Anti-Corruption agencies from 23 Asia-Pacific member countries and 93 representatives from across the world met at the 14th Asia-Pacific regional seminar of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) Anti-Corruption initiative in Thimphu.
Themed “Development with Values: Social Fence Against Corruption,” the three day seminar that concluded on Thursday focused on the need for strong frameworks and societal and governmental integrity to fight corruption in all its forms.
Delivering the keynote address, Prime Minister TsheringTobgay said that it was imperative for Bhutan with a fledgling democracy to prevent corruption taking roots and if we failed to do that GNH would fail. “It will be a one way street to inequality and lawlessness,” he said.
Representatives highlighted the high rates of corruption prevalent in the region which was causing public distrust of establishments, undermined the rule of law and, most importantly, diverted valuable public development funds.
Coming at the exact moment of Narendra Modi’s surprise move to combat corruption by banning Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes which amount to 80 percent of India’s currency in circulation, the seminar brought home, with force, the extent of corrupt practices plaguing sectors throughout governments and institutions in the region.
“It exacerbates inequalities, erodes trusts, distorts markets and raises the cost of doing business,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said. Mr. Gurria added that in a society with values, corruption could be combated effectively and lead to exact opposites by making economies and public sectors more robust, inspiring faith in establishments and driving out inequalities.
The necessity for anti-corruption and law enforcement institutions to improve and maintain independency and effectiveness was also addressed as was the need in the region to initiate reforms that promote tax integrity and transparency.
OECD was officially born in 1961 from the earlier Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) which was undertaken by European leaders to approach world peace through cooperation and reconstruction in the wake of the debris of World War II. The Asia-Pacific region initiative was started in 1999 and Bhutan became a member in September 2007.
The Anti Corruption Commission of Bhutan in its country specific assessment had specific goals of producing comprehensive qualitative information to evaluate the work of ACC, its strengths and weaknesses. It was to identify capacity and performance gaps and formulate recommendations to address gaps and strengthen the assessment tool for application in other countries in the region and improve its structure and scope.
It was recommended that Bhutan should identify and satisfy ACC’s needs required to reduce investigation backlog, increase actual investigations and address concerns on operational autonomy in staff management.
To ensure no needs-based requests are denied for not having been considered in previous planning activities, it was recommended the government should improve the OAG and the ACC’s capacities to prosecute corruption and also that the Ministry of Finance and Parliament should revise their public financial management practices.
On the oversight and accountability case, the ACC recommended that parliament and ACC improve transparency and citizen participation and that the parliament oversight committees create mechanisms for effective monitoring and follow-up.
The recommendation mentions that parliament develop specific criteria for selection and nomination of commissioners, improve transparency in discussions of selection and nomination committees, and provide an ex post justification of decisions made by the committee for public awareness.
The recommendation also includes that ACC develop a diagnostic assessment of the HR situation in the ACC and plan to address HR needs in the short and medium term and develop a more nuanced communication strategy that facilitates access to and familiarity with ACC materials, campaigns and procedures from the perspective of citizens.
To meet needs of priority investigation of high-profile cases it was also recommended that ACC develop a more nuanced monitoring and evaluation framework, setting targets for all activities and adjusting those targets as conditions and resource allocation shift.
ACC should also develop a user satisfaction survey to explore ways of ensuring that persons under investigation, and especially persons under interrogation, are treated with dignity and respect.
It was also recommended that ACC develop programme-based financial management system to more efficiently discern between activities by type and develop a plan for being more proactive, especially in relation to investigations.