Now is the time for greater international momentum to fight corruption, as the coronavirus pandemic has given it more opportunities to grow, said Ghada Waly, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Sunday.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise the need to address corruption as an essential component of development. Thus, the fight against corruption must be “strategic, systematic and sustained,” she added.
Corruption has a great impact on societies, and “it costs the global economy over $3 trillion every year,” Waly said. As part of such efforts, Egypt will be hosting the 9th UN Conference on Fighting Corruption in Sharm El-Sheikh in December this year.
The spread of the pandemic has provided a suitable environment for crime to increase and for corruption to spread internationally, enabling organised criminal groups to operate across borders. Corruption also opens channels for terrorism.
Waly said that during the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccines, jabs might be stolen or organised criminal groups involved in the manufacture and trafficking of them. Her remarks came during her participation in a Webinar on “Integrity: The Path to Development, Inclusivity and Prosperity” organised by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Cairo this week.
Waly noted in the Webinar that the absence of transparency and accountability also restricted the access to justice. The most affected groups in this situation were women, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities, she said.
She talked about the effects of corruption on women, saying that it poses an extra challenge and casts light on the inequality women still face in society. As for the cost of corruption for Africa, she said that this was a major impediment to development and drained the continent of resources.
Waly said the UNODC was working with regional offices in different countries or regions to provide technical assistance, share knowledge of legislation and trends and innovations, encourage digitisation and create networks and networks of networks.
“For instance, in Riyadh, we work with the Saudi anti-corruption authority Nazaha to facilitate the exchange of information. Corruption is cross-border. So, we need regional and international cooperation to face it,” Waly said.
She said that 2020 had seen various milestones in the fight against global corruption including the Riyadh Initiative against it. This is an initiative launched by Saudi Arabia under the umbrella of the UNODC to enhance international anti-corruption law-enforcement and cooperation.
This month, Waly said, had seen the holding of the 14th UN Congress on Criminal Justice in Kyoto, Japan, and the issuing of the Kyoto Declaration in which governments agreed on concrete actions to advance crime prevention, criminal justice, the rule of law and international cooperation.
She said that the first-ever UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) focusing on corruption would be held in June in New York and would produce a declaration. This will be in addition to the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, which will be organised jointly with the UNODC, she added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly