrate anti-corruption in national, local and sectoral work more effectively. “Expectations are high,” she said. “I encourage you to lead by example, by realizing the commitments you have made in the draft declaration, with the support of the United Nations system.”
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said corruption, which leads to massive outflows of illicit finance, is among the main reasons for the economic underperformance of developing countries and for rising inequalities across the world. Stressing that corruption stifles opportunities for the poor, condemning them to a life of misery and inequity, he said an estimated $2.6 trillion — or 5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) — is lost annually to such behaviour. Developing countries lose $1.26 trillion — nine times all official development assistance (ODA).
Noting that the pandemic has pushed millions into extreme poverty, resulting in the loss of 250 million jobs, he said “allowing corruption and illicit financial slows to continue in these circumstances is nothing short of criminal”. Robust national and international action is needed to stop the bleeding of developing countries. Emphasizing that corruption must be addressed by the perpetrators, as well as the enablers, he said the establishment of global beneficial ownership registry would help identify perpetrators. While corruption must be tackled at the national level, it is equally important to impose penalties on the lawyers, accountants and all those enabling such behaviour, with global standards agreed and imposed to ensure this end. The absence of effective mechanisms to secure the return of stolen assets also has created a sense of impunity, he continued, and led to the parking of $7 trillion in safe havens.
Going forward, he said these secrecy jurisdictions must be eradicated, and new legal instruments agreed to facilitate the obligatory return of stolen assets. Standards for international extractive companies meanwhile must be devised, including inter-State agreements that allow for nullification of corporate contracts should corruption be discovered. A moratorium should be imposed on all investor-State disputes, in which corruption is clearly visible, and a trust fund created to help developing countries pursue the often lengthy administrative and legal proceedings for the return of their stolen assets.
He went on to stress that corruption related to tax fraud, evasion and avoidance represents a major portion of the overall volume of illicit financial flows, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reporting that curbing corruption could deliver $1 trillion annually in tax revenues across the world — or 1.2 per cent of global GDP, money that could be used by Governments to support health, education and infrastructure. A minimum global corporate tax would be a good first step to end tax crimes. Noting that the current institutional environment of international tax cooperation is dominated by voluntary forums and bilateral tax treaties, with no universal tax convention to compare with the Convention against Corruption, he called for the work of the United Nations Tax Committee to be made completely intergovernmental, with negotiations initiated for devising a global United Nations tax convention. And as collective action to stem illicit financial flows is impeded by disparate entities with narrow mandates and restricted representation, he underscored the urgency of establishing an inclusive, legitimate global coordination mechanism at the United Nations. Indeed, corruption and illicit financial flows are systemic problems. Fighting them requires global efforts, he said, stressing: “International cooperation is indispensable.”
HARIB SAEED AL AMIMI, President of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, reported on progress achieved during the Conference’s preparatory process leading up to the special session. Among other things, three intersessional meetings were convened with the participation of a wide range of stakeholders, focusing on law enforcement, criminalization, international cooperation, asset recovery, beneficial ownership and the role of the private sector. They also considered measures to tackle impunity and ways to harness the full potential of education and technology in preventing and combating corruption.
Emphasizing the inclusive and open-ended nature of the preparatory process — which included contributions from Member States, United Nations system entities, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental groups and the private sector — he said participants drafted and approved by consensus the Political Declaration before the Assembly today. In addition, the Conference held its eighth session from 16 to 20 December 2019, adopting 14 resolutions and 1 decision. Those covered a diverse range of areas including asset recovery, safeguarding sport from corruption and enhancing the effectiveness of anti-corruption bodies. The Conference adopted the Abu Dhabi Declaration, which focused on enhancing collaboration between the supreme audit institutions and anticorruption bodies to more effectively prevent and fight corruption. In that vein, the United Arab Emirates recently committed $5.4 million to support the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to implement the Abu Dhabi Declaration, he said.
GHADA WALY, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said bold global action against corruption is needed more than ever. Welcoming the firm commitment demonstrated by Member States at the first-ever General Assembly special session against corruption, she declared: “The COVID-19 crisis has derailed development progress, while corruption, bribery and illicit financial flows have stolen away resources when we can least afford it.” In every region of the world, corruption has compromised emergency responses, health care, education, environmental conservation and job creation, leaving countries less equipped to recover and leaving ever more people behind.
“Now, as our still-fragile societies take steps towards a more resilient future, we must reject cynical profiteering and exploitation of public trust,” she stressed. Rebuilding must be done with full transparency, accountability and integrity in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The comprehensive and forward-looking approach enshrined in the Political Declaration before the Assembly acknowledges both the pervasive nature of corruption, and the need for greater political will and practical action to step up the fight “against an enemy that shows little sign of retreating”. Pledging the support of UNODC, she welcomed the Political Declaration’s recognition of the United Nations Convention against Corruption as the universal instrument against corruption, as well as the need for research and better measurement of the phenomenon and its impact.
