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Four anti-corruption takeaways from the 2019 G20 Summit

After 11th-hour negotiations at last week’s G20 summit in Osaka, the assembled leaders reached consensus on a communiqué through which they sought to identify shared solutions to some of the most pressing challenges faced by the global community.

Anti-corruption featured far more prominently in this programme than in previous years, and the G20 adopted new commitments and resources for tackling this major threat to sustainable development that works for all.

So, where do we go from here?

After engaging with the G20 throughout the process and attending the Summit, here are our four main anti-corruption takeaways from the 2019 G20.

1. Whistleblowing protection: imperfect promises shouldn’t deter action

Nine years after whistleblower protection was first placed on the G20 agenda, G20 Leaders endorsed High Level Principles for the Effective Protection of Whistleblowers. Although the Principles have some weaknesses as well as strengths, at Transparency International we welcome this initiative and call for urgent and effective implementation.

The High Level Principles tell G20 countries to establish and implement clear laws and policies for the protection of whistleblowers. This is particularly relevant for those G20 countries with weak or even absent legislation on the issue. The Principles also include an unprecedented recognition by the G20 of the gender-specific aspects of whistleblowing. By connecting the new principles to the 2015 High Level Principles on Private Sector Transparency and Integrity, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) is finally starting to ensure that the thematic standards of its work talk to each other. This is in line with civil society recommendations.

On the other hand, many elements essential to whistleblower protection are presented as ‘nice to haves’. This included the protection of whistleblowers that work in the private sector, effective remedies for whistleblowers who suffered retaliation, and protection against disciplinary and court procedures. A strong whistleblowing protection system needs all those elements. It is not a case of pick and choose. Stakeholders such as civil society, business representatives and trade unions are also missing from guidance on the establishment and revision of national whistleblower protection frameworks.

2. Infrastructure: implement, implement, implement

This year, the G20 developed a Compendium of Good Practices for Promoting Integrity and Transparency in Infrastructure Development.

In the document, the G20 again recognizes that transparency about the ultimate owners of companies is critical to the fight against corruption. In line with civil society suggestions (here, here and here), they recommend implementing company beneficial ownership registers in order to reduce the possibilities of public funds being used to favor specific individuals or companies, and to identify conflicts of interest.

The G20 also recognized Integrity Pacts as a collaborative approach between government, business and civil society for assessing and mitigating the risk of corruption in infrastructure development. At Transparency International, we have experience working with this tool and we believe it is a way in which G20 countries can support independent civil society monitoring of large-scale infrastructure projects. This will help ensure governments are delivering on commitments to transparency, efficient and accountable procurement.

The compendium document acknowledges different open data standards, such as the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS). This is great, but G20 countries need to walk the talk and close the implementation gap that still remains with the G20 High Level Principles on Open Data adopted in 2015.

As with whistleblower protection, the infrastructure compendium explicitly links to previous G20 Anti-Corruption Commitments.

The G20 also developed Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. Although this document includes a weak mention of transparency and anti-corruption, there is not a single mentioned of the anti-corruption resources the G20 has developed so far. If implemented, these help reduce corruption risks in infrastructure, as well as many other areas. So it is worth asking how effective is the dialogue between the G20 ACWG and the rest of the G20 working groups. Corruption is not an add-on issue that can be dealt with in isolation, and the G20 needs to improve the dialogue between its working groups.

3. Gender and Corruption: urgent action is needed

Without doubt, the links between gender and corruption are becoming more prominent at the G20. Yet, more needs to be done. The G20 should go beyond their promise of looking into gender-specific aspects of corruption, and adopt and implement specific measures in order to reduce the disproportional impact that corruption has on women. Civil society has already shared specific recommendations for how G20 countries could address the links between gender and corruption (here and here). Last year, the B20, C20 and W20 joined voices to call on G20 countries not only to work on the links between gender and corruption but also share concrete recommendations on how this could be done

4. Civil Society engagement: give us a better seat at the table

Although the G20 invites various guests to take part in meetings, its history of speaking to citizen groups and civil society is mixed. One of the great weaknesses of the G20 is the lack civil society representatives around the table, in the same way as access has been granted to business. This does nothing for trust, and contributes to the perception that governments are too close to business or act only in their interests.

Experiences across the G20’s various Working Groups are mixed. We are lucky to have a standing item on the agenda of the Anti-Corruption Working Group, where governments speak to business and civil society on the same footing. While we appreciate this, it became clear in Osaka that other working groups do not give civil society a similar role.

Civil society is not just a watchdog. It includes innovators, technologists and policy experts that can help support implementation in order to achieve the best possible results. Civil society can also to contribute to increased transparency and the credible evaluation of outcomes.

Is the G20 more serious about taking the lead against corruption?

Over the last years, G20 Leaders have been very good at committing themselves to tackle corruption. They have developed more than 60 anti-corruption resources and included a specific anti-corruption paragraph in G20 Leader´s Communiqué. On paper at least, there is no doubt that they are committed to tackling corruption.

Once again, in Osaka, G20 Leaders said they “remain committed to play a leading role in the global efforts to prevent and fight against corruption, as well as promoting integrity (…)”. At Transparency International, we take commitments and promises seriously, and we want to see G20 Leaders fulfilling their anti-corruption promises with implementation and action.