Written by Jean Scrimgeour – 2021 co-chair of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group and Global Director of Growth and Strategy at Accountability Lab

 

The key aims of the Italian G20 Presidency were centred around three broad, interconnected pillars of action: People, Planet, and Prosperity. Within these pillars, there has been a focus on ensuring a swift international response to the pandemic through equitable, worldwide access to resources that can reduce inequality, ensure women’s empowerment, support young people, and protect the most vulnerable.

Achieving these goals is impossible without directly confronting corruption, building accountability of governments and businesses, and supporting values-based decision-making. Today, more than ever, it is essential for citizens to participate in an informed way to demand better governance. This not only prevents the misappropriation of public funds but also guarantees their rights and ensures the design of forward-looking responses. To this end, opportunities for participation must be improved, strengthened and promoted, and civic space must remain open.

Over the past year, Accountability Lab and Ashoka Italy brought together 180 civil society organizations from 55 countries to participate in the C20 Anti Corruption Working Group. Through monthly meetings, we engaged in a collaborative work agenda that had two primary objectives:

First – to build a comprehensive policy pack on anti-corruption- including examples of successful practices– to inform G20 decision-making. We made contributions to several G20 ACWG policy documents and developed a C20 ACWG response document, including relevant recommendations which form part of the 2021 C20 Policy Pack.  

Second – we set ourselves the goal of including and engaging a broader cross-section of civil society groups around key anti-corruption topics. We developed lists of civil society anti-corruption experts around specific priority issues and brought them into the process to broaden the diversity of knowledge and practical experience at the decision-making table. This larger list is now available for use by G20 ACWG and other multilateral parties. We also expanded upon the G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments Tracker, which supports and deepens civic participation in the G20 process by documenting progress and providing a platform for lesson-sharing around past commitments.

The details of the recommendations on the Italian G20 anti-corruption priorities can be found here. Looking ahead, there are three key sets of recommendations that we would share with our Indonesian and Australian colleagues for the 2022 G20 Presidency:

  1. The G20 must make a substantial commitment to open data and to sharing information across geographies through:
  • Strengthening effective cross-border exchange of information and cooperation to promote awareness around enablers of crime and corruption; share information methods for identifying their actions; and developing a legal and regulatory framework and strategies to disrupt the actions of these enablers;
  • Ensuring transparent, open data in the entire process of awarding public contracts by providing training and support to officials who award public contracts and publishing a public register of all companies awarded contracts; and
  • Publishing all the data on COVID debt, budget allocations, vaccination and medical procurement processes and distribution to allow for public monitoring and mitigation of corruption risks (machine-readable data). We need to empower civil society and government actors – such as State Audit Institutions –  to track the procurement and distribution of vaccines (and other medical supplies), by establishing oversight bodies with access to real-time spending, inventory, and delivery data, such as vaccine usage and wastage rates by region.
  1. The G20 must continue to promote, use and improve on current global standards by:
  • Leveraging internationally recognised disclosure standards such as the OCDS and the OC4IDS to identify and manage integrity risks, including in supply chains.
  • Ensuring accessible freedom of information/right to information laws, using digital methods for citizen reporting and whistleblowing, supporting civil society initiatives, and upholding freedoms of expression, association and assembly;
  • Implementing the High-Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency by assessing the effectiveness of measures adopted by G20 members in principles 6 & 7 and promoting new global standards that require jurisdictions to establish central, public beneficial ownership registers with verified information. Where needed, we must also revise existing global standards, particularly the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations, to require the jurisdictions to establish central, public beneficial ownership registers of legal entities; and
  • Enacting and strengthening whistleblower protection regardless of whether these whistleblowers are from the private or public sectors or the contractual relationship they have. We must provide whistleblowers with support against civil or criminal liability; the reverse burden of proof standard that excludes consideration of whistleblowers’ motives; and protection from retaliation both legally and physically.
  1. The G20 must ensure broader civil society engagement to facilitate the uptake of G20 commitments through:
  • Enforcing UNCAC Article 13 which “ensure(s) participation of civil society and non-governmental organisations in the prevention of and fight against corruption” with “measures ensuring public access to information and participation in educational programmes.” 
  • Bringing civil society into the G20 processes as early as possible- so we can help shape the agenda and priorities through ongoing consultations with CSOs in-country before the G20, and share relevant outcome documents with civil society in a timely manner. The G20 must also ensure deeper engagement of CSOs in G20 Working Group meetings, and include C20 representatives in all discussions;
  • Supporting ongoing accountability and oversight from CSOs through various tools and resources, including the C20 Accountability Tracker to track G20 anti-corruption commitments. Rather than an effort to call out names, the intention of this tracker is to highlight areas where governments are already making progress and where improvements can be made. For instance, during our recent outreach to the G20 member countries, Germany made us aware that the latest OECD monitoring report reflects some positive changes in terms of implementing anti-bribery laws. Similarly, the US government informed us they are preparing to submit the executive summary for the UNCAC review to ensure compliance with the UNCAC review process.

Let us use COVID-19 pandemic, and the spotlight that the crisis has put on corruption, to be the starting point for G20 member countries to reexamine their promises to their citizens and each other around anti-corruption issues.