17 March 2008
Iraq Urged to Use the UN Convention Against
Corruption to Improve Governance
VIENNA, 17 March (UN Information Service) -- The first United Nations conference to be held in Iraq since the war began took place today in Baghdad on the subject of "good governance and anti-corruption". The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, asked the Government of Iraq to implement the United Nations Convention against Corruption without delay. "This powerful international instrument can help the rule of law prevail over the rule of the bribe in Iraq", said Mr. Costa. "It can build trust in Government and help achieve the country's highest priorities: national reconciliation, security, and governance. It would demonstrate that Iraq takes seriously the good governance commitments that are part of the International Compact with Iraq, sanctioned in Sharm El-Sheikh last year".
The UNODC chief warned that in Iraq, as in other countries around the world, corruption destroys trust in public institutions, robs the country of development, deprives the poor of basic services, funds violence and terrorism and empowers organized crime. He therefore offered to assist Iraq with the implementation of the Convention and the monitoring of progress.
Mr. Costa explained to the audience of senior officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, the merits of being Party to the Convention, which calls, for example, for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption authority. Mr. Costa praised the work of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), and offered help to strengthen its independence in line with the Convention, and to balance prevention and accountability with investigation and prosecution. He paid tribute to the dozens of CPI investigators killed in the line of duty.
The UNODC Executive Director offered legislative assistance programmes to protect the witnesses and victims of corruption: "We need to protect brave Iraqi citizens who speak out and blow the whistle against corruption", he said. He suggested the creation of an incentive scheme to reward whistle-blowers, "including through bounties".
The Convention calls for effective accounting and auditing standards, a key measure in Iraq where so much money is generated from oil revenue. Mr. Costa's Office is ready to assist Iraq's Board of Supreme Audit, and help to establish a financial intelligence unit. UNODC will also continue to train Iraqi magistrates in order to strengthen the accountability and integrity of the justice system. He warned that "where government control is weak, strongmen take law enforcement and public money into their own hands. This creates a vicious circle of more insecurity and greater corruption".
International cooperation is essential to "fight across borders a crime that does not respect borders", he said. As a Party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, Iraq would be in a better position to ask for and take part in mutual legal assistance, extraditions and joint investigations.
It would also benefit from the Convention's revolutionary asset recovery measures. "The Iraqi people deserve to get back the money stolen by the former regime", said Mr. Costa. He therefore urged the Government of Iraq to consider joining the countries already assisted by UNODC and the World Bank as part of the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative.
To improve coordination among Iraq's anti-corruption bodies, the head of UNODC called for a national anti-corruption strategy with clear division of labour. He invited the Government to strengthen the role of the Joint Anti-Corruption Council, so that it could put an end to the squabbling among the different bodies in charge of fighting corruption. Mr. Costa urged all parts of the national administration to "assume their responsibility, to set the tone at the top, hold staff accountable and extend full cooperation to one another".
Mr. Costa offered to establish a UNODC technical assistance office in Baghdad to serve as a source of expertise to the Government of Iraq in support of its actions against corruption. He urged funding partners, both bilateral and multilateral, to provide on a matching-fund basis, the resources needed for such an anti-corruption programme in Iraq.
For the full text of Mr. Costa's speech, visit www.unodc.org
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