Today is Anti-Corruption Day, and the day prompts this reflection on aspects of the fight against corruption. I was at the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, Doha, Qatar, November 9-13. It was an opportunity to witness the debates around anti-corruption efforts, attend seminars and meet experts, officials as well as activists. Here are the impressions/conclusions that I came away with:
- There is a global policy network on corruption, and like all good policy networks, it is trilateral, involving as it does players from government, business and civil society.
- The existence of the Convention against Corruption is an impressive achievement of the policy network. A demanding global standard has been created, and a process for pushing its spread has been willed into being. It is not easy to get sovereign states to do anything but progress is being made.
- The global policy network is also doing a lot of first rate technical work on understanding corruption, the proceeds of corruption, the global architecture for pursuing the proceeds of corruption, the entire murky business of politically exposed persons (PEPS) is being illuminated, and so on.
- In Doha, the technical side events were compelling affairs, and several of them were organized by the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, a joint effort of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime. The two phrases that have stayed with me, and I would like to draw your attention to, came from these side events.
- There was a session on Politically Exposed Persons where some of our colleagues from the Bank presented their research and the lead presenter, Theodore Greenberg, had this leitmotif going. Every so often he would ask: 'Where is the money?' Good question! So, we have all this corruptly acquired wealth (estimates are inexact but untold billions are involved) moving around the global financial system, yet all the major players in the system say: We don't have the money. Well, since billions of dollars will not be hiding under the beds of those who stole these sums, where is the money? Repeat: Where is the money?
- And that brings me to the other phrase that punctuated all the technical side events that I attended in Doha. You guessed it: it is 'lack of political will'. You want to reform procedures in the leading financial centers? Political will is often a problem. You want developing countries to really wage war on corruption and pursue the recovery of stolen assets? Well, political will is often a problem. At some point, someone asked: 'Are we hiding behind this phrase "political will"?'
- Nobody is hiding behind the phrase. The lack of political will is the number one problem bedeviling the fight against corruption. What to do about it? Perhaps the most interesting take on the problem and what to do about it that I encountered in Doha is a working paper by Ivan Pavletic of the International Centre for Asset Recovery: The Political Economy of Asset Recovery Processes. I urge you to read this... if you have not read it... just to mark Anti-Corruption Day.
Picture credit: Flickr user Rogue Sun Media