Spotlighting a decisive new tool in the global anti-corruption arsenal, she said the newly launched Globe Network — for which UNODC serves as secretariat — will link up various anti-corruption law‑enforcement authorities to pursue more agile cross-border cooperation and proactive information‑sharing. “We have the opportunity to reinvigorate and innovate, to strengthen good governance and the rule of law, so we can tackle present problems and equip future generations to meet the challenges to come,” she said, expressing her hope that 2021 will be remembered as a turning point when Member States and their partners rose together to combat corruption, restore trust and generate real change for a fairer world.
SERENA IBRAHIM, Youth Forum Representative and Founder of Youth against Corruption, described herself as “a girl born in a world where systemic corruption is a constant threat”. Corruption has hampered the dreams and aspirations of youth living in countries which are most vulnerable to it, forcing some to put their integrity up for sale in order to survive. Speaking on behalf of the hundreds of young people from 93 countries and 93 civil society groups who took part in the 2021 special session Youth Forum, she said they came together to discuss the devastating effects of corruption on the young generations, consider ways that youth can be more engaged in preventing and combating corruption and identify recommendations for the special session’s discussions.
“We call upon you, our world leaders, to prioritize the fight against corruption and ensure that citizens’ well-being and equal access to basic services are top priorities in your national agendas, strategies and visions,” she said. To that end, she urged leaders to prioritize education on integrity and anti‑corruption; give youth a greater role in the intergenerational fight against corruption at the global level; invest more in innovative anti-corruption solutions, including through emerging and innovative technologies; and ensure a safe environment for youth to act as whistle-blowers, watchdogs and national monitors.
Among additional recommendations, she called for efforts to create youth agencies to enhance collaboration; ensure judicial independence and effective separation of powers; strengthen transparency and accountability in health care procurement, including on COVID-19 vaccines; guarantee media independence and strengthen civil society; and restore broken trust in elected officials. Finally, she underlined the need for more transparency in the United Nations Conference against Corruption Implementation Review Mechanism, stressing that publishing full country review reports is crucial to hold Governments accountable to commitments they have made.
FRANCISCO RAFAEL SAGASTI HOCHHAUSLER, President of Peru, said that the fight against corruption is a priority for his country and its foreign policy. Peru and Colombia promoted convening the special session and cofacilitated the negotiations on the Declaration. The anti-corruption Convention adopted 18 years ago introduced principles, norms, commitments and a follow-up mechanism. However, the evolution of corruption has made it necessary to design new and complementary measures. Peru has multiplied efforts in this direction, among them, the Lima commitment to democratic governance, adopted at the eighth Summit of the Americas in 2018. Corruption continues to expand its size and amount, and national initiatives are not enough. It requires a renewed, concerted and cooperative multilateral response. That is precisely what the Declaration intends to achieve, he said, encouraging State Parties to the Convention to implement their commitments in the Declaration as there are situations not contemplated in the Convention.
Statement by Honduras to come.
ALEJANDRO GIAMMATTEI FALLA, President of Guatemala, said corruption constitutes one of the greatest threats to the comprehensive and equitable development of all States. In Guatemala, an inter-institutional anti-corruption cooperation agreement was signed among the executive branch, all its ministries, the Office of the Attorney General, the General Comptroller’s Office, Superintendency of Tax Administration and the Banking Superintendence. In addition, he, along with cabinet members, established the Presidential Commission against Corruption, which acts with absolute impartiality. The Commission has submitted 14 complaints related to acts of corruption, which will be presented before the courts of justice. Guatemala is making efforts to implement an electronic and open Government through the existence of transparency and anti‑corruption mechanisms, providing citizens with the necessary tools to exercise an effective social audit. His country has many challenges in the fight against corruption, but “we have the will to build a transparent and democratic State based on the rule of law”.
EMMERSON DAMBUDZO MNANGAGWA, President of Zimbabwe, said that the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Prosecuting Authority are both now fully operational, while an anti-money‑laundering act is now in force. The implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy for the period 2020 to 2024 is in full swing. It seeks to strengthen the structures for deterrence, detection, adherence and enforcement of the integrity management obligations across sectors. It further protects whistle-blowers and victims of corruption. In addition, Zimbabwe has established specialized courts for handling corruption and economic crimes throughout the country. Zimbabwe continues to deploy information and communications technology to enhance efficiencies and reduce human interference in service delivery. His Administration is reorienting all sectors of the economy including the public, private and non- governmental institutions towards a culture of honesty, accountability and transparency. The Political Declaration elaborates on the need to stop the increasing levels of illicit financial flows, including from Africa, estimated to be over $80 billion per year, he said, welcoming its increased focus on the recovery and return of confiscated assets.
