At the start of March Thailand and Iceland ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
UNCAC, signed in 2003, is a global framework for fighting corruption. In principle, countries agree to criminalise various corrupt acts such as bribery and embezzlement; they provide legal assistance to other countries bringing the corrupt to justice; they appoint independent oversight bodies.
Thailand and Iceland are very appropriate countries to bring UNCAC ratification up to 150 countries.
Thailand has seen strong anti-corruption momentum in the country since co-hosting the 14th edition of International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Bangkok last November.
At the conference opening, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that “the fight against corruption is a moral one and cannot be won by legislation alone”, so hopefully Thai leaders will have also been inspired by the IACC workshops on UNCAC, and will encourage strong civil society participation in the monitoring of their implementation.
Iceland comes to UNCAC in the wake of a financial crisis that devastated its economy. Few other countries have learned the importance of financial transparency and accountability in a harder way. Icelandic financial institutions built up irresponsible levels of debt and regulators did not do enough to hold them back, while citizens were left in the dark about the risks being taken.
If it is sad to see governments learning about the importance of transparency at such a high cost, it gives us hope to see them applying the lessons with concrete measures. With its provisions on more accountable management of public and private sector finances, full implementation of UNCAC can help prevent another global financial crisis in future.
This is a good time to remember how much we need a global framework for fighting against corruption. Countries with financial centres have been too slow to freeze the assets of leaders from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, increasing the risk that public funds will be stolen and stashed in offshore financial havens. If countries put UNCAC measures in place, it would be a lot for public authorities fighting corruption in one country to call on their counterparts to freeze stolen assets, and to recover them.
When TI called on the Group of 20 leading economies to do more to tackle stolen assets, it highlighted the importance of strong implementation of UNCAC, including open civil society participation in monitoring.
The Implementation Review Group (IRG), which has oversight of the UNCAC review mechanism, will hold its second session from 30 May to 3 June 2011, in Vienna.
Civil society groups are blocked from this meeting, something TI and the UNCAC coalition want to change at the Conference of States Parties in October 2011.
Meanwhile, G20 countries Germany, India, Japan and Saudi Arabia have not even ratified UNCAC yet. They should join Iceland and Thailand in demonstrating their commitment to the fight against corruption.