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New Year, New Momentum for International Anti-Corruption Efforts: Promoting International Standards for Beneficial Ownership Transparency, Public Procurement and Open Contracting to Tackle Corruption at Wilton Park

Rose Whiffen

Martin Bille Hermann, Denmark’s state secretary for development policy, announced to countries attending the 2018 International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) that ‘Now is the time to act’ on anti-corruption commitments made at various international summits. At Transparency International UK (TI-UK), through our work on the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit, we have also been calling on governments to implement their anti-corruption commitments. In many countries, whilst there may be political will to implement, there is often a lack of technical expertise — governments don’t always know how to implement these commitments. That is why this week, 16th-18th January 2019, we are hosting, with Wilton Park and the Transparency International Health Initiative (TI-HI), a practical conference for countries to learn the how of implementation. The invite-only conference is entitled: ‘Tackling Corruption: Making progress, learning lessons and building capacity’.

In particular, the conference will focus on implementing anti-corruption commitments made on beneficial ownership, public procurement and open contracting (and its impact on health). At the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit over 40 governments and five international organisations made over 700 individual pledges to tackle corruption. Around a quarter of the total of these commitments focused on beneficial ownership or public procurement, with open contracting as one of the major emerging themes at the time.

Two years on from the Summit, and TI-UK has been tracking the progress of these commitments, with the ‘Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker’. Of the countries that we are following, 73 per cent of the total number of commitments made by governments on beneficial ownership and public procurement are either already complete or are being worked on. But only 27 per cent of the total commitments on these issues are now complete. This suggests that, for the majority of these commitments, governments are trying to implement reform but are not quite able to get these reforms over the line. There’s still more work to be done.

How will the Wilton Park conference help to progress anti-corruption reforms?

Governments, civil society and the private sector often need technical expertise to implement anti-corruption reforms. This conference aims to build this technical expertise across sectors by exchanging experiences and learning from experts, and equip campaigners and practitioners across the world with the tools and networks they need to drive forward positive reform.

The Who

At the conference representatives from Afghanistan, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda, United Kingdom and Zambia will be joined by international organisations, academics and thematic experts. Along with long-standing partners of TI, we have brought together different voices from different regions to join the anti-corruption conversation in order to keep the conference fresh and dynamic. From each country we have invited participants from the government, civil society and the private sector in order to build cross-sector partnership and collaboration. Ultimately, we have invited those who are tasked with the daily delivery of implementing the commitments, rather than the high level representatives who make them.

The What

The conference has also been designed to be interactive and practical — it will not just be a talking shop. In particular, one of the sessions will be an anti-corruption ‘speed dating’ of sorts. Here, country participants from the government, civil society and private sector will rotate through different tables where they have an opportunity to ask thematic experts practical questions. It is also expected that participants will share their experiences of implementing anti-corruption reforms in their own country. They can share the challenges they’ve encountered and any advice that they can thus give. The full programme of the conference can be found here.

Through TI-UK’s work on tracking the implementation of commitments made at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit, and TI-HI’s work on open contracting for health, we anticipate that countries may discuss the following challenges and trends at the conference:

· Government Co-ordination — That the lack of co-ordination between government departments or agencies slows down anti-corruption reform and can lead citizens to doubt that anti-corruption efforts are a priority across all-government departments.

· Changing political climates — When governments change, their priorities also change. An anti-corruption agenda may have been set by one government but has to be implemented by another. This can prove to be a challenging environment to operate in.

· Threat to the independence of anti-corruption bodies- Civil society actors in country are recognising that whilst the creation of independent anti-corruption bodies is challenging, maintaining the independence of these bodies can be even more so.

· Ensuring political buy-in across all tiers of government — Especially with regards to the open contracting for health programme that the TI-HI are undertaking, gaining the support of local government has proved easier than gaining the support of central government. However, to ensure the sustainability of the project, central government support also has to be secured.

· Implementing reforms in new contexts — When reforms have never been implemented before in a certain country context and at a local level, this can prove challenging as there is no experience to draw upon. This is particularly true in the context of open contracting for health in sub-Saharan Africa.

With government, civil society and private sector actors coming together, we hope that cross-sectoral relationships can be built that will continue beyond the conference. Participants should leave with a renewed interest in exchanging experiences and advice on anti-corruption reforms. Lastly, armed with an understanding of how to ensure robust implementation we hope that this conference will give anti-corruption actors new momentum and fresh ideas to drive reforms in their own countries.

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