Southeast Asia: civil society and governments join forces against corruption
22 February 2017 - Accelerating the implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in Southeast Asia was the focus of a recent conference organized by UNODC in Bangkok, Thailand, and supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The regional conference provided an opportunity to create and foster partnerships, and to establish a regional platform to fast-track implementation of UNCAC in support of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, in particularly Goal 16.
During the conference, which brought together over 180 participants, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) agreed on a set of proposals for action by States both at the national and regional levels, such as within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Their recommendations were reflected in the following priorities:
1) Member States should join efforts within ASEAN to fight grand corruption and create a regional mechanism to receive and review complaints about cross-border corruption;
2) They should also commit to activating and resourcing the "ASEAN Integrity Dialogue" in order to hold joint discussions on follow-up to the anti-corruption commitments in UNCAC and Goal 16, as well as those in the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the three Community Blueprints 2025;
3) Promote passage and application of comprehensive freedom of information legislation; and
4) Establish comprehensive and efficient whistleblowing systems that include protection of witnesses and whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors.
At a national level, States were called upon to ensure political and functional independence and resourcing of all anti-corruption institutions. It was also recommended that States establish in law - and in practice - the publicizing of the list of Politically Exposed Persons and their asset declarations in line with the open data principles. CSOs further recommended that States build the legal framework for public central registers of beneficial ownership and ensure adequate penalties against professional enablers of corruption and tax evasion.
CSOs highlighted the importance of establishing a transparent and comprehensive second cycle of the UNCAC review process. "States should ensure civil society participation in the fight against corruption in line with UNCAC Article 13, including through public consultation processes, inclusion in enforcement efforts and asset recovery processes and through making provision for private prosecutions and public interest litigation on behalf of victims. They should publicly commit to and, where required, adopt measures to guarantee the protection of civil society space and media freedom as well as citizen's participation", noted Cynthia Gabriel, Founding Director of the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism in Malaysia.
To facilitate the implementation of the recommendations stemming from the conference, civil society representatives committed to build a regional network for sharing information about UNCAC review and ensuring CSO participation in the review process. These, among other outcomes of the conference, strengthens as well the ongoing work of UNODC in the region.