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How the G20 can help COVID-19 recovery in 2021

Under Italian Presidency, G20 has an opportunity to speed up anti-corruption progress in key areas

A man in a COVID-19 mask, walking by the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Photo: Marco Iacobucci Epp on Shutterstock

M. Emilia Berazategui, profile photo
M. Emilia Berazategui

Global Advocacy Lead, Transparency International

With the COVID-19 pandemic being far from over, 2021 is a critical year for the global community. As a forum for the world’s leading economies to come together and look for solutions to global challenges, the G20 can play an important role in navigating the troubled waters ahead.

In 2021 the international community will need to show courage and ambition in order to overcome the great challenges of today: from recovering from the pandemic to addressing climate change, from supporting innovation to overcoming poverty and inequality.
Italian G20 Presidency

The G20 leaders must not forget that corruption is a major obstacle to improvement in all these areas.

Corruption hampers economic growth and increases poverty, depriving the most marginalised groups of equitable access to vital services such as healthcare, education and water and sanitation.

In addition, funds for climate adaptation and mitigation are at risk of being squandered because of corruption.

This week, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group will meet for the first time since Italy took over the group’s presidency. Transparency International’s new position papers outline key anti-corruption reform areas the group should prioritise this year, if they were to meaningfully address some of today’s greatest challenges.

Modern forms of corruption

This year, the G20 is placing particular emphasis on modern forms of corruption, such as transnational schemes to launder dirty money through the global financial system. These are increasingly linked to organised crime.

By now, the G20 has adopted several high-level principles committing to reforms and effective action to combat transnational corruption, economic and organised crime. However, like so many G20 anti-corruption commitments, implementation of these principles and other existing standards has been uneven and slow. Moreover, some existing standards do not go far enough to address modern forms of corruption and organised crime, leaving major loopholes in many jurisdictions.

The international community needs to create a level playing field with improvements to the rules of global finance and ensure these are properly implemented by all countries and every affected industry.

Transparency International’s new position paper outlines calls on the G20 leaders to take immediate action for disrupting the systems and mechanisms enabling economic crime, organised criminal activity and transnational corruption.

Transnational corruption, economic & organised crime

Corruption in times of crisis

This could not be more important in a year like this, when corruption continues to undermine many countries and our collective recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

A crisis creates the perfect storm for corruption to thrive. In a high-pressure environment, there is a risk that precious public resources will be captured and decisions distorted by vested private interests.

Corruption can also cripple recovery and growth in the aftermath of crises. Effective responses often rely heavily on public works, procurement and reconstruction efforts – all of which are highly vulnerable to corrupt practices.

A year ago, the G20 adopted a Call to Action on Corruption and COVID-19, which recognised the importance of transparency and accountability for ensuring a swift and sustainable recovery. Now, G20 leaders need to redouble their efforts to effectively implement their own key anti-corruption policies and deliver on the Call to Action. Countries must pay special attention to the following areas: political decision-making; public procurement; beneficial ownership transparency; whistleblowing; anti-corruption authorities; and civic space and media freedom.

In a new position paper, Transparency International calls on the G20 to redouble its efforts to deliver on its promise to ensure a swift, sustainable and corruption-free recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corruption in times of crisis

Action, or Inaction Plan?

Since 2010, the G20 has shown good intent, setting up a specific working group on anti-corruption and developing more than 60 documents that address a wide range of topics, including anonymous company ownership, conflicts of interest, public procurement and asset disclosure. The problem is that actual implementation of these commitments by G20 countries remains, at best, inconsistent.

Now, the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group has an opportunity to address this through a new Action Plan that will guide its work for the next three years.

The work of the Anti-Corruption Working Group is key to achieving many of the G20’s objectives. The new Action Plan is therefore also an opportunity for the Working Group to improve coordination and cooperation with other G20 working groups.

In September 2020, the group met for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. By then, their deafening silence during a period of immense global upheaval illustrated a failure to provide leadership in the face of the most serious public health and economic crisis of the last century.

The G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group must turn commitments into reality

The current G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan comes to an end this year. The new Action Plan should have a strong focus on implementing previous commitments. It should include clear and detailed information to allow for detailed monitoring and accountability. It should show real commitment to key topic such as gender and corruption, which must be addressed to effectively combat gender inequality.

At this point, after 11 years of existence, it is not good enough for the Working Group only to recognise that implementation is needed. Now is the time to act.