To meet their targets on fighting corruption – which has worsened globally in the wake of COVID-19 – G20 leaders should consider new ways to use technology, emphasise fiscal transparency and call for the adoption of a universal definition of corruption
The 2020 Saudi presidency has identified corruption as a threat to national and international stability, and for the first time organised a ministerial meeting on anti-corruption, doing so in the lead up to the Riyadh Summit.
With the global spread of COVID-19, opportunities for corruption have multiplied. There is a very real threat of the exploitation of the G20’s stimulus to reduce the economic damage caused by the pandemic, as well as other public funds, assets and emergency aid, by corrupt public officials, leaving millions to die, ill or in abject poverty. With governments stretched fighting the pandemic, there is less oversight over procurement and spending, including awarding contracts for personal protective equipment, ventilators and medication; distributing grants, financial support and subsidised loans; and disbursing development aid. Public funds could be misappropriated, contracts could be awarded for suboptimal goods and medicines to individuals connected to governments, and aid could end up in offshore bank accounts or simply in the wrong hands.
G20 leaders this year should thus make effective commitments and initiatives to fight corruption that they can abide by, with higher levels of adoption and implementation.
G20 leaders have dedicated a solid portion of their communiqués to anti-corruption, beginning with 6% at the 2008 Washington Summit. They made no references at the 2009 London Summit. The 2009 Pittsburgh Summit had 4%, followed by 3% at the 2010 Toronto Summit. The all-time high was 11% at the 2010 Seoul Summit. This declined to 8% at the 2011 Cannes Summit and 4% at the 2012 Los Cabos Summit. The 2013 St Petersburg Summit had 6%, with 3% each at the 2014 Brisbane and 2015 Antalya summits, and then 6% at the 2016 Hangzhou Summit. It dipped to 1% at the 2017 Hamburg Summit, then increased to 4% at the 2018 Buenos Aires Summit and 9% at the 2019 Osaka Summit.
From 2008 to 2019, G20 leaders made 128 anti-corruption commitments or 0.5% of their commitments on all subjects. The 2008 Washington, 2009 Pittsburgh and 2010 Toronto summits each had three (between 2% and 5%). The number increased to nine (6%) at 2010 Seoul, dropped to five (2%) at 2011 Cannes and rose again to seven (4%) at 2012 Los Cabos. The peak came at 2013 St Petersburg with 33 (12%). The 2014 Brisbane and 2015 Antalya summits each had three (2% and 4%, respectively). The 2016 Hangzhou Summit had seven (3%), the 2017 Hamburg Summit had 32 (6%) and the 2019 Osaka Summit had 13 (9%).
The G20 Research Group’s assessment of 11 anti-corruption commitments, including an interim assessment for 2019, found compliance averaged 59%. Compliance for 2009 Pittsburgh averaged 63%, for 2010 Toronto dropped to 40%, but rose significantly to 73% for 2010 Seoul. It decreased to 53% for 2011 Cannes and 45% for 2012 Los Cabos. It rose to 58% for both 2013 St Petersburg and 2015 Antalya, to 68% for 2016 Hangzhou and to 70% for 2017 Hamburg. The interim average for 2019 Osaka dipped to 65%.
Causes and corrections
The four highest-complying summits averaged 69% and the six lowest-complying ones averaged 51% (excluding the interim Osaka score). The lowest-complying group had 4,167 words on anti-corruption, while the highest complying group had 3,525 words. This suggests the G20 should dedicate fewer words to anti-corruption.
The lowest-complying group generated 52 anti-corruption commitments and the highest complying group generated 51, suggesting the number of anti-corruption commitments has no correlation with compliance with them.
The use of highly binding language, such as ‘we commit’, leads to higher compliance and indicates political will. Compliance with anti-corruption commitments using such language averaged 65%, while those using less binding language averaged 53%.
Commitments that referenced an international organisation averaged 58% compliance compared to 64% for those with no such reference. The five commitments that referenced the United Nations Convention Against Corruption averaged 59% compliance, similar to 60% for the five that did not.
For their Riyadh Summit G20 leaders should continue executing the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan 2019–2021, implementing national anti-corruption strategies, considering new ways to use technology to cut time and costs, and focusing on public-private partnerships and integrity in privatisation. They should place emphasis on fiscal transparency, oversight and accountability in public procurement, asset declarations for senior officials, whistleblower protection and the criminalisation of bribery. They should continue exploring the links between gender and corruption and call for the adoption of a universal definition of corruption with support from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.