The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations, with up to 124 million people falling back into extreme poverty in 2020. Corruption has been at the heart of this.
The pandemic has created significant opportunities for graft which have undermined progress on all of the 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From health to education to infrastructure, corruption costs developing countries $1.26 trillion annually. As emphasized by the UN Secretary General’s during the latest Globe Network Launch: “Turning the tide against corruption is essential if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, promote peace, and protect human rights.”
SLOW AND STEADY PROGRESS
The G20 signed up to the SDGs in 2016 by adopting the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which identifies anti-corruption as one of the “issues of common concern.” Since the start of the pandemic, the G20 has emphasised economic recovery and recognized that “anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand with economic response and recovery efforts to ensure the appropriate allocation and distribution of funds.” However, with corruption eroding healthcare spending to the tune of approximately $455 billion, and with the current lack of safeguards for corruption risks, anti-corruption needs to be the top priority for the world’s wealthiest nations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on corruption, and there is consensus that any progress toward recovery will require groups like the G20 to use the SDGs as the overarching framework for sustainability.
The G20 was formed with economic priorities in mind, specifically to coordinate efforts among advanced and emerging economies to prevent global financial crises. Issues like corruption were later integrated, recognizing how it “threatens the integrity of markets, undermines fair competition, distorts resource allocation, destroys public trust and undermines the rule of law.” According to a report by the G20 Research Group, between 2008 and 2019, a total of 128 commitments were made by the G20 member countries on crime and corruption. For example, G20 countries have committed to investigate and prosecute foreign bribery; adopt legislation for whistleblower protection in the private and public sectors; and ensure transparency and beneficial ownership of legal persons.
Over the years, G20 members have made progress and continue to build on their anti-corruption efforts. During the pandemic, 19 countries adapted and strengthened existing mechanisms to monitor public health procurement, including through dedicated task forces and audits. In Indonesia, this meant the Corruption Eradication Commission was involved in the National Task Force on COVID-19 Rapid Response to provide oversight on COVID-19 related procurement. Similarly, Italy’s Special Commissioner for COVID-19 created a dedicated Information and Technology (ICT) Platform requiring all suppliers to register to enable the national-anti corruption authority to trace cash flows.
THE ANTI-CORRUPTION TRACKER
Progress, however, has been slow, partly due to the fact that there is no mechanism in place to hold G20 member states accountable for their anti-corruption commitments. Currently, a number of international organizations use different methodologies as identified in our previous blog. For instance, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) Accountability Report allows member countries to self evaluate progress, and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) uses mutual evaluations to track progress against money laundering and terrorist financing. There have also been attempts by others to measure progress against specific commitments, like Transparency International’s monitoring of beneficial ownership commitments and the G20 Research Group’s Compliance Reports on cyber resilience; public administration resilience; public and private sector transparency; asset recovery; beneficial ownership; and the UNCAC and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anti-bribery conventions.
While all these reports provide valuable information, they are disparate and it is difficult to know where countries are at in terms of implementing various anti-corruption commitments spread over multiple themes. The G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments Tracker was created by Accountability Lab, along with the inputs of many other organizations, to try and address challenges around G20 accountability (or the lack of it) by tracking commitments using an easy-to-understand tool. By tracking progress against commitments such as preventing bribery, money laundering as well as denying safe haven to corrupt officials, the tracker directly supports monitoring progress of SDG 16, which aims to reduce corruption, bribery, illicit financial flows as well as to strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime.
By bringing all the commitments together in one place, the tracker currently acts as a repository to centralize and organize information that is often buried under lengthy reports. This makes top-level information more accessible and comparable. The ratings are based on existing monitoring and evaluation reports published by well-recognized and valid sources, such as the OECD, UN agencies, and the FATF. Rather than a static accountability mechanism, the tracker is meant to be a real-time, collaborative tool, through which member countries are able to provide feedback and updated information.
Besides monitoring and evaluation, the tool is meant to motivate G20 member countries and foster learning. Rather than an effort to call out names, the tracker was formulated with the intention of highlighting areas where countries 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 of the positive changes it has made in implementing anti-bribery laws. Similarly, the US informed us they are preparing to submit the executive summary for the UNCAC review to ensure compliance with the UNCAC review process.
Any effort to either track or monitor anti-corruption work cannot be led by any single organization. This is why the tracker is designed to be open source, and a tool through which relevant stakeholders are able to provide and also validate available information. Moving forward, there are other ways the tracker could be used to further drive engagement and accountability among G20 countries on anti-corruption issues. For instance, G20 member countries can use it to provide policy updates; civil society organizations) to lobby their respective governments, as well as provide timely information, especially around regressive government policies; and other groups, such as the Business 20 (B20) or the Women 20 (W20), to inform discussions, understand overlaps with their own focus areas, and push for stronger implementation of commitments more broadly.
THE G20 CALL TO ACTION
The commitment tracker is certainly not the ultimate answer to G20 accountability on the 2030 SDG Agenda. But the flexibility of the tool and the transparency of the process can help build trust and can be used to drive G20 member countries to be more accountable for their anti-corruption commitments, which will ultimately lead to positive SDG outcomes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on corruption, and there is consensus that any progress toward recovery will require concerted efforts through international fora like the G20, using the SDGs as the overarching framework for sustainability. The G20 Call to Action on Corruption and COVID-19 can be the starting point for member countries to reexamine their promises to the world.
Sanjeeta Pant is the Programs and Learning Manager at Accountability Lab.