News 22nd Jun 2020

Governments may use COVID-19 to reduce transparency. That’s why monitoring promises to combat corruption is...

share:

As many experts in the transparency and accountability sector raise the importance of monitoring at this time more than ever, we are launching the latest update of the Global Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker.

The advantage of this platform lies in the fact that it has been tracking governments progress against their anti-corruption commitments consistently for more than 3 years and not only in moments of crisis. The tracking process writes a history of anti-corruption reform at the national and international level, by building a track record of changing priorities and government responses to mutating external events. Tracking is of great support to advocates to push for anti-corruption reform and, at Transparency International, we firmly believe in monitoring as one of the building blocks of transparency and accountability.

The latest update, launched in May 2020, sees the participation of 20 countries from all around the world that were present in the 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit and tracks their 181 commitments. Of these, 75.7% are in play[1], (defined as having seen progress in the last six months) while 24.3% are currently out of play and are showing no progress, a lack of public evidence or have missed the deadline for implementation.  

It is never too late to progress on commitments Important to notice are commitments that have come back into play – those that have turned from no data/inactive to ongoing/underway/complete. In this update of the Pledge Tracker, we see that 28.3% of commitments have come into play, and this is largely due to the staggering progress made in Jordan. Thanks to the cooperation between Rasheed (Transparency International Jordan) and the Jordanian Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission, 8 out 11 commitments have turned from inactive/no data to ongoing, making their overall pool ‘in play’. Specifically, there have been important amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Law, as well as efforts aimed at cooperating with other countries, international organisations and civil society organisations to implement the UNCAC voluntary provisions.  Three years on from the 2016 London Summit, the progress in Jordan is proof that is never too late for a government to keep its promises.

This is one of many examples where Transparency International’s global pledge tracker has proven helpful in advancing advocacy asks and helping citizens, NGOs and governments nationally and internationally to monitor progress in relation to various thematic areas.    Asset Recovery: 81% of commitments on asset recovery are in play

Asset recovery is the legal process through which a country, government and/or its citizens recover the resources and other assets that were stolen through corruption from another jurisdiction. Of the 81% of commitments that are still in play, 30% are on creating or strengthening the legal framework around asset recovery. This is the case of South Korea, where the Corruption Property Confiscation Act was amended in August 2019 to include non-conviction based confiscation of property suspected to be the proceeds of crime. In Nigeria, non-conviction based approaches (NCBA) are increasingly used by the anti-corruption agencies and the judiciary. While there seems to be improved understanding about the utilisation of the NCBAs and their potential, the crisis has slowed things down, risking to loose political support. In Bulgaria, according to its annual report for year 2019, on the grounds of new legislation, the Commission for Prevention of Corruption and Forfeiture of Illegal Assets (CPCIAF) commenced a total of 79 cases for forfeiture of illegal assets. The next iteration is expected to provide more information in relation to these cases.  

Beneficial Ownership Transparency: 72% of commitments on beneficial ownership are in play

Greater transparency around beneficial ownership of trust funds and companies would allow dirty money to be more easily traced and make it more difficult and less attractive for people to benefit from the proceeds of corruption and crime.

Thanks to our pledge tracker, it is possible to check how countries are doing against other multilateral initiatives. For instance, it would be possible to filter by all the countries that have committed in some form to better beneficial ownership transparency and measure them against the 12 principles recently released by Open Ownership. This kind of cross checking and embedding of commitments into other initiatives is key to build effective advocacy strategies and sharing of best practices.

An example of this is the one of Mexico and Kenya that are part of the Beneficial Ownership Leadership Group advocating for the global policy shift towards free, open beneficial ownership data. In Spain, there are currently two Beneficial Ownership registers, “Registro de Titularidades Reales (RETIR)” managed by the Spanish Registers Bar (Colegio de Registradores de España) and the database of the General Counsel of Notaries (Consejo General del Notariado), the Base de Datos de Titularidad Real (BDTR). Both of these only provide information upon request; however, with the transposition of the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering directive, the government is starting to consider the various options available to make the information public. One of the options could be to unify the two registries into one to then make it public. Ghana has successful fulfilled part of its commitment to prevent the misuse of companies and legal arrangements to hide the proceeds of corruption by strengthening further both the Companies Bill and the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill. While these tackle the collection of accurate and timely company beneficial ownership information, this is not yet available and accessible to the public. The Registrar of Companies in Ghana holds the view that this commitment will also be fulfilled by the end of 2020. The pledge tracker will allow us to keep monitoring this process.  

