DOHA — Conference delegates meeting in the Qatari capital on Friday backed a tightening of the United Nations anti-corruption programme but lobby groups immediately slammed the deal as a lost opportunity.
"The sword of justice just got sharper," Qatar Attorney General Ali al-Marri, the conference chairman, said after countries approved a mechanism to monitor implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
But Christian Aid, Global Witness, and Tearfund said in a joint statement: "China, Russia and Egypt are among governments who have weakened proposals to ensure signatory countries live up to their commitments."
"Shamefully, a handful of countries have rendered UNCAC toothless. This fudged agreement begs the question: what do governments have to hide?" Christian Aid's Adele Poskitt said in the statement.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, insisted: "This agreement will not end corruption, but it will enable us to measure and fight it."
The legally binding convention, launched in 2003, obliges the 142 signatory countries to prevent and criminalise corruption, promote international cooperation, recover stolen assets, and improve technical assistance and information exchange.
Under the new mechanism, all countries will be monitored every five years to see how they are living up to their obligations.
"From now on, states will be judged by the actions that they take against corruption, not the promises they make," Costa said.
The country reports will identify gaps in national anti-corruption laws and practices. Strengths and weaknesses will also be revealed by a self-assessment checklist, he said.
Dimitri Vlassis, head of the corruption and economic crime section in Costa's office, told AFP the agreement was approved by the 121 countries represented in Doha but "some clauses are optional."
For some countries, "It is a question of national sovereignty" and states cannot be forced to accept inspections, which the United States and European Union had advocated.
George Boden of Global Witness said: "A huge opportunity to turn rhetoric into action has been lost due to the irresponsible behaviour of an unlikely coalition of blocking countries."
"Corruption is one of the main reasons that countries remain poor, as government revenues disappear into the pockets of corrupt officials, whilst the poorest are denied access to health care, education and a decent living," said Laura Webster of Tearfund, according to the campaign groups' statement.
Without a strong peer review mechanism, there is no way to enforce compliance with UNCAC's measures to tackle corrupt practices, the critics said.
"This week?s meeting was the opportunity to agree that mechanism. But, in the face of opposition from a number of governments, countries have settled on a weak compromise that does not ensure transparency or accountability," their statement said.
"Even other UNCAC members will not have access to the full findings of the review teams. A weak review mechanism will mean that corruption will continue to blight the lives of people in poverty," the groups said.
Webster said: "This represents a significant setback for UNCAC. The failure to agree to a transparent and inclusive review mechanism will result in a huge loss of momentum for global anti-corruption efforts."
"Without effective anti-corruption safeguards, the funding urgently needed to tackle development issues, such as climate change, may be siphoned off, not reaching those most in need," Poskitt added.
UNCAC signatory countries are not scheduled to meet again until a conference in Morocco in 2011.
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