IVÁN DUQUE MÁRQUEZ, President of Colombia, said corruption is one of the most perverse impediments to democracy, the rule of law and sustainable development. According to the World Bank, companies and legal persons pay more than $1 trillion in bribes each year. Noting that the pandemic exposed corrupt practices in the health systems of various countries, he said preventing corruption is a moral imperative. In Colombia, the fight is under way against trafficking in drugs, humans and weapons, with a greater focus on the crime of corruption, he said, recalling that his country, along with Peru, promoted the resolution that led to the convening of the Assembly’s special session today. He called for making best possible use of the Convention against Corruption and engaging in debate on the strengths and weaknesses of the current normative framework. Today’s Political Declaration offers tools, such as asset‑recovery processes, beneficiary registries and a distinction between licit financial flows and those that might be linked to criminal activities, which will help guide State efforts. Among other efforts, Colombia, in October 2020, presented a draft bill on corruption to help build a culture of equality and foster the efficient use of public resources, allowing the Government to more easily punish companies that promote corrupt practices. He called on the international community to use the Political Declaration as a compass to guide its work in the coming years.
JULIUS MAADA BIO, President of Sierra Leone, said that, since 2018, his country has moved up 12 places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. According to the Afro Barometer, corruption prevalence has reduced from 70 per cent before 2018 to 40 per cent in 2020. With conviction rates of over 90 per cent, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone has also recovered billions of leones in non-conviction asset-based recoveries, higher in the last three years than at any time in the 18-year existence of the Commission. His Government has adopted progressive laws and institutional reforms. The reviewed anti-corruption law increases minimum punishment for major corruption offences, protects whistle-blowers, shifts evidential burden for offences involving offering or receiving an advantage, and allows the Commission to appeal sentences that are deemed lenient or disproportionate. Sierra Leone has acceded to the anti-corruption Convention and developed a comprehensive national anti‑corruption strategy with a view to strengthening the anti-corruption regime, implementing actions for preventing and controlling corruption, and establishing legally enforceable mandatory minimum standards.
UHURU KENYATTA, President of Kenya, said his country’s fight against corruption has been a battle of hope, courage and triumph. Indeed, Kenya has seen an upsurge in investigations, prosecutions and convictions for corruption. Assets worth millions of shillings have been frozen and are in the process of being recovered. Whistle‑blowers, the media and citizens themselves can all report cases of corruption, a testament to the prevailing atmosphere of open Government. Kenya has adopted a multi-agency approach to fighting corruption, featuring a multi-agency team dedicated to such efforts. In addition, Kenya recognizes the importance of nurturing values, ethics and integrity in children, and has undertaken a strategy that will lead to “citizenry of integrity and honour”. Through a revised competency-based curriculum, children learn about patriotism and diligence as part of their basic schoolwork. He also highlighted Kenya’s framework for the return of stolen assets, stressing that the Government will implement its Convention obligations, strengthen its service delivery and raise the bar on integrity and ethical behaviour. Indeed, good governance interventions will ultimately yield full results, he assured.
GEORGE MANNEH WEAH, President of Liberia, recalled that the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption were adopted in 2003, 18 years ago. “Since that time, the dangerous effects of corruption have been widely documented in various forms across the globe,” he said, adding that it has proven to have long-term effects that undermine the vibrancy of governance, the stability of economies and the primacy of the rule of law. Having long declared corruption unacceptable under his Administration, he spotlighted the work of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission, which found the legal framework against corruption to be in need of reform. In response, several new legal instruments have been submitted, seeking to drastically improve Liberia’s anti-corruption legal framework. Outlining its various elements — which include a whistle-blower’s law and fast-tracking for the prosecution of corruption cases — he recalled that, when local media outlets reported $16 billion in funds stolen through corruption, Liberia promptly invited the Government of the United States to help investigate those allegations. “We are proud that the result of that investigation […] found that these allegations were false, and that no acts of corruption had occurred,” he said, while pledging to re-intensify Liberia’s efforts counter corruption, including at the global level.
PRAVIND KUMAR JUGNAUTH, Prime Minister, Minister for Defense, Home Affairs and External Communications, and Minister for Rodrigues, Outer Islands and Territorial Integrity of Mauritius, described corruption as a global problem which knows no boundaries. Its tentacles have corrosive effects worldwide, with huge societal costs, and its pernicious impacts are seen in both developed and developing countries. “However, the economic loss, as well as the burden of blame, is always higher on the poorer countries,” he said. Cross-cutting issues such as illicit financial flows and organized crime must therefore be addressed in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, along with the return of stolen assets. Welcoming the adoption of the Political Declaration — which represents a forceful commitment by States to take effective measures to prevent and combat corruption — he underscored his country’s commitment to root out corruption and outlined various efforts already taken at the national level to do so. Mauritius has also completed both the first and second cycles of the United Nations Convention against Corruption review mechanism and has been found to be largely compliant with its provisions, he said. Listing several next steps, he said Mauritius will implement a Declaration of Assets Regime governing declaration of assets by all senior public officials and create a Financial Crimes Division in its court system, among other important changes.