Guest Post: 43 Government Reps Walked Into a Summit…. What Next?

Maggie Murphy, Senior Global Advocacy Manager for Transparency International, contributes the following guest post:

International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.

We’ve done our own preliminary analysis of the commitments, assessing the extent to which each commitment is (1) “concrete” (i.e measurable), (2) “new” (i.e., generated by the Summit), and (3) “ambitious” (according to country partners). We found that more than half of the commitments were concrete, about a third were brand new, and about a third seen to be ambitious by our country partners. That’s encouraging, and certainly better than I would have expected.

We’ve put together a more formal analysis here, including a description of how we came to our conclusions. Let me highlight some of the most interesting ones:

  • Of the 43 participating governments, 41 issued unique country statements containing commitments. (We don’t know why Saudi Arabia didn’t issue commitments, nor why Senegal’s declaration, which can be found (in French) here, wasn’t included on the formal Summit website.)
  • Afghanistan and Nigeria, the two countries then-Prime Minister David Cameron said were “fantastically corrupt” just days before the Summit, ended up being fantastically ambitious. Both were among the top five countries making the most brand new commitments. In addition, 80% of Afghanistan’s commitments and 72% of Nigeria’s commitments were judged “ambitious” or “somewhat ambitious.”
  • South Africa seemed to go AWOL. Despite issuing a four page statement, we struggled to find a single specific commitment anywhere in that document. The only thing we could find that could be generously characterized as a commitment was a vaguely worded statement that South Africa would continue to redraft its national anti-corruption strategy. (It was also disappointing that while 12 other countries, including for example Nigeria, were represented by their heads of government, South Africa was represented by the High Commissioner in London.)
  • Despite South Africa’s disappointing showing, Sub-Saharan Africa as a region outperformed the G20 on all three criteria, generating greater percentages of new, ambitious, and concrete commitments. Sub-Saharan African countries also made more commitments on average than their counterparts (even though South Africa, with just one commitment, brought the regional average down).
  • China scored very highly on ambition. All five commitments were deemed ambitious. However, we found that not a single one of China’s commitments was actually new.
  • As mentioned previously on this blog, there was quite a lot of the (relatively) “new”—open contracting, open data, and beneficial ownership—and less of the “tried and true” (such as supporting national audit institutions). Indeed 17% of all 648 commitments were made on beneficial ownership, an apt demonstration of the momentum generated on that issue in recent years. Compare that to the 0.01% of commitments made on anti-bribery laws and enforcement. Of course, that’s not to say that countries have necessarily shifted away from tackling bribery as a priority – perhaps that a Summit in 2016 isn’t necessary to generate new commitments (although certain attendees still have a woeful lack of legislation in place).

So what next? First, we hope that the database will act as a useful tool for people interested to filter and sort and find out which countries have committed to what. Our main goal, though is that country partners are able to use it as a way to hold their governments accountable. Transparency International UK has already developed a own “pledge tracker” to keep the UK government honest, and we hope others will follow suit. In the meantime, I’m curious to see what trends or surprises readers of this blog will find in the database. So please do have a look at the dataset and let us know what you think in the comments box! All comments are encouraged and welcome.

9 thoughts on “Guest Post: 43 Government Reps Walked Into a Summit…. What Next?

  1. Its interesting to see that at times ambitious commitments may be connected to existing high levels of corruption, as most notably seen with Afghanistan and Nigeria above. At best, it suggests that these countries are a bit ahead of themselves when it comes to fighting corruption, making ambitious promises when they have yet to create a strong foundation. At worst, it might show a disingenuous reaction to the summit, as the the countries heap on promises in an attempt to look good, when they know how far removed they are from reality.

    It raises a question regarding to the value of such commitments. Obviously they provide a method of tracking nations and holding them accountable, which is the on of the main purposes of the database, but there also seems to be a danger that they allow countries to appear to be improving with regard to anti-corruption measures, without any changes actually taking place.

    • I think Summit commitments are only ever important if people use them to hold their governments accountable. I‘ve personally seen far too many G20 commitments slip off into the aether and never be discussed again. Whilst ideally there would be a monitoring mechanism for Summit commitments, realistically it will come down to interested citizens and civil society groups to hold feet to the fire.

