Ambitious, collaborative, accountable: to deliver change, the G20 must first empower a wide array of anticorruption actors

It is too easy to sigh that ‘more must be done’ by international fora such as the G20, writes Maggie Murphy. Rather than to deliver a breakthrough intergovernmental agreement, Murphy argues that the point of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) is to create inches of space for other actors to enter and expand the anti-corruption field. This is the fifth blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

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People love to be sceptical about inter-governmental forums. Having worked for more than 5 years as Transparency International’s lead representative to the G20 (2013-2018), I am all too familiar with the scepticism that comes from being assigned 10 short minutes to present ambitious recommendations to a conference room of glazed eyes – whether the result of a big lunch or a late night arguing over commas and conjunctions that very few people around the world will ultimately read.

The G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group meets three times a year, sets biennial action plans, adopts Principles on a range of key issues from anti-bribery to open data to asset recovery, issues individual country guides, topic toolkits and more. I count more than 80 individual documents that the Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) has created since 2010 on this hidden German Ministry webpage (kudos to the Germans for their efforts here in trying to share the documents with those who know where to go). But the sceptics ask, who reads them? Are these documents doing anything? What good has come from them?

It is too easy to sigh that “more must be done”. If you are looking for a group of governmental representatives to make progress on anything alone, you will be disappointed. The point of the G20 ACWG is to create inches of space for other actors to enter and expand. When the following parameters are met, it is possible to generate change.

  • Ambition: The G20 Summits are consensus-based. This is good for pushing some countries to be more ambitious, but terrible if the lowest common denominator prevails. The more open a group is to external scrutiny and analysis, the more likely new, ambitious proposals will be adopted.
  • Collaboration. The G20 ACWG was one of few working groups that routinely invited the Civil 20 (C20) and Business 20 (B20) representatives to meetings. Whilst not perfect, non-governmental stakeholders were permitted to pitch their ideas and positions, which would subsequently strengthen or weaken government positions on final official documents, hopefully raising the bar. 
  • Accountability. Above all, progress was made when there was accountability. Far too often, civil society organisations celebrated words being included in a communiqué and then moved on after the “win”. Sometimes this is a resource issue, sometimes this is due to the lack of decent strategy or longer-term vision, and sadly, sometimes this was the wilful belief that the words would be put into action by government representatives without continued pressure. 

A turning point on Beneficial Ownership transparency

In 2014, Transparency International was instrumental in pushing the adoption of G20 Beneficial Ownership Principles at the Brisbane Summit. The Principles were far from perfect and other civil society organisations immediately disowned them as weak and ineffective.

For us at Transparency International, we knew how hard it had been to get even that weakened language on the table. Rather than walk away, we bedded down and spent one whole year breaking down each of the ten principles into individual components, and developing a detailed methodology to assess and monitor each country’s implementation. We found that  15 of the G20 members had weak or average legal frameworks in place. We persisted, developing individual country profiles identifying concrete areas for improvement.

We caused some government annoyance for being laser-focused on the Principles where they were keen to work on new areas.  We were criticised by civil society organisations for being too lenient – they preferred the all or nothing approach, but it was important to us to hold those governments accountable to their own words, not ours. Two years later, nine countries had moved up a category. Now, several years on, the US, Canada and a number of Overseas Territories have moved forward towards our ultimate goal of requiring clear, open, public beneficial ownership registers. This was unthinkable back in 2014.

This takes me to my final point. The G20 and their working groups are one component in one single global process. Civil society actors (and others) are fully able to put in hard yards and not just shout from the sidelines. And the G20 process interacts with, but is not dependent on, other global processes. We used the slow progress at the G20 to incentivise non-G20 governments to step up, and pushed for increased visibility of beneficial ownership transparency at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London in 2016. The Summit generated 648 commitments from 43 countries, 17% of which were on the topic of beneficial ownership, compared to 0.01% of commitments made on anti-bribery laws and enforcement.

As soon as we give in to cynicism, we lose our own sense of agency and become bystanders to a process. Far better to channel the cynicism into concrete ways to support and promote ambition, collaboration and accountability on anti-corruption goals.

Maggie Murphy is General Manager at Lewes FC. She is a former Director for Public Policy and Sport Integrity at the Sport Integrity Global Alliance and a former Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Transparency International, where she led TI’s advocacy efforts at international forums including the G20, Anti-Corruption Summit, OECD and others. She also runs Equal Playing Field (EPF), a grassroots initiative to challenge gender inequality in sport.

Posted in G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda, Governance, International Development

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