G20 and anti-corruption: Time to follow through, rather than generate more hot air

Assessing the 11-year-long experience of the G20’s Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) M. Emilia Berazategui argues that it is time for the G20 ACWG to focus on implementation. As she writes, the anti-corruption commitments made are often not new, repeating promises that were already made, and not follow through, before. This year represents an occasion for the Italian presidency to set a new standard. This is the third blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

“Hot Air Balloon” by Doug Scortegagna, licensed under CC BY 2.0

When it comes to anti-corruption, the G20 has been making all the right noises. This is evident from the Group’s statements and commitments outlined in more than 60 documents, covering areas such as asset recovery, asset disclosure, anonymous company ownership, conflicts of interest, open data, public procurement and whistleblower protection. But should the G20 be proud of its anti-corruption record?

The truth is that the G20 members have only partially implemented various anti-corruption principles they have committed to over the years; just take a look at Transparency International’s assessments here, here and here.

In 2010, the G20 set up an Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) and tasked it with the preparation of “comprehensive recommendations for consideration by leaders on how the G20 could continue to make practical and valuable contributions to international efforts to combat corruption.” Since its establishment, the Working Group has been working on the basis of multi-year action plans, which have been designed to identify priorities for anti-corruption action. This year, the current G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan comes to an end.

The ACWG has a unique opportunity to reassess how its work will continue during the next three years. The new Action Plan should have a strong focus on implementing previous commitments. It should also include clear and detailed information on what the Group is planning to achieve and by when, to allow for meaningful monitoring and accountability.

After 11 years of existence and in a year like this, when corruption continues to undermine many countries and our collective recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, it is time for the G20 ACWG to take action and focus on implementing its pledges, once and for all. And this extends to the G20 more broadly.

Promises that we have heard before

For many years, civil society groups, including Transparency international, have been pushing the G20 to live up to their anti-corruption promises, from position papers to public adverts. The G20 has largely continued with business as usual and the implementation of these commitments remains, at best, inconsistent.

A good example of this is the G20’s own Call to Action on Corruption and COVID-19, adopted last year. The G20’s recognition of the importance of transparency and accountability for ensuring a swift and sustainable recovery was a welcome step, as the burgeoning corruption related to COVID-19 calls for global, multilateral solutions.

Yet, we could not help but notice that many of the commitments were not new. They were, in fact, previously agreed by G20 members and spelled out in a series of high-level principles. Had many of these prior commitments been implemented in the past, now many more countries would have been better equipped to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. With its global reach and economic might, the G20 is one of the few international forums that has the potential to shape and implement policy to fight this crisis.

Sadly, this potential remains untapped also a year later. To tackle the pernicious impact of corruption in times of crisis, the G20 needs to prioritise the effective implementation of key high-level principles to deliver on its Call to Action. That is why Transparency International’s new position paper calls on the G20 to redouble its efforts to deliver on its promise to do its part for ensuring a swift, sustainable and corruption-free recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coordinate better, collaborate wider

All too often, corruption remains an afterthought in G20 leaders’ declarations and, more importantly, actions. But corruption is not an add-on issue that can be dealt with in isolation. There is also very little information on what countries are doing to implement these promises. This leads to a loss of trust from the wider anti-corruption community in the effectiveness and ambition of the G20.

The development of a new Anti-Corruption Action Plan is an opportunity for the G20 ACWG to step out of its silo and to consult with, and to be consulted by, other G20 working groups and tracks – especially Finance – to help ensure that all high-level G20 pledges meaningfully considers corruption risks and counter-measures.

And while the ACWG invites civil society to their meetings, we need better and more meaningful engagement. Some of the ways in which this could be achieved include being more open and honest in their exchanges with civil society, sharing the agenda and outcomes of the Working Group meetings, meeting with local civil society throughout the year – both prior to and after G20 Working Group meetings – in all countries.

The message they will hear from the civil society following the G20 process is likely going to be simple: we don’t need more empty promises. After all, why make new commitments when the previous ones are still outstanding? 

Maria Emilia Berazategui is the Global Advocacy Lead at the international secretariat of Transparency International, based in Berlin, where she develops and implements the strategic global advocacy of the TI movement, present in over 100 countries. Before joining Transparency International, María Emilia led the area of Political Institutions and Government at an Argentine civil society organisation, Poder Ciudadano. In 2018 she was appointed Civil 20 (C20) Sherpa under the presidency of Argentina. In 2017 and 2019 she was a member of the C20 Steering Committee, and in 2018 and 2019 she was the co-Chair of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

Posted in G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda, International Development

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