State-Level Anticorruption Commissions: What the U.S. Can Learn from Australia’s Model

Australia does not currently have a dedicated national-level anticorruption agency (ACA), though the question of whether to create one has been on the table since 2014 (see here, here, and here). Yet Australia has plenty of experience with ACAs—at the state level. Australia’s first, and still most prominent, state-level ACA was the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in New South Wales (the state including financial capital Sydney), which will mark its thirtieth anniversary next year. The ICAC, led by an independent commissioner, has independent investigatory powers over almost all state-level government officials and is charged with both exposing public sector corruption and educating the public about corruption. Queensland and Western Australia followed suit with their Corruption and Crime Commissions, established in their current forms in 2001 and 2003 respectively. The states of Victoria, South Australia, and tiny Tasmania all instituted independent agencies in recent years as well. Even the 250,000-strong Northern Territory resolved to start its own ACA after several high-profile scandals, and the Australian Capital Territory (the Canberra-sized equivalent of Washington, DC) has discussed creating its own anticorruption body. The permeation of Australia with state-level agencies is essentially complete.

Thus, in true laboratories-of-democracy fashion, Australian states have tried, solidified, and publicized the model of creating an independent investigatory group focused on the issue of corruption. Could U.S. states do the same? Easily. Should they? Yes, for at least three reasons:

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London Anticorruption Summit–Country Commitment Scorecard, Part 1

Well, between the ICIJ release of the searchable Panama Papers/Offshore Leaks database, the impeachment of President Rousseff in Brazil, and the London Anticorruption Summit, last week was quite a busy week in the world of anticorruption. There’s far too much to write about, and I’ve barely had time to process it all, but let me try to start off by focusing a bit more on the London Summit. I know a lot of our readers have been following it closely (and many participated), but quickly: The Summit was an initiative by David Cameron’s government, which brought together leaders and senior government representatives from over 40 countries to discuss how to move forward in the fight against global corruption. Some had very high hopes for the Summit, others dismissed it as a feel-good political symbolism, and others were somewhere in between.

Prime Minister Cameron stirred things up a bit right before the Summit started by referring to two of the countries in attendance – Afghanistan and Nigeria – as “fantastically corrupt,” but the kerfuffle surrounding that alleged gaffe has already received more than its fair share of media attention, so I won’t say more about it here, except that it calls to mind the American political commentator Michael Kinsley’s old chestnut about how the definition of a “gaffe” is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.) I’m going to instead focus on the main documents coming out of the Summit: The joint Communique issued by the Summit participants, and the individual country statements. There’s already been a lot of early reaction to the Communique—some fairly upbeat, some quite critical (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). A lot of the Communique employs fairly general language, and a lot of it focuses on things like strengthening enforcement of existing laws, improving international cooperation and information exchange, supporting existing institutions and conventions, and exploring the creation of new mechanisms. All that is fine, and some of it might actually turn out to be consequential, but to my mind the most interesting parts of the Communique are those that explicitly announce that intention of the participating governments to take pro-transparency measures in four specific areas:

  1. Gathering more information on the true beneficial owners of companies (and possibly other legal entities, like trusts), perhaps through a central public registry—which might be available only to law enforcement, or which might be made available to the general public (see Communique paragraph 4).
  2. Increasing transparency in public contracting, including making public procurement open by default, and providing usable and timely open data on public contracting activities (see Communique paragraph 9). (There’s actually a bit of an ambiguity here. When the Communique calls for public procurement to be “open by default,” it could be referring to greater transparency, or it could be calling for the use of open bidding processes to increase competition. Given the surrounding context, it appears that the former meaning was intended. The thrust of the recommendation seems to be increasing procurement transparency rather than increasing procurement competition.)
  3. Increasing budget transparency through the strengthening of genuinely independent supreme audit institutions, and the publication of these institutions’ findings (see Communique paragraph 10).
  4. Strengthening protections for whistleblowers and doing more to ensure that credible whistleblower reports prompt follow-up action from law enforcement (see Communique paragraph 13).

