The Role of Civil Society Organisations in Fighting Corruptionꓽ Regional Priorities and the Experience of Mexico
Como parte de la participación de CCRC en la 9a Conferencia de los Estados Miembros de la Convención de las Naciones Unidas contra la Corrupción, nuestro director, el Dr. Abel Rivera, expuso en sesión del día de ayer 16 de diceimbre la siguiente conferencia frente a distinguidos miembros de la Civil Society Unit de las Nacions Unidas.
En las siguientes lineas encontraran reflexiones cruciales para entender el papel de la sociedad civil en la lucha contra la corrupción y los principales retos a los que esta se enfrenta; reflexiones elaboradas a la luz de nuestras experiencias en México.
Esperamos que sean de su interés.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great privilege and honour to be invited to address this distinguished audience today.
Civil society organisations are an important component of democratic governance. The debate of the plenary yesterday make it clear that civil society organisations are not only important but, rather, they are an essential ingredient for democracy to thrive and that media, academia and civil society organisations help to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility.
Further, civil society organisations not only reinforce democracy, they are also a source of expertise, assistance, plurality of ideas and represent the views of those groups of society who are excluded, vulnerable and under represented by institutional political arrangements. Therefore, there is no doubt that the fight against corruption require thriving civil society organisations working alongside other institutions in a cooperative manner.
Latin America, in general, and Mexico in particular, have benefited from a strong, robust and active civil society in the fight against corruption in recent years. Indeed, much of the progress achieved in countries like Mexico have to be credited to the imput of civil society organisations. However, interactions of civil society organnisations with governments in the region are not free from difficulties, misunderstandings and mistrust which make even more challenging the work of civil society organisations. This is not to say that common actions and undertakings can be shaped together.
However, it is the vocation of civil society organisations to point out the shortcomings, mistakes or lack of action of governments and this is precisely what make civil society organisations indispensable in the fight against corruption, providing a balanced point of view but also helping in identifying solutions.
Despite all our national differences, there seems to be a consensus that emerged from the CSO Roundtables celebrated in Cartagena in 2019 and Quito 2020 and it is the fact that institutional weakness, particularly of the judicial branch, is pervasive and widespread in Latin America. Alongside the lack of trust in political institutions, political parties and politicians. Available data also show that among the most trusted institutions are civil society organisations, this is not only a privilege but a responsibility for us. The Declaration of the UNCAC Coalition for the 9a. Conference of the State Parties underlines the anticorruption priorities for Latin America which we share in the region.
Working alongside with governments is not an easy task. Rather, it is a complicated process and one in which an effort has to be made to produce tangible and practical results. Additionally, the relationships between civil society and governments frequently has mishappenings and ‘ups and downs‘, particularly where governments distrust criticism, expert advise and participation of a plurality of actors.
Obviously, Mexico has gone through this cycle and the cooperation between civil society organisations and governments is both black and white. The fight against corruption has had in Mexico a strong ally in civil society organisations which have actually been the driving engine of radical changes in the last ten years. Indeed, civil society organisations in Mexico have helped to push forward the implementation of the Convention and this must be credited to the commitment, dedication and passion of members of civil society organisations.
I would like to identify at least three areas where the role of civil society has been one of the main driving forces to advance the implementation of the Convention in Mexico, which illustrates examples of interaction between governments and civil society organisations.
The design and creation of the National Anticorruption System which is a complex institutional arrangement enacted in law in 2017. This was an important step forward with constitutional reforms that created the National Anticorruption System as a mechanism of coordination of the diverse institutions and agencies at national and subnational levels, with a Committee for Citizens or Civic Participation, which is the natural space where civil society organisations can voice their concerns and help shaping policies in this domain.
Although legislation was produced, the system and its implementation have not given the results expected yet, with several subnational governments not being able to set up the institutional arrangements mandated by law, and indeed becoming an obstacle to further progress.
The development of a national register of integrity which has had the imput of civil society organisations and the support of UNODC Mexico. The register is a platform for private sector to upload their integrity commitments and ethics programmes in compliance with the requirements established by law, when this is mandated, or to do so voluntarily when this is not mandated.
It is my view that this is an important step forward to ensure compliance by the private sector, but the platform is cumbersome, lengthy and rather of a bureaucratic nature, which actually, because of this, discourage( instead of encourage) private sector to submit their integrity programmes.
Civil society organisations have also been the driving force in campaigning and proposing the adoption of legislation to comply with article 33 of the Convention. This has not been achieved yet as Mexico does not have a comprehensive whistleblowing legislation, but civil society organisations have been a key element for governments to start moving in this direction and yet Congress still needs to make the next move.
As we can see, there are successful areas of cooperation with governments, other areas less successful and some in where the progress is not as desired yet. My expectation is that, as expressed yesterday by the distinguished Representative of Mexico‘s government delegation, Diego Simancas, the government of Mexico will seek to continue considering that the role of civil organisations is not only important but essential in the fight against corruption and in line with this a new era of cooperation can perhaps be revamped and consolidated to further implement our commitments with the Convention.
For much that political discourse has given centrality to the issue of corruption, the real scope of government commitment against corruption still remains to be seen. Much rethoric, many investigations, but few successful convictions.
For much that institutional frameworks have been developed over the years to facilitate our work as civil society organisations and engage with governments, there is still distrust.
As I said before (and I was sharing this with a colleague from another civil society organisation) it seems that, and I will quote a phrase of Dickens in here, “these are the best of the times and yet the worse of the times” for civil society organisations in Mexico.
This has to be overcome, this distrust has to be left behind, in a cooperative manner so that we, as members of civil society organisations feel safer, more secure and free to conduct our work while assert our right to disagree within the spirit of freedom of expression in a constructive approach.
