Open governance

16 Jul 2020


The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

BACK in 2016, the PML-N government expressed its willingness to sign the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Bribery Convention to fortify Pakistan’s efforts to combat corruption. But when OECD invited Pakistan to accede to the convention, the government began to dither. Four years have passed, and Pakistan is yet to demonstrate any effort towards signing it. Now that the PTI is in power, the government may reconsider ratifying the OECD convention.

A transparent and accountable governing structure in Pakistan requires international cooperation. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UN Convention Against Corruption are legally binding multilateral instruments that facilitate state parties in their fight against corruption by improving international cooperation and assistance. Pakistan is not a signatory to the OECD convention but has signed and ratified the UNCAC.

The OECD convention is the first global initiative agreed between 34 nations to target the ‘supply-side’ of bribery, ie the person or entity who offers, promises or gives a bribe. Today, 44 countries have ratified it to prohibit foreign bribery on an extraterritorial basis. By contrast, the UNCAC provides the most extensive coverage of all international anti-corruption instruments. The OECD convention and UNCAC are mutually supportive and complementary; hence accomplishing effective international cooperation requires the ratification and implementation of both.

Although the UNCAC is a political tool used for dialogue between countries and between governments and citizens, it is prone to certain weaknesses and challenges. UNCAC ratification does not constitute political will in itself. Most state parties ratify it to use it as a ‘fig leaf’ to deflect criticism from donors or political opponents. The UNCAC is no blueprint for anti-corruption reform; it is a compilation of key measures that lack prioritisation or sequencing. The review process under it is voluntary, with no formal follow-up process on the findings and recommendations made under the implementation review cycles. In addition, the UNCAC publishes only the executive summary of the report at the end of the review process. The full country review report remains confidential unless allowed by the reviewed country. The mechanisms of the UNCAC are also unsatisfactory and call for reforms to address country-specific forms of corruption designed to fit into the country’s institutional arrangements and procedures.

Pakistan should consider ratifying the OECD convention.

To this end, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention has proven to be more efficient and effective in the implementation of a robust anti-corruption system for a country. Unlike the UNCAC, the convention is a complete guide; the OECD Working Group on Bribery monitors its implementation and enforcement in several phases through a rigorous peer-review monitoring system, tailored to country-specific needs. Transparency International (TI) has repeatedly recognised this rigorous peer-review monitoring system as a ‘gold standard’. In addition, this monitoring process is compulsory, requiring the highest level of compliance without providing any right to veto the final report and recommendations, which are mandatorily made ‘public’ after every review.

There is another reason that merits attention. The notion behind the OECD convention is to induce signatories to reduce their investment in corrupt countries, and the empirical analysis has proved the same. Several countries, including the US, UK, and numerous states in Europe that are Pakistan’s top trading partners, have ratified the OECD convention. Their ratification, however, is correlated to reduced investment in Pakistan. Accor­d­ing to TI’s 2018 report, the lack of robust anti-corruption mechanisms has resulted in the loss of trade and business opportunities in Pakistan. To stabilise the economy in the era of globalisation requires increased trade at reduced costs with the developed world, which necessitates Pakistan to ratify the OECD convention. Pakistan, by signing and ratifying the convention will send a clear message that its companies will invest ethically and not engage in corrupt activities. Resultantly, it will ensure a more stable and attractive investment climate for foreign investors.

The OECD convention is contingent upon four main conditions: (i) fiscal transparency; (ii) access to government data; (iii) public officials’ asset disclosure; and (iv) citizens’ engagement in policymaking and governance. These conditions are challenging and de­­manding but acceding to the convention will provide the government with an international framework for exchanging information with other states on the monies obtained illegally and laundered by Pakistani nationals. The rigorous monitoring process under the OECD convention will also compel the go­­vernment to create a transparent and ac­­countable governing structure in Pakistan.

The writer is a lawyer.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020