Again, that’s far from all that’s included in the Communique. But these four action areas struck me as (a) consequential, and (b) among the parts of the Communique that called for relatively concrete new substantive action at the domestic level. So, I thought it might be a useful (if somewhat tedious) exercise to go through each of the 41 country statements to see what each of the Summit participants had to say in each of these four areas. This is certainly not a complete “report card,” despite the title of this post, but perhaps it might be a helpful start for others out there who are interested in doing an assessment of the extent of actual country commitments on some of the main action items laid out in the Communique. So, here goes: a country-by-country, topic-by-topic, quick-and-dirty summary of what the Summit participants declared or promised with respect to each of these issues. (Because this is so long, I’m going to break the post into two parts. Today I’ll give the info for Afghanistan–Malta, and Thursday’s post will give the info for Mexico–United States). Continue reading

Guest Post: “Global Cities–Joining Forces Against Corruption” Conference Recap, Part 1

Jennifer Rodgers and Gabriel Kuris, the Executive Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the Columbia University Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI), have provided a two-part series of guest posts summarizing CAPI’s recent conference on “Global Cities–Joining Forces Against Corruption”, which we previously advertised on GAB. This is the first of the two posts.

CAPI’s “Global Cities” conference brought together delegations from 14 cities across six continents to discuss the corruption challenges in urban settings and new ideas for reform. Videos of each speech and panel, presentation slideshows, and other conference materials are now available online. The discussion will continue on an online forum launching soon on the CAPI website, and those interested in participating in these online exchanges should feel welcome to register now. CAPI plans to periodically reprise the conference, with a shifting roster of cities, to build a coalition of cities on the vanguard of fighting urban corruption.

The conference commenced with keynotes addresses by the mayors of two historic cities working to boost transparency and public trust: Miguel Ángel Mancera of Mexico City and Giorgos Kaminis of Athens. Both mayors emphasized the empowerment of everyday citizens through new oversight mechanisms, cooperation with civil society, and emerging technologies—like Athens’s online budget monitoring tool. Both cities are also working to streamline legal regulations and public procedures, whether through Athens’s one-stop shops for citizen services or Mexico City’s legal reforms in public procurement and property registration.

The first panel, “The Shifting Landscape of Urban Corruption: New Challenges, New Approaches” examined the corruption issues cities currently face worldwide. Leaders of Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission discussed their development of a “Misconduct Intelligence Assessment” tool to track the dynamic corruption risks of the modern boomtown of Perth. Chicago’s Inspector General spoke about emerging challenges such as the increasing prominence of quasi-governmental entities, the changing role of money in politics, and the grey areas of “legalized corruption.” Leaders from the anticorruption agencies of Catalonia and Kenya discussed the intersection between corruption, civic ethics, and public procurement.

The second panel, “Comeback Cities: Restoring Integrity after a Corruption Scandal”, covered the efforts of Toronto, Philadelphia, and New Orleans to break out of ceaseless cycles of scandal and clean-up to build resilient structures of oversight and civic cultures of lawfulness. Toronto’s Accountability Framework pioneered a new integrity model in a city reeling from a procurement scandal. Philadelphia’s Inspector General helped the city recover from high-level corruption so rampant the FBI wire-tapped the mayor’s office. Federal oversight is helping New Orleans to finally overhaul its notoriously corrupt police department. At the end of the panel, Frank Anechiarico of Hamilton College brought in comparative experience from Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and New York City from the volume he co-edited about city-level anti-corruption structures, Local Integrity Systems.

The third panel, “Bridging Political Boundaries: Partnering with National and State Government”, provoked some of the conference’s most engaged discussions. An aide to the mayor of Lviv, Ukraine, discussed how local activists whose reforms were frustrated by corruption at the national level helped upend national politics. Delegates from Nairobi and Chicago discussed collaboration between federal, regional, and local levels of law enforcement. Finally, GAB Senior Contributor Rick Messick brought an international-level perspective, emphasizing the counter-intuitive benefits of competition