How education can help us out of corruption
One is the architect of the SDGs, the other is the co-negotiator of UNCAC. In this article, they discuss the value of education in fighting corruption
1 Jun 2021

M. Seth (*), what are the most effective tools to fight corruption?

On the largest level, there is the creation of effective institutions, such as independent and specialized anti-corruption agencies and audit institutions on the national and international scales; secondly: the strengthening of judicial institutions, and finally: multilateral efforts such as the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

These tools can only be effective if accompanied by attitudinal and behavioral shifts. These shifts can be brought through awareness campaigns. International Anti-Corruption Day (9 December), for example, is a great opportunity to make people aware of the scourge of corruption, how deep-rooted it is, and how it upends the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

When we were creating the SDGs, many countries opposed mentioning corruption on the grounds that it would marginalize developing states. But corruption is something present in countries rich and poor. We polled almost 10 million people worldwide on their priorities, and corruption ranked the highest in these peoples’ minds, despite their government representatives’ resistance in the halls of the UNGA.

Attitudinal-behavioral shifts depend largely on education and training. Only through this can we shape competent specialists in the field while fostering the concepts of integrity and personal values to oppose corruption in all forms. In fact, education and training directly fights the scourge in peoples’ minds by changing the general attitude that corruption is too big and deep-rooted to fight.

The most effective training and education programs focus on providing a strong balance between academic and theoretical knowledge on topical issues, and core competencies in areas such as leadership and negotiation skills. To ensure the effectiveness of existing anti-corruption mechanisms through education and training, UNITAR’s Executive Diploma and a master’s program on Anti-Corruption and Diplomacy, jointly implemented with the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA), provide this balance.

Dr. Stelzer (**), what are the landmark events in the history of international anti-corruption efforts?

There is a clear division between the period before and after UNCAC. UN anti-corruption action goes back to 1975, when the UNGA adopted the first resolution against corruption, targeting transnational corporations and their intermediaries. The next large steps were all regional: the Inter-American Convention against Corruption in 1996; the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997; and the EU’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 1999. These all led to the negotiation and adoption of UNTOC (UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime) in 2000.

When I was appointed Permanent Representative of Austria in 2001, the first session of the Crime Commission (Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice) that I chaired, adopted a resolution describing corruption as a structural impediment to sustainable development. This very same Crime Commission helped prepare for the negotiations of what later became the main instrument in the fight against corruption: UNCAC. With 187 parties, UNCAC allowed us to address corruption on the basis of the rule of law, changing the idea that it is too big to fight.

By 2006, the UNCAC implementation progress was still slow. I could not see this initiative, which I had negotiated and signed, wither away. To speed up the process, the head of the Anti-Corruption branch at UNODC and I decided to start training civil servants from developing nations in anti-corruption, then we turned this project into a program, and the program into an institution. Four years later, IACA was formed. IACA’s main achievement is its highly successful academic program, with over 3000 master’s alumni. Our experience has shown that the implementation of UNCAC depends on the strengthening of anti-corruption systems’ resilience by actors, who to a large degree, benefited from our academic programs.

* M. Nikhil Seth is the current Executive Director of UNITAR.

** Dr. Thomas Stelzer is Dean of the International Anti-corruption Academy.

* Daniel Nazarov is a Consultant at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
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