Corruption in the Mirror: Legal, Citizen and Journalistic Voices on the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Corruption

20 years have passed since the International Criminal Court was constituted in The Hague, the map of the human genome was completed and Fernando Alonso became the first Spaniard to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption #UNCAC20 celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2023 as the world’s commitment to stay #UnidosContralaCorrupción. With almost universal adherence, 190 countries are signatories to the Convention, with Barbados being the last to ratify it, on October 10 of this year.

Established as  the only universal legally binding instrument to combat corruption, the UN Convention was ratified by Spain in 2006. It calls on signatory states to guarantee the existence of an independent body or bodies responsible for preventing corruption with measures such as the dissemination of knowledge in this area.

The Agency for the Prevention and Fight against Fraud and Corruption of the Valencian Community (AVAF) was the response of the Valencian Corts to the mandate of the Convention with the approval of Law 11/2016 of 28 November.

On the seventh anniversary of the approval of the law creating the AVAF, the international conference “20 years of the United Nations Convention against Corruption” took place at the Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia, with the aim of celebrating the promotion of the culture of rejection of corruption for which the Convention itself advocates.

The conference was inaugurated by Emilia Selva Sacanelles, regional secretary of public administration of the Generalitat Valenciana. A local administration official with national qualifications stressed in her speech that leaders must foster a culture of integrity and ethics in public service, since our individual actions can impact the fight against corruption. The values of integrity and honesty were highlighted as the fundamental pillars of our society.

“2003-2023. Twenty years of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Current situation in Spain” as the opening lecture of the conference was presented by Manuel Villoria Mendieta, professor of Political Science and Administration at the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid and member of the Ethics Committee of the AVAF.

The instruments for the prevention of corruption presented by the professor of political science are based on participation, transparency, accountability and control of spending, together with integrity, impartiality and legality. The Convention establishes these protective measures, but the quality of the institutions is necessary to sustain the fight against corruption.

The fight against this phenomenon on a day-to-day basis was the first panel of the day, moderated by María José Moragues Faus, head of the Analysis and Research Unit of the AVAF, and it included representatives of various institutions who showed the European, national and regional perspective in the fight against corruption.

Eduardo Cano Romera, head of the Operations and Investigations Selection Unit of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) presented relevant figures in the work of this European office: 5,000 complaints a year received by the European Anti-Fraud Office, 57% come from citizens and after study, there are 1,200 pieces of information that are of interest for investigation. In his presentation, Cano highlighted the problem of institutional ethics, with irregularities committed by officials in the institutions of the Union, related to corruption. The conflict of interest during the awarding of public contracts, the misappropriation where funds are available to civil servants, as well as the irregularities of the members of the bodies of the European Union, are the most prominent, as well as the professional activities after the end of the political mandate, the so-called revolving doors.

The Lieutenant Colonel head of the Department of Economic Investigations and Anti-Corruption of the Civil Guard, Antonio Balas Dávila, highlighted in his speech the dynamics that generate multidisciplinary synergies as the most effective to deal with behaviors linked to corruption and that are the protagonists of the sustained effort of the AVAF and the UCO to combat this phenomenon.

Ricardo Pujol Sánchez, director of the Andalusian Office against Fraud and Corruption (OAAF) provided his vision from the Andalusian autonomous community, exposing the importance of the preventive field as an anticipation of the irregularity developing and deploying all its effects. In this regard, the OAAF has initiated a strategic planning project “Organizations for Integrity”.

The role of justice in the fight against corruption featured renowned jurists at the panel moderated by Teresa Clemente García, Deputy Director and Legal Affairs of the AVAF.

The Senior Prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Valencian Community, Teresa Gisbert Jordá, highlighted the lack of duplication between the work of the Prosecutor’s Office and the AVAF and highlighted the essential and necessary collaboration manifested through the almost 30 expert reports prepared by the Agency at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office and which has culminated in the signing of the agreement between the Attorney General’s Office and the Valencian Anti-Fraud Agency on last June 2023 to continue articulating it.

The necessary compliance with Law 2/2023 of 20 February, regulating the protection of people who report regulatory and anti-corruption infringements (Law 2/2023), with the creation of the Independent Authority for the Protection of Whistleblowers, the implementation of internal and external channels and the articulation of institutional campaigns at the regional level on the law were the measures highlighted by the Chief Prosecutor as the most necessary right now.

