· The G20 places an important emphasis on anti-corruption – but has a long way to go to understand the progress it is making on these issues;
· Information is outdated, commitments can be vague, measurement is confused and tracking progress is difficult;
· Going forwards the G20 should commit to very specific, simple commitments, proactive monitoring and greater transparency of its own processes.
By Blair Glencorse & Sanjeeta Pant
During the Toronto Summit in 2010, the G20 agreed to set up an Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) to provide recommendations on its anti-corruption agenda. The G20 rightly identified corruption as a global problem undermining economies and societies everywhere. A decade has passed since then, and the world is at a crossroads with old as well as new challenges. Despite the varying nature of these challenges, some of the root problems remain the same. Corruption continues to threaten “the integrity of markets, undermine fair competition, distort resource allocation, destroy public trust and undermine the rule of law” as the ACWG pointed out back in 2010. In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic these issues are more important than ever, both from a short-term response perspective (related to emergency procurement and stimulus funds for example), but also from a longer-term recovery perspective (around issues such as building back trust between governments and people).
While the G20 member states have made some progress in their fight against corruption, they have a long way to go if they are serious about tackling the risks identified a decade ago; as does the G20 in tracking what changes are actually being made. The upcoming Riyadh Summit provides an opportunity to not only take stock of the progress (or the lack of it) around this agenda, but also to have an honest conversation about what has worked and what has not.
Counting the Commitments
Every year the G20 announces that it will lead by example and hold itself accountable for its commitments. But this is difficult for a number of reasons.
First, the information gap: many of the G20 anti-corruption resources focus on general topics. Where information is available, it is often outdated. For instance, the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR)– the ACWG’s collaboration with the World Bank and the UNODC- does not provide information on the G20 anti-corruption efforts beyond 2014. Similarly, UNODC’s website to track national legislation and institutional information is down, and the latest reports on UNCAC implementation reviews are not available for most countries.
Second, commitment proliferation: in 2010, the G20 made 3 commitments on anti-corruption. They were very specific and measurable. Currently, there are a total of 122 commitments. Some of the commitments are not new and have been repeated over the years. Over time, the commitments have become broader and more vague. The language used in the declarations and the work plans is often guarded, with phrases like ‘we will consider’ or ‘explore the possible adherence to’, which makes it difficult to track progress.
Third, too many cooks: there are different organizations using different approaches to track progress. This means various commitments are being rated using different metrics. Some of these, like the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) mutual evaluations to track progress against money laundering and terrorist financing, are robust. Similarly, the OECD does a thorough monitoring of member countries on a range of policy issues relating to foreign bribery. On the other hand, monitoring mechanisms like the Accountability Report Questionnaire rely on member countries to self-report their progress to the ACWG, so the process is hardly robust.
Fourth, evaluations can be misleading: countries are at different stages of implementation. This means a country which has recently ratified a convention and passed a law might be considered favorably with respect to another country which has already passed relevant laws but falls short in fulfilling other requirements, such as maintaining records or publishing reports. Moreover, it is hard to track where there might be regression in timely ways. For instance, the OECD had recognized Brazil’s progress in anti-corruption enforcement efforts during its last evaluation in 2014. However, in 2019, it raised concerns about the passing of laws on abuses of authority which would seriously undermine Brazil’s anti-corruption enforcement, but this has not yet fed through to Brazil’s overall ratings.
As a result, developing a clear picture of where countries stand in terms of fulfilling their commitments is tricky. The commitments made during any G20 Summit need to be translated into numerous legislative changes. It is difficult to determine policy effectiveness and track implementation of these in the absence of a robust monitoring process. But we have tried- check out our analysis here.
As you will see, based on the latest available information from OECD reports for individual countries, Australia, Germany and the UK have made progress with foreign bribery commitments. Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Turkey still have a number of outstanding issues. Canada, France, Italy, South Africa and the US have not had a peer review process for at least six years. Despite numerous calls by other G20 members and international organizations like Transparency International, China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia have not yet adopted the OECD convention on anti-bribery. Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Mexico and Turkey stand out for their lack of whistleblower policies.
Similarly, on fulfilling anti-money laundering commitments, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey and the UK are most compliant, according to FATF reports. Australia, Canada, China, and the US have more than two issues where they are fully non-compliant. Unfortunately, mutual evaluations for Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa are outdated, so their progress cannot be determined.
There are a number of things we would like to see from the G20 ACWG as it moves forwards in terms of accountability for commitments on anti-corruption issues, some of which are included in the C20 ACWG Policy Paper this year:
First, Get SMART: the G20 needs to move away from vague declarations and re-examine some of its old commitments to make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Some declarations around specific issues have become less precise over time. For example, during the Brisbane Summit in 2014, the G20 committed to ‘comprehensively and effectively criminalize bribery of domestic and foreign public officials, as well as the solicitation of bribes, establish the liability of legal persons, and enforce such laws through civil and criminal actions.’ But by the Osaka Summit in 2019, this commitment had been weakened to ‘intensify [their] efforts to combat foreign bribery and to ensure that each G20 country has a national law in force for criminalizing foreign bribery as soon as possible.’ The ACWG action plans as well as implementation plans also lack specifics, mostly as to when certain action points will be delivered. There needs to be more specificity as to both actions and the timelines for taking and reporting on those actions.
Second, keep it simple: adding to the list of commitments each year without meaningful implementation makes tracking genuine progress almost impossible. Member countries need to identify a maximum of 5 very specific policy issues they want to focus on for a given year, and adopt a rigorous process to monitor those commitments, while again setting out a work plan with clear outputs and timelines. This year, through the C20, we have helped to lay out just 4 core thematic areas of focus for the G20- read more about them here.
Third, proactive monitoring: a piecemeal approach to monitoring cannot be the way forward. The ACWG needs to lead the monitoring effort with the support of other bodies. The current G20 ACWG has begun to revise the accountability reporting process, which is to be commended, but there is a long way to go. CSOs can be important partners in this effort, of course. Credible, local CSOs will not only fill information gaps by updating information on policies, but they can also act as catalysts to push for necessary reforms. We would reiterate once again that it is essential that civil society is deeply integrated into the G20 process from start to finish each year.
Fourth, open G20: it is ironic that the G20 pushes for open data among member countries, but does not make its own data easily accessible- even through one central website. There is a real need to consolidate and update all relevant data, and make it available in one place. Open data is key to building trust in institutions- as G20 governments know well- and the G20 is no different.
We believe that the G20 ACWG does incredibly important work, and that the C20 ACWG has a critical role to play in making sure that commitments made by G20 governments around corruption issues are put into practice, monitored and evaluated. But this is impossible if the G20 process itself does not adhere to principles of focus, transparency and accountability. The Riyadh Summit is the perfect opportunity for the G20 to put this right.
Blair Glencorse is the Executive Director of Accountability Lab and Co-Chair of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group. Sanjeeta Pant is a Fellow at Accountability Lab.