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What would make this year’s G20 summit a success?

M Emilia Berazategui

In a few days, the eyes of the world will be on Osaka, Japan, as world leaders gather there for the G20 summit. With the summit set against a backdrop of political polarization and trade wars, many increasingly doubt the G20 Leaders’ ability to reach consensus around the critical global issues on the summit’s agenda. Even so, we at Transparency International believe that the Osaka summit can bring us closer to a fairer and more prosperous future for all, and we have some ideas of what would make this G20 one for the history books.

More than words

G20 Leaders have adopted many anti-corruption commitments, but, sadly, there is little evidence of any real progress when it comes to turn words into action.

A quick scan of the Anti-Corruption Working Group shows more than 60 anti-corruption resources on a wide variety of topics, such as conflict of interest, integrity in public procurement, open data, beneficial ownership transparency and asset declarations.

The G20 Research Group counts a total of 115 commitments on corruption and money laundering combined since 2008.

Yet, our research shows that these are far from being implemented (see here and here).

6. Shell companies in secrecy jurisdictions are the key ingredient to making many corrupt infrastructure schemes work. The #G20 adopted High Level Principles on #BeneficialOwnership Transparency but there is not much progress. Please #G20TakeAction! https://t.co/QHWqINiUPd — Transparency Int'l (@anticorruption) 15 May 2019

This lack of implementation — combined with poor accountability mechanisms — is a weakness that has allowed, and will continue allowing, major cross-border grand corruption scandals to take place.

Fortunately, we are not the only ones who believe that it is time for the G20 to take action.

Last year, the Business 20, which represents the private sector, and the Civil 20, which represents civil society, joined their voices to urge G20 countries to put into practice all the anti-corruption principles and tools developed so far — and track whether they are having the expected impact.

Furthermore, this year, more than 400 Civil Society Organizations from all over the world have sent a clear message to the G20: speeches and commitments should be translated into concrete, timely and realistic actions.

So, at the G20 Summit, Leaders should focus on implementing their commitments and not feel tempted to keep making promises. After all, why make new promises when the previous ones have not been kept?

Make economic growth work for all, not just the few.

It is time for the G20 to put people at the centre of its policies. Every decision must have citizens at the heart of it. It must be an inclusive G20!

For that to work, policies must push for inclusive growth, with nobody left behind. Anti-corruption is crucial for this; it shouldn’t be left in a silo. Instead, anti-corruption should be mainstreamed into every decision or policy — for example on infrastructure investment — so they are efficient, effective and work for ordinary people.

That means closing down the opportunities for corruption to creep in.

That means giving everyone the opportunity to report corruption and other wrongdoing at work, regardless of their type of contract or if they work in the public or private sector.

That means eradicating the anonymous shell companies that help the corrupt steal millions from government budgets.

That means clean contracting provisions, to stop lucrative government contracts going to politicians’ cronies.

That means shedding light on conflicts of interest and addressing them so that people can trust their government’s decisions. The public should know that businesses win contracts paid in tax-payer money because they have the best product and not because they have the best contact book.

Eight summit themes; one common obstacle

Japan, as G20 host country, recently provided some clarity on the main themes of the summit’s agenda: the global economy, trade and investment, employment, innovation, development, energy and the environment, women’s empowerment, and health.

G20 leaders will have two days to find shared solutions to these pressing global challenges.

Leaving anti-corruption off the list of themes is not a good starting point. Nevertheless, G20 Leaders must not forget that corruption is a major obstacle to improvement in all eight 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.

Corruption impacts poor people the hardest and exacerbates inequality. Almost a quarter of the world’s poorest people paid a bribe in the previous year, compared to 14 per cent of the wealthiest. In Bangladesh, for example, one in four families who were trying to enroll in a stipend programme specifically for poor students had to pay a bribe. Corruption denies people a right to education and a right to improve their lives.

Corruption also disproportionately impacts women in many parts of the world, where, as primary care givers, they are the ones taking children to schools and hospitals and accessing other government services.

Equally, corruption undermines smart, innovative companies by awarding public contracts to corrupt businesspeople who see paying a bribe as a shortcut to success. These corrupt deals remain hidden, because not enough information is published about where taxpayers’ money goes.

If G20 leaders fail to address corruption in an effective way, it will undermine their efforts to tackle the common challenges we face, and their ability to make any progress on the main themes of the Summit.

Corruption is one of the key drivers of mistrust in politics. Strong and concrete anti-corruption measures by the G20 would signal that leaders are finally starting to take citizens’ concerns seriously.

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