Anti-corruption - challenges, successes and opportunities

December 6, 2018


The 9th of December marks International Anti-Corruption Day—a day to reaffirm our global commitment to act against corruption. This year, UNDP and UNODC are commemorating this day with the theme “United Against Corruption” and the marking of the 15th anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

Some critics argue that UNCAC is well-intentioned but toothless, given that the UNCAC review process does not require civil society engagement, even though all the member states are encouraged to facilitate discussion with their relevant national stakeholders. Also, it is up to the member states to make the full UNCAC review report publicly available.

On this International Anti-corruption Day, some thoughts about UNCAC’s effectiveness and impact in combating corruption may help us reflect on the challenges and achievements so far and inspire us to reinvigorate our fight against corruption.

As the only universal legal anti-corruption instrument, UNCAC since its adoption in 2003, has been a foundation for global action, providing a comprehensive framework to prevent and combat corruption nationally and internationally. There is now a near-universal ratification of UNCAC with 186 States Parties as of 26 June 2018. Most importantly, there is a growing number of governments adopting tougher laws and establishing or strengthening policies to fight corruption. For example, in terms of UNCAC Review Mechanism’s role in triggering concrete anti-corruption measures, according to the information collected by UNODC, 86 per cent of States parties have carried out reforms to bring their legislation in line with the requirements of UNCAC.

Thanks to increased global advocacy around UNCAC, the issues around international cooperation on illicit financial flows, asset recovery and transparency of beneficial ownership are receiving growing attention. The global networks of anti-corruption experts have significantly increased the knowledge flow and sharing of experiences and good practices.

When the Terms of Reference of the UNCAC review process were adopted by the Conference of the States Parties of UNCAC in 2009, UNDP advocated for the provision to engage non-state actors in the review process. In this context, UNDP together with UNODC, Basel Institute on Governance and other partners, developed a guidance note “UNCAC Self-Assessments: Going Beyond the Minimum” to encourage Member States to open up their UNCAC review process by engaging a wide range of stakeholders. As a result, we now see more Member States engaging civil society in the review process and making the UNCAC review report publicly available.

Moving forward, Member States should focus on three priorities to enhance the effective implementation of UNCAC and contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

First, moving from commitment to action. UNCAC has contributed to establishing new institutions and adopting new anti-corruption policies and legislations, but there is still an important  gap between laws, institutions, and policies and their effectiveness. Member States, working together with international organisations, the private sector and civil society, should urgently implement anti-corruption action plans based on UNCAC review recommendations.

Second, opening up the UNCAC review process for civil society’s full participation.  Preventing and combating corruption requires collective action. Civil society’s involvement is integral in providing checks and balances for improving transparency, accountability and integrity in the public and private sector.

Third, close collaboration between the UNCAC review process and the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda.  Currently there are two separate processes working in parallel: the UNCAC review process and the SDG monitoring process. Data and information gathered from the UNCAC review process should be integrated into SDGs monitoring, and vice-versa.

On this International Anti-Corruption Day, let us celebrate the major achievements of the anti-corruption movement and also applaud  UNCAC for bringing the global anti-corruption community together during the past 15 years. But while celebrating, let us also continue to reflect on trends, challenges and opportunities to foster the global action against corruption.