Accountability must for sustainable growth: FM

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By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday said inclusive and sustainable development was impossible to achieve unless transparency and accountability were ensured.

He was addressing the inaugural session of a two-day international seminar on the theme of “Combating Corruption: A Prerequisite for the full enjoyment of all Human Rights and Sustainable Development”.

The seminar was jointly organised by the government and the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Over 200 international and national stakeholders, including government officials, OIC member and observer states, IPHRC commissioners, and representatives of the OIC Secretariat, UN, academia, and civil society are participating in the two-day seminar which will end on Friday.

In his key-note address, the foreign minister highlighted the efforts of the government in combating corruption, especially illicit financial flows as well as promotion and protection of all human rights.

He presented an actionable way forward for the OIC group in curbing corruption and realising the human rights agenda including through the creation of an inter-governmental committee, establishment of an OIC protocol and mechanism for mutual legal assistance, reviewing unequal investment treaties, and formation of a global beneficial ownership registry.

The foreign minister said that in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision, fighting corruption and ensuring the protection of all human rights were the top priorities of the present government.

He said that corruption was an enormous obstacle to the realisation of all human rights — civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as the right to development.

“It strikes at the very roots of good governance and democracy. It erodes public trust in the legitimacy of state institutions, undermines the rule of law, and violates the values of transparency, accountability, justice and fair play,” he added.

Qureshi said that corruption also undermines the successful implementation of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by hampering economic growth, increasing inequality, and inhibiting prosperity.

“In particular, corruption stifles opportunities for the poor and marginalised and condemns them to a life of misery and inequality. It leads to massive illicit financial flows out of developing countries,” he added.

Referring to a report of the UN High-Level Panel on Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI), the foreign minister said that a staggering $7 trillion in stolen assets were parked in financial “safe havens” destinations.

“This organised theft and illegal transfer of assets has profound consequences for the developing nations.

There is no doubt that this stolen money siphoned off from the public treasury could have been spent to meet development needs, to lift people out of poverty, to provide children with education, to bring essential medicine to families, and to stop hundreds of preventable deaths and injuries that occur every day,” he added.

The foreign minister said that the Covid-19 pandemic had further widened existing inequalities, pushed millions of people into extreme poverty, and resulted in the loss of millions of jobs worldwide.

“Allowing corruption and illicit financial flows to continue in these circumstances is nothing short of criminal. Immediate and robust national and international action is needed to stop the bleeding of developing countries,” he stressed.

Qureshi said that 15 years have passed since the adoption of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which remains the only legally binding international instrument on anti-corruption.

“Unfortunately, despite explicit UNCAC provisions, there are increased barriers in the asset recovery process as well as their speedy return to countries of origin. Curbing illicit financial flows and recovering and returning stolen assets can contribute to effective resource mobilisation for achieving SDGs,” he added.

The foreign minister said: “We continue to emphasise that the requested States should return the recovered assets without conditionalities to the States of origin. We should explore the possibility for an additional protocol on asset recovery under UNCAC.”

At the same time, he said, framing corruption as a human rights issue and pursuing a “human rights-based” approach to corruption can help complement the efforts to prevent and combat corruption and promote more effective implementation of international anti-corruption instruments.

“So long as corruption remains undefeated, efforts to promote the realisation of human rights can achieve little,” he added.

He said that fighting corruption in the Islamic context was rooted in the Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed (P.B.U.H.), both of which extensively address the major types of corruption, such as bribery, extortion, nepotism, and favouritism.

“Deriving guidance from the Islamic teachings, Prime Minister Imran Khan has given a vision of “corruption free” Pakistan. We have undertaken measures to build and strengthen robust systems for accountability, transparency and integrity.

“We are trying to pursue a proactive three-pronged approach to combating corruption, including awareness-raising, prevention, and enforcement. We have supplemented existing legislation to induce transparency and openness in the public sector including through facilitating citizens’ right to information,” he added.

The foreign minister said the Citizen Portal app had received international recognition for the effective use of technology for enhancing public delivery. Due to our sustained efforts, visible positive socio-economic changes are taking place in the country.

Prime Minister Khan has also been regularly highlighting the need to combat the scourge of corruption at the international level, particularly to address the phenomenon of illicit financial flows, he added.

The foreign minister said that Pakistan spearheaded a resolution on the role of Parliamentarians in combating corruption at the 8th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption held in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

At the December 2021 session in Sharm El-Sheikh city of Egypt, Pakistan joined Nigeria and Palestine in jointly tabling a resolution on enhancing transparency into beneficial ownership information.

“We will continue to promote this issue at all relevant international forums,” he added.

The foreign minister said that the OIC nations must actively explore innovative ideas and initiatives to strengthen the existing international framework to prevent corruption and to end impunity.

“Today’s seminar is an opportunity for all of us to explore and develop these ideas further”, he added.

Qureshi said that the FACTI Panel’s report and first-ever UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) against Corruption with its political declaration adopted last year served as important milestones in the global efforts to prevent and combat corruption.

“However, these documents will not transform into meaningful actions without dedicated follow-up processes. To this end, the OIC countries must take bold initiatives,” he maintained.

The foreign minister said that Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating corruption remained clear and firm.

“Our fight against corruption is essential to the achievement of 2030 Agenda and the sustainable development goals. We must join hands to address the underlying factors and enablers of corruption at both the national and international levels,” he stressed.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (through a recorded message), Assistant Secretary General of OIC, and the IPHRC Chairperson also delivered remarks during the opening segment.

More than 200 international and national stakeholders including Government officials, OIC member and observer states, IPHRC Commissioners, and representatives of the OIC Secretariat, United Nations, practitioners, academia, and civil society are participating in the International Seminar.

Throughout the day, interactive discussions would be held amongst the international and national participants on the basis of which a declaration would be adopted at the closing session on January 7.

The seminar reflects Pakistan’s leadership role and commitment in the context of combating corruption and promotion of the human rights agenda in line with Prime Minister Khan’s vision.