News 12th Nov 2019

How are anti-corruption reforms progressing globally? We reveal which areas are gaining traction

Rose Whiffen

Research Officer

Rose is a Research Officer specialising in political corruption. Her work covers issues of money in politics, access to influence and lobbying accountability as well as open governance. She previously worked as a Project Officer for Transparency International UK's 'Promise to Practice' project, where she led on the global anti-corruption pledge tracker. Before joining Transparency International, she worked for Democracy Club and previously interned for Corruption Watch UK, a precursor to Spotlight on Corruption.

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Three years have passed since more than 40 countries gathered at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London and made specific pledges for tackling corruption. However, commitments are only half of the story. At Transparency International, we are interested in the long and often difficult journey towards implementation.

That’s why we created, together with other Transparency International national chapters, the Global Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker, an innovative tool to track the progress of the anti-corruption commitments made at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit. The tool currently monitors 162 commitments across six thematic categories: asset recovery, beneficial ownership, law enforcement, open data, public procurement and whistleblowing protection.

Momentum, international pressure, and media attention can lead to governments making ambitious commitments at summits, but do they actually plan to keep to their promises? The Global Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker aims to answer the question: after the summit is over, how do we hold governments accountable to their promises?

Clusters of progress

After three years, only 31 per cent of commitments are deemed ‘complete’.

However, new analysis reveals that a few clusters of progress are emerging. These clusters focus around four key anti-corruption reform areas: asset recovery, beneficial ownership transparency, open contracting and whistleblower protection.

Not surprisingly, two of these clusters overlap with the focus areas of two fantastic organisations, Open Ownership and the Open Contracting Partnership.

On asset recovery, we’ve seen multiple developments across several countries, with the Swiss government, in collaboration with the Basel Institute on Governance, creating the ‘Lausanne Guidelines for the Efficient Recovery of Stolen Assets’ in 2017.

Transparency International chapters updating on the enforcement of the GFAR principles at the UNCAC working group on asset recovery.

The UK, US and four focus countries — Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine — developed and adopted the GFAR principles for accountable asset return. Also, many governments are either adopting new asset recovery legislation or, like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, creating draft laws.

Indonesia has proven to be a leader in South Asia, legislating for a central register of beneficial owners of companies. Relevant government and law enforcement agencies may request direct access to the database. The public can also request for access. Although the register is not open by default, it is nonetheless an important first step in global beneficial ownership transparency.

This year Ghana launched an electronic procurement system for the public sector, Ghana’s Electronic Procurement System (GHANEPS), designed to address corruption in procurement procedures. Whilst data in the portal is not yet in the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) format, the government intends to publish in OCDS.

In 2016, the UK Government introduced the world’s first freely available public register of beneficial ownership of companies. Since then, we have been advocating for the data in this register to be properly verified, which the Government is now consulting on. In addition, and following Transparency International UK’s 2017 research that identified £4.4 billion worth of UK property bought with suspicious wealth, we are calling on the UK Government to urgently introduce a public beneficial ownership register for property. Such a register was committed to in 2016 and would reveal the beneficial ownership information for foreign companies who already own or buy property in the UK.

Does activity always mean progress?

There are 25 commitments that have remained ‘active’ for a year and 18 commitments that have been in this category for two years.

For a commitment to be classed as ‘active’ it has to see some degree of activity every 6 months. This could be the government putting out a call for evidence on a bill, or the partial upload of data to the government’s procurement site.

In some cases, it is possible that the activity we are seeing is just window dressing. It is very possible that a government might be avoiding implementing certain anti-corruption measures but trying to show to the public and the international community that action is being taken.

In those cases where a government may be deliberately slow-walking implementation, the pledge tracker can play a key role in advocating to governments to encourage these commitments to become complete. TI chapters and other civil society organisations can use the pledge tracker in conversations with government to quantify their government’s progress. In this way, the findings from the tracker are then difficult for governments to refute. The pledge tracker also enables TI to be a credible watchdog, letting governments know we can see when commitments have remained ‘stuck’, that is ‘active’ but not ‘complete’ for long periods of time.

We take international commitments very seriously. We don’t want governments to spend public resources in expensive meetings and summits if there is no intention to fulfil their promises. 2019 is the third anniversary of the Anti-Corruption London Summit, the time for simply resolving to make changes has long since passed. Another year should not go by with incomplete commitments, now is time to implement.

*To find out more about how anti-corruption reforms are progressing globally, check out the newest version of the www.anticorruptionpledgetracker.com/ and our new report ‘Advocacy in Action’.*