Nearly 1,200 people from 130 countries gathered in Putrajaya, Malaysia to discuss one of the world’s biggest challenges: how impunity enables the spread of corruption. Delegates came together to find the most effective strategies to stop impunity and hold to account those who benefit from the abuse of power, secret deals and bribery.
Governments plagued by cronyism, leaders who rewrite constitutions to extend term limits, fragile democracies captured by special interests create a climate where corruption flourishes and impunity prevails. Impunity feeds grand corruption: the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, causing serious and widespread harm to individuals and society.
When the International Anti-Corruption Conference last met in Brasilia in 2012, the rallying cry was “Don’t let them get away with it!” – a statement that still rings true today for those who seek to stop the thieves, criminals and others who steal national wealth, enable organised crime to flourish and provide safe haven for tax evaders and hiding for terrorists.
Today around the world we see that corruption manifests itself at the highest levels of political power and business. It is essential to ensure that investigative and judicial bodies remain independent and autonomous. It is essential that threats against civil society be stopped and the voice of the people encouraged.
Now more than ever we must all come together to promote integrity and take action in a concerted effort against the abuse of entrusted power.
In politics, in education, in business, in the media, in sport, at the national level and in global institutions, corruption denies people a voice. It worsens lives and muzzles justice.
People. Integrity. Action.
It takes courage and collective action to ensure that those with power who commit crimes are brought to justice. People in government, civil society, the private sector, young people and social innovators must join to build innovative anti-corruption, transparency and accountability solutions to end impunity and corruption.
If the powerful and corrupt are allowed to escape justice we risk the collapse of the rule of law and the ultimate disintegration of society. We risk losing the fight against corruption. We need a culture of integrity in all sectors of society to achieve sustained, positive change.
We need people with integrity taking action together against impunity that enables the spread of grand corruption. There is no either-or relationship between systemic reforms and no impunity, a lack of reform will only encourage the corrupt.
In Putrajaya we declared the need for numerous actions to prevent corruption, to stop corruption, to make sure corrupt acts are not repeated and to ensure the corrupt not only feel the full force of the law but fully repay their debts to society.
Asset recovery is essential because it restores the trust of the people and constitutes a sanction that reduces the incentive for corruption and at the same time compensates for the damage caused.
Stronger legal frameworks and an enhanced rule of law creates more equal access to justice which is an essential component of citizens’ trust in the functioning of the state. Returning stolen assets to their original purposes, often serving to compensate victims also restore peoples’ trust in the justice system.
Some key themes from the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference
Participants focused on the many ways we can act together to ensure integrity and stop corruption. Their recommendations included:
- Efforts to recover stolen assets are as important as making sure there is no safe haven for the corrupt or a way for them to enjoy illicit wealth. It should be made impossible for the corrupt to use diplomatic passports and investor’s visa programmes to avoid justice.
- The G20 and non-governmental organisations have called on countries to impose travel restrictions on individuals suspected of corruption, believing that, if sufficient guarantees are put in place, these measures can act as a sanction as well as disincentive. These restrictions must be enforced so that the corrupt cannot easily travel to expand their illegal activities, as well as buy luxury goods and real estate.
- Professionals – such as bankers, lawyers, real estate agents, accountants – who fail to exercise adequate due diligence, thus allowing the movement of illicit funds across borders must themselves be sanctioned.
- The corrupt should not be able to use secret companies to hide their wealth. G20 leaders adoption of principles on beneficial ownership in Brisbane was the starting point and now G20 countries must take the lead.
- Banks should make every effort to comply with anti-money laundering laws and prevent money laundering from flourishing, while other sectors such as the accountancy and the legal professions should stop facilitating corruption. The international anti-money laundering legal framework is inadequate and should be strengthened to ensure more robust control and punishment.
- Open Contracting should become a key tool for all governments. It is relevant across all sectors of government, from education, health to infrastructure that ensures governments receive value for money, citizens are able to participate in the decision making process, and allow fair competition for business.
- Grand corruption should become a crime of international law. This will enable international institutions and alliances to prosecute offenders, as well as develop additional international mechanisms to apprehend, prosecute, judge, and sentence those who have committed crimes of grand corruption.
- In the context of the discussions, the delegates called for the full independence and autonomy of all anti-corruption bodies.
In Brasilia we said it is up to all of us to send a clear message: We are watching those who act with impunity and we will ensure that they don’t get away with it.
As we leave Malaysia after three days of constructive debates, we commit ourselves to working together to stop the rapid spread of corruption. Together we have the power to bring impunity to an end.