Many times before I have virtually attended the kinds of events that I could not attend in person. Sometimes it is because the location is too far away, other times because I am not a member of the organisation hosting. On this occasion it was both.
When I first found the flyer for today’s presentation on Eventbrite I assumed it would be an academic or professional presentation similar to all the others. Only upon entry did I realise it was actually the preparatory talk to a competition (which I obviously will not be entering).
The challenge was for high-schoolers and undergraduates to imagine that they were junior staffers at the justice ministry in a fictional Eastern European country which, having emerged from the Warsaw Pact, signed and ratified the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention but then, after a change of government, withdrew from it, and wanted to make changes to the method of appointment and dismissal of judges. The student’s task was to make a video presentation about the meaning and consequence of corruption. They should outline the basics of a legal strategy to bring their fictional homeland in line with the convention again, and produce three key ideas on enhancing judicial independence.
The speaker, Alice Thomas, then went on to make some general points about political corruption: It exists everywhere in some shape or form. What we know is only what other people have found out, and in countries without an independent media it can be difficult to find out anything. Most countries have anti-corruption strategies, at least on paper. The United Nations often follows the work of smaller regional groups, because having fewer members means it takes less time to reach decisions. North Korea, unsurprisingly, did not sign the aforementioned treaty at all. Some countries signed but did not ratify. International cooperation is important for asset recovery and information exchange, since corruption is often a cross-border phenomenon. The judiciary, legislature and executive are there to monitor each other. In a country without a functioning judiciary everybody can basically do as they please. Corruption may take the form of individual judges being bribed or coerced rather than the whole system being controlled. For a government to ensure judicial independence without inadvertently encroaching on it is a complicated task, since attempts to scrutinise the courts would themselves resemble the executive applying political pressure.
Rather amusingly, Thomas ended by telling participants to be careful about their sources and not to rely on Wikipedia because “it’s not always very accurate. It’s a very subjective thing. It relies on who writes what in it.” – me, for example.