This is about finding ways for civil organisations to work with governments in a constructive manner with absolute respect and acknowledging the expertise of civil society organisations. In countries like Mexico, where the complexities of the links between corruption and organised crime are so much interlinked and intertwined, members of civil society organisations, academia and media frequently may feel at risk, and this is not conducive to a robust civil society sector and, evidently, this is a damage to democracy.
This is why we welcome the initiative of UNODC with focus on Latin America to discuss the nexus between the fight of corruption and the fight against organised crime in Latin America, joining the agendas. We have recently held a conference with fellow colleagues of Latin America to explore and further this joint agenda.
Finally, I would like to share my experience with you in respect of working with governments as civil society organisation. It is not easy, the mutual expectations does not always match and it is about finding best possible practices of engagement. We agree to disagree, and of course, we expect governments to be open to the participation of all civil society organisations. This is not a concession, it is a right we are eager to assert, as civil society organisations.
My organisation has participated in the public procurement process as a witness to ensure, to attest, that the law, the rules, the directives at different stages of the procurement process are complied with. This gives us the opportunity to make observations which do not compel the government agencies to act in one or other way, these are only observations, but this is a source of transparency. Unfortunately, I must point out that in the public procurement processes nowadays there are far less calls for public tendering than before, with a sharp increase in direct allocations of public contracts, which seems to be in contradiction with the political discourse and positioning of the government in this regard. We have also been able to participate in the oversight of the delivery of public policies supervising and making observations.
We have found this relationship challenging but productive. Complex but cooperative. I would like to insist, however, that the relationship must be based on respect and mutual understanding. And I would say that this is the minimum standard we expect when dealing with governments.
Role of civil society
Strengthening the support to civil society organisations in the fight against corruption does not only depends on political good will but rather on clear rules of engagement, acknowledgment of differences, respect to plurality, predictable channels of communication and sharing of expertise (technical and otherwise).
These are indeed principles of engagement that would make it possible to develop still further and better a genuine partnership between civil society organisations and governments in Mexico, and indeed in other countries. Many civil society organisations are a depository of expertise, a source of knowledge, a channel of initiatives, and obviously a reserve of skills and abilities that would be of benefit to shape policy in this and other areas. I believe that governments at national and subnational levels would do well in recognising the important role that civil society organisations play and the necessity of their participation. I am sure this may be the case in Mexico, and it is here where I see great opportunities for civil society organisations to continue being an essential part of democratic governance working alongside with other institutions to further the implementation of the Convention.
It is my view, that civil society organisations and government can find ways to revamp a productive partnership, and would like to mention possible areas where this partnership may render good results to advance in the implementation of the Convention.
Again, in the spirit of the Convention, to make progress in establishing a compulsory open national standard of all public contracting, with complete openess and publicity of all contracts subscribed by the governments and, importantly, limiting the discretional allocations of contracts, which unfortunately are becoming the norm rather than the exception, shrinking transparency and making this area one of the main risks of corruption.
Work together to make compulsory to all private sector organisations to comply with a minimum standard of integrity through the implementation of compliance programmes tailored on the basis of best international practice and in line with the requirements of article 21 de la Convention.
A comprehensive whistleblowing framework in line with article 33 of the Convention, which is one of the pending tasks in Mexico, to protect whistleblowers, their moral integrity, their reputation, their jobs and even their lives. We need to ensure that this is deal with according to best international practice to comply with the implementation of the Convention.
4.Zero tolerance to impunity
Investigation and punishment of those who are suspected to have participated in acts of corruption irrespect of their political affiliation. A credible anticorruption programme requires effective judicial processes and institutions, we must therefore finish with impunity.
Strengthening the independence of anticorruption bodies is essential. Anticorruption agencies are under threat because of inappropriate resources, limited mandates and lack of training, in many cases.
If we reinforce the independence and the strength of anticorruption agencies, prosecutors and judicial authorities, the deficit and the gap in trust respect to political and institutional arrangements may start to close.
The following areas of work are not exhaustive, but they give an indication of priorities under UNCAC and UNGASS in which the role of civil society organisations would be essential in a country like Mexico, which I believe we share with our Latin American neighbours, as follows
- · making information available to the public on company beneficial ownership,
- · making asset declarations available to the wider public,
- · reinforcing the framework for the inclusion of civil society, academia and media in the UNCAC implementation reviews,
- · developing a framework for the participation of civil society in different stages of the asset recovery process,
- · enabling an environment for the appropriate protection of the freedom of speech and freedom of information as well as the protection of whistleblowers who should not be subjected to threats, censorship and even murder,
- · rethinking the ethical and anticorruption contents in school curriculums and youth programmes,
- · linking corruption and organised crime agendas in areas such as illicit traffic of persons, cyber crime, traffic of animals, destruction of forests, ecological damage and arqueological traffic, among others.
This list is very much in line with the CSO action points established in CSO Roundtable held in Quito on 18 to 20 February, 2020 and with the Joining Agendas of Anticorruption and Organised Crime held on 18 to 19 November, 2021.
Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Finally, I would like to stress that political will from the part of national leaders is important, it is indeed essential, but it is never sufficient. An approach based on predictable norms implemented on the basis of the best international practice and in line with the Convention is the key for successful engagement between civil society organisations and governments based on trust and understanding.
Understandably, corruption is part of the political discourse, but fighting corruption is a matter that involves all of us, where civil society organisations play a crucial role. And fighting corruption is much more than rethoric and political will, it is about implementing our commitments under UNCAC and UNGASS.
Thank you for your attention and I will welcome any comment or question.
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 16 December 2021.