Public procurement: 76% of commitments on public procurement are in play

The pledge tracker offers cross-sectional research value when it comes to understanding a country context in relation to its legal framework. In the case of public procurement, our tracker gathers all public procurement portals available in the countries that participate to this initiative, and also provides easy access to the respective procurement laws, the COVID-19 response a country has or has not put in place, and expert comments on what the framework is equipped with or is lacking when it comes to transparent public procurement.

For example, while the Afghan government started building a public procurement system before the London Summit, there was value in further committing to it at the Summit, and in tracking to ensure continuous effectiveness of the Afghanistan Government Electronic and Open Procurement System (AGEOPS) in publicly listing corrupt bidders. Every iteration, with the help of partners at the local level, we ensure that these tools continue working, and are used by contractors. As further analysed by the Open Contracting Partnership, in Afghanistan, “these approaches became vehicles to increase transparency and actively involve business and community groups in public affairs”.

Conversely, in many parts of the world, governments have made temporary changes to the Public Procurement Law as a response to the Covid19 pandemic, modifications that may bring setbacks to their commitments. An example of this can be witnessed in Russia where commitments on Open Data and Public Contracting have gone from ongoing to inactive because the public procurement law has been undermined by the closure of open procurement practices for many sectors, such as the Army and Federal Security Service (FSB). While we wonder whether the situation will reverse back to a positive direction, we are confident that tools like the global pledge tracker help people, CSOs and governments remember how things were before an external shock, such as this global pandemic.  

Whistleblowing protection

The current state of the world health crisis has underlined the importance of whistleblower protection both in the public and private sectors. In the tracker we have eight of the countries whose commitments in this thematic area are in play. In Bulgaria, the recently adopted EU Whistleblowing Directive imposes over all Member States governments the obligation of providing safe channels for reporting and measures for protection of whistle-blowers by December 2021. TI Bulgaria has been invited to oversee the consultations of a working group made up of executive officials and magistrates to transpose this legislation in national law. A preliminary meeting was delayed due to the emergency state, which lasted from March until mid-May 2020 and saw the authorities switching their efforts to tackling the Covid-19 crisis. As regular activities resume, the authorities are running a preliminary impact assessment of the current legal framework to find out which pieces of legislation are likely to be affected by the transposition. In Brazil, amendments to the whistleblowing laws in the public sector enforcing the anonymity of whoever reports corruption were passed in December 2019; however, more improvements are still needed in comparison to international best practices. Similarly, in South Korea, the law was amended in august 2019, and now retaliation of whistle-blowers is punishable with up to 3 years in prison. While having a legal framework is the first step, this does not automatically entail implementation and enforcement of the law: the pledge tracker is a good tool to keep monitoring the process.  

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to negatively affect the commitments for the rest of 2020 due to shifting priorities and reduced transparency. However, while progress is always dependent on many other factors, such as the level of ambition of a commitment in relation to its specific context, the global pledge tracker update suggests that the majority of commitments are in play. Monitoring them remains important because transparency is the thermometer we need to measure governments’ wellbeing, which results, in turn, in the wellbeing of people. This update highlighted that CSOs, citizens, the private sector and governments should focus on what they already knew were weaknesses of the global and national anti-corruption systems. External shocks only exacerbate existing limitations that the sector was already aware of. As a consequence, monitoring and tracking should not just be done in times of crisis, it should be available to citizens all over the world especially during times of peace and stability.   [1] Commitments are considered to be “in play” when they are categorised as underway, ongoing, or complete under the project’s methodology.