Special anti corruption session of the UN General Assembly 2021

As kaitiaki, and central to the concept of kaitiakitanga, we strive to ensure we leave behind a world that is better than how we found it. Corruption directly prevents us from doing this.  (Honourable Kris Faafoi)
By Julie Haggie
Chief Executive Officer
Transparency International New Zealand

In early June the United Nations General Assembly held its first ever session on Anti-corruption (UNGASS-21). Due to COVID-19, the main session consisted of a series of pre-recorded speeches from relevant senior politicians across the globe providing country statements on anti-corruption.  The sessions were streamed “live” on UN Web TV. Unfortunately for New Zealand participants they occurred throughout South Pacific nights.   

What did New Zealand say?

The Honourable Kris Faafoi, Minister of Justice, represented New Zealand.

The Minister spoke to actions by the Government including progress of the whistleblowing law and a commitment to introduce legislation to better target and seize illicit assets.    

It was good to hear him speak of the value placed by New Zealand on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and Implementation Review Mechanism. This was not always the case – whilst New Zealand was a foundation signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003, it did not ratify this legally binding convention until 2015.   

Minister Faafoi noted New Zealand’s support for Pacific Island country-led initiatives to strengthen regional and national policies and laws.  He highlighted the Teieniwa Vision as an important collective political commitment to address corruption.  

We were disappointed that Minister Faafoi did not address the work that has been underway to improve the transparency of company beneficial ownership or the need for a revamp of the Official Information Act.     

It was great to hear Minister Faafoi give a shout out to Transparency International New Zealand when he acknowledged the role of civil society and the private sector in stamping out corruption.

Collective political declaration

The UN General Assembly issued a political declaration on the common commitment of states to “effectively addressing challenges and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation”

We are concerned about the seriousness of the problems and threats posed by corruption to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, our ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law.

Quite positive features of the declaration include: 

  • the promotion of safe space for civil society and journalists
  • a stronger call for accountability across the life cycle of public procurement
  • general promotion of Beneficial Ownership transparency (but avoiding direct support for Beneficial Ownership registers.)

The Declaration also touched on promoting access to information, addressing links between gender and corruption, mentioning the SDGs, measuring corruption and criminalizing bribery by 2030. While the references are too often general and vague, they signal progress.

TINZ and the UNCAC Coalition

TINZ followed as much of the forum as was practicable and was involved in discussions and side events organised by the UNCAC Coalition, of which TINZ is a member.  

There is good online discussion by a range of civil society groups about the content and power of the political declaration on the UNCAC Coalition website.  

Related Events

Around 40 events were held on the sidelines of UNGASS 21, covering topics such as corruption in the health sector, gender equality, stolen asset recovery, whistleblowing protection and cross border cooperation.  Some of these have videos or notes attached.

From 24-26 May, 850 young people from 122 countries gathered online for the UNGASS Youth Forum against Corruption to discuss the effect of corruption on young people, and how the international community can better empower youth to actively engage in and help lead the design of future anti-corruption efforts.  Marcus Daniell, New Zealander, ATP Tennis Player and Founder of High Impact Athletes, spoke about the sport as an important enabler of integrity. Here is his statement on Twitter

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