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“You and your … colleagues have taken the lead in the enhancement of transparency relating to beneficial ownership, protections for whistle-blowers, and improved asset recovery mechanisms,” former Constitutional Court justice Richard Goldstone on Wednesday told representatives of Transparency International (TI) chapters from across Africa.

Goldstone was delivering the keynote address at TI’s regional meeting for Africa, taking place this week in Johannesburg and hosted by Corruption Watch.

“The work Transparency International does globally, and in each of your countries, is vital to creating the conditions for freer, fairer, and more prosperous societies.”

Download the keynote speech by Justice Richard Goldstone to the Transparency International Africa regional meeting, 9 August 2023.

Civil society vital in ensuring transparency and accountability

One of the mechanisms guiding African TI chapters is the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC), which this year marks the 20th anniversary of its adoption. This year’s theme for African Anti-Corruption Day, commemorated annually on 11 July, was: “AUCPCC, 20 Years after: Achievements and Prospects”.

This particular anniversary was a chance for critical reflection on achievements, challenges, and lessons over the past 20 years, a vision for the next 20 years, and devising strategies for its realisation.

The AUCPCC is an excellent instrument on paper, said Goldstone. However, many African governments seem to just not be taking it seriously enough or are failing to properly implement its provisions. “African governments have a long way to go in order to honour their commitments to protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

This is where civil society organisations have a crucial role to play, he added, in continuing to advocate for the fundamental principles of transparency, integrity, engagement, and accountability. 

International Anti-Corruption Court

Besides his other achievements and accolades, Goldstone is vice chair of Integrity Initiatives International (III), an organisation that advocates for the establishment of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC). The aim is to hold both kleptocrats and their enablers accountable “when national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so,” he told the TI gathering.

The enablers – Goldstone referred to them as “criminal co-conspirators” – include banks, law firms, real estate agencies, and other financial service providers who facilitate money laundering.

The pro-international anti-corruption court (IACC) declaration and campaign, initiated by III and Club de Madrid, kicked off in June 2021 and has garnered widespread support – but equally, there is much scepticism as to whether such a court will be effective or indeed, is even necessary.

Considering the billions already lost and which could be lost in the future to illicit financial flows, surely a mechanism that could aid in identifying and freezing those illicit assets and then, through orders of restitution, repatriating those funds to the countries from which they were stolen, could only be beneficial. 

“The envisioned Court would … enforce the criminal laws already required by the UN Convention Against Corruption – the bribery of public officials, embezzlement and other misappropriation of public funds, money laundering, and obstruction of justice in relation to those offences,” said Goldstone.

He added that it would be a court of last resort, “meaning it would acquire jurisdiction only in cases in which the appropriate domestic authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute the corruption. Member states would also be able to refer cases to the IACC”.

Until that time arrives, there is much work to be done. Goldstone encouraged the TI movement to continue to put pressure on governments, so that kleptocrats will find it harder to hide their money in shell companies, and whistle-blowers, activists, and investigative journalists will be able to fearlessly continue uncovering potential criminality.

“Progress on both short- and longer-term anti-corruption solutions will knit together a powerful anti-corruption tapestry that strips kleptocrats of their impunity and thereby helps Africa and the world reach for a better tomorrow.”