Alejandro Luzón Cánovas, Chief Prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Corruption and Organized Crime, added that the lever to combat corruption is not only found in the repressive function but also in the preventive one. At the same time, he highlighted the lack of confidence of citizens in the protection of Law 2/2023 and specified that, for this reason, the Prosecutor’s Office continues to file the anonymous complaint. 

The progress represented by Law 2/2023 was highlighted by magistrate Joaquim Bosch Grau, but he detailed that the work of the regional agencies had not been taken into account, as well as that it failed within 2 years in the time of protection, in the restrictions on the subject matter of protection and in the form of appointment of the presidency of the Independent Authority for the Protection of the Informant.  In his presentation, he specified that in the public administration no alarms have been raised about irregularities due to fear, lack of protection measures and because the administrations have largely been colonized in very sensitive spaces by positions of trust, one of the serious institutional problems in Spain.  

The voice of the citizens was present at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Corruption of the Valencian Anti-Fraud Agency at the table moderated by Amparo Martí Puertes, head of the support and expertise unit of the AVAF and secretary of the Ethics Committee.

The Hay Derecho Foundation, a member of the AVAF Participation Council, represented by Safira Cantos Salah, its general director, thanked the existence of spaces such as the conference organized by the Agency. Cantos highlighted the value of society’s action in the defence of the rule of law and the “Right to defend rights”.  Regarding Law 2/2023, he specified that, despite the fact that the regulation does not indicate it, Fundación Hay Derecho, advocates the opening of an open process for the concurrence for the presidency of the Independent Administrative Authority for the Protection of the Informant, that there is no fear of merit and capacity since it is necessary to have the best.

Citizens have an obligation to move from the whisper to the public address system. José María Tomás y Tío, president of Fundación por la Justicia, a member of the AVAF’s Participation Council, pointed out that staying in a whisper generates a situation of generalized dissatisfaction among citizens. A permanent criticism of the system of functioning of the institutions is perverse for the maintenance of a recommended stability and that there are institutions that reinforce the possibilities of denunciation.

From the Citizen Observatory against Corruption, Rafael Mauri Victoria, its vice-president, and vice-president of the AVAF Participation Council, presented the proposals for the design of a comprehensive public policy for the prevention and fight against fraud and corruption from the point of view of citizens.

As an initial proposal, it is proposed to articulate a transversal public policy to strengthen participation and the promotion of associationism and along with it the need for institutional communication and marketing campaigns to publicize the ecosystem of transparency, good governance and the fight against corruption in the Valencian Community. The promotion of the right of access to information is recognized as a new proposal, along with the institutionalization of an annual space for accountability to citizens. It advocates the creation of a study and research center that generates reports, knowledge and qualified information that is accessible to citizens, both in terms of opinion and perception.

In the area of training, as part of the cross-cutting public policy to combat corruption, it is proposed to develop initiatives in compulsory secondary education to promote values, as well as to continue with the training of public employees. Regarding these initiatives, we invite you to learn about  the training experiences held by the AVAF already held with students of secondary school, baccalaureate, universities of the Valencian Community and public employees of local entities, provincial councils, the Generalitat Valenciana, universities and the general administration of the state.

The media and corruption closed the day of celebration of the anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Corruption with a panel moderated by journalist and presenter Clara Castelló Lli.

Journalists Juan Nieto Ivars, editor of El Español, Laura Ballester Beneyto, editor of Levante-EMV, Alberto G. Rallo, editor of Las Provincias and Rosana B. Crespo, editor of Valencia Plaza explained their work as editors on the street, who deal directly with information, with sources and on many occasions receiving external pressure to guide their information.

The non-tolerance of slow justice, together with journalism based on journalists committed to democratic quality and coexistence, valuing professionals who have contributed to the fight against corruption and exercising control were highlighted in the dialogue between journalists.

The work of supervising the media, since where they put the focus, corrupt practices are more complicated due to the control they exercise in large institutions and that does not occur in the smaller municipalities because the media does not cover the information, was one of the issues reviewed.

Joan Llinares Gómez, director of the AVAF, closed the conference by expressing his gratitude to the work of the Agency’s staff for making the conference possible. Llinares stressed that it is necessary to provide resources to the justice system to avoid delays in corruption cases, as well as to develop the legal regulations of Law 2/2023 throughout Spain in terms of external channel, whistleblower protection and anti-corruption prevention and anti-corruption strategy.

The recording of the day is available on the AVAF’s You Tube channel



Pilar Moreno García

Training technician of the Valencian Anti-Fraud Agency



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