Finland signs the UNCAC Review Transparency Pledge
The importance of transparency and civil society participation are emphasized in anti-corruption efforts
Finland has become the 32nd country to sign the UNCAC Coalition’s Transparency Pledge, voluntarily committing to a high level of transparency and civil society inclusion in the second cycle of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) implementation review.
The UNCAC is the only universal binding anti-corruption mechanism and has been ratified by 187 countries and the European Union. Its Implementation Review Mechanism (IRM) is a multi-stage peer review process involving the review of each State Party’s implementation of the UNCAC by two peers – one from the same UN region and one from another one. The review process is divided into two five-year cycles, with the first cycle (2010 – 2015) covering Chapters III on criminalization and law-enforcement and IV on international cooperation and the second cycle (2015 – June 2024) covering Chapters II on prevention and V on asset recovery.
Despite the Convention’s emphasis on civil society participation through its Article 13, the principles of transparency and inclusiveness are not consistently applied in the review mechanism or at global UNCAC fora. Each State Party has the discretion to decide the extent of non-governmental stakeholder participation in the review process. Furthermore, States Parties are only required to publish an approximately 15-to-20-page executive summary of the review outcome once the review has been completed. However, other essential documents; the self-assessment checklist and the full country review report can be kept secret and this goes against the spirit of the Convention.
Finland has shown high levels of transparency in this regard, having published both the self-assessment checklist and the full report for the 1st cycle UNCAC review and full reports with other anti-corruption reviews, and involving civil society in these processes.
The role of civil society
As reflected in the text of the Convention, civil society plays a crucial role in uncovering corruption and holding governments accountable. This is evidenced by major corruption scandals such as the Panama or Paradise Papers, Suisse Leaks, amongst many others, which were uncovered by investigative journalists, and by other smaller-scale corruption cases that are brought to light by civil society organizations or individual whistleblowers. However, such groups are often denied information, restricted in their operations or even worse, often face threats, intimidation and retaliation when exposing corruption.
This worrying trend of shrinking civic space has been exacerbated at the last Conference of the States Parties in December 2021, where unfounded objections against the participation of civil society organizations in these conferences caused and continue to cause heated discussions amongst States Parties. One way of countering such trends is for States Parties to include civil society representatives in their country delegations to such conferences. Another is for countries to actively involve civil society and non-governmental stakeholders in the UNCAC review process, and in anti-corruption policy-making in general.
The Transparency Pledge
Therefore, Finland is proud to have joined 31 other countries in committing to higher standards of transparency and participation in the UNCAC Review Mechanism and calls for others to do the same. Finland was scheduled to begin its second cycle UNCAC implementation review, which covers articles on preventive measures (Chapter II) and asset recovery (Chapter V), in 2018. The government will submit its self-assessment checklist and aims to complete the review process during 2022. The peer reviewing countries are Portugal and El Salvador.
The Transparency Pledge covers the following principles, complementing the UNCAC Coalition’s guide which includes best practice approaches for promoting transparency and participation in the review process:
We will publish updated review schedules for our country review
We will share information about the review institution or the coordinator (focal point)
We will announce the completion of the country review indicating where the report can be found
We will promptly post online the self-assessment and the full country report in a UN language, together with the executive summary in local languages
We will organize civil society briefings and public debates about the findings of the report
We will publicly support participation of civil society observers in UNCAC subsidiary bodies
Danella Newman works as a project manager in UNCAC Coalition.