      I think there are even more nuances in the direction and ambition displayed by some countries. Afghanistan and Nigeria for political reasons had to show they remain committed to anti-corruption platforms and did so through some very ambitious, very difficult commitments. Meanwhile other countries experiencing high levels of corruption and/or big corruption scandals – say Brazil or South Africa, issued very weak statements. For whatever reason they didn’t feel the need to travel to London in the way that others did to take an anti-corruption stand. The database is useful for anti-corruption advocates and experts – but potentially even more for international relations students!

  2. This looks to be a good resource, and I’m glad that it was designed with simplicity in mind. Even without any particular expertise in any given country or reform, I had a clear idea of what each country had committed to.

    One possible area to improve the data base would be to add a section summarizing what progress, if any, the country had made toward achieving that goal. Someone fluent in anticorruption policy could probably figure it out on their own. But if an interested citizen wanted to know, I’d worry they couldn’t figure it out. For example, Argentina committed to “create new legal and institutional arrangements for the State to recover assets coming from corruption offenses.” That sounds positive, but I don’t think most people would have a clear idea of what the solution looks like, much less whether the country has achieved it.

    • Thanks for the positive comments. This database was created with the intention of clarifying and sharing the commitments made in each country (trust me, I doubt many people have the patience to go through all those country statements, which differ greatly in quality, comprehension and clarity). We also hope to provide an update by September next year showing which commitments across the board have seen progress – but that will not go into the detail you ask for – it’s just very difficult resource-wise. However, in some countries, there will be efforts to keep the pressure up and hold the country accountable. TI UK’s pledge tracker (http://www.ukanticorruptionpledgetracker.org/) is a good example, and they intend to help an additional three countries set up similar monitoring mechanisms. These trackers will show not just what has been committed to, but also whether and how progress has been made. I hope that will help.

  3. Why exactly are “concrete”, “new”, and “ambitious” the categories chosen? A proliferation of new initiatives, as Nick mentioned in an earlier comment, is not necessarily a good indication that the country is on the right path or is making a significant commitment backed by resources and political will. Of course, those things are difficult to measure and are inherently lost in databases that seek to make complex governmental commitments understandable to the average lay person.

    The category “ambitious” obviously suggests that the more aggressive and sweeping the commitment, the better. But ambition also implies that it would be a real stretch for the government to achieve its target and it might well fail. Is the thinking behind this category that TI wants governments to commit to aspirational targets, in the hopes that public pressure will encourage them to make some progress, with the understanding that they will not actually meet their goals? Aspirations are good, but celebrating unachievable goals may further water down the idea that these are firm ‘commitments’ rather than just soft tools.

    • To address that distinction, I would suggest adding a further category, something along the lines of “including methods of enforcement”.

    • There are a few reasons we chose those categories and none could stand on their own. We wanted to see if commitments were new or not to see whether the Summit itself has triggered change – or whether countries would come and reiterate commitments they have been making for years. Would the Summit be more than a talking shop? But even if a commitment is new, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be substantial. It could just tinker at the edges. And indeed, a reiteration at the Summit of an existing commitment that has lain dormant could actually provide the impetus for its actual realisation, even if late. Nevertheless, commitments whether new or ambitious mean very little if the language is so vague that it is unclear whether work has commenced, finished or yet to start. TI wanted the Summit to be useful – but what constitutes useful is largely dependent on the discourse on a national level which is why you’ll see similar commitments in different countries receive different assessments as to whether they are ambitious or not.

      I don’t think we have “celebrated unachievable goals” at all – neither in this blog, nor in the formal analysis, nor in the database. We are providing a tool for people to better understand what happened at the Summit, with some analysis of the country context, so that we can try help make these commitments come into fruition. And as noted above, we’ll be doing our best to do an analysis in one year’s time as to whether, where and how progress has been made. Then perhaps we’ll celebrate.

  4. I think this is a great initiative on the part of Transparency International. It is difficult to make governments commit something, perhaps, even more difficult to make them implement in the time and substance what they promised. Our experience with Afghan government is an example. It needs push to commit and even more push to act. This time Afghanistan has an 80 percent new commitments package. Even if fifty percent of what is committed acted upon it can be assessed a success. And this tracking mechanism will certainly play a role in forcing the government to act upon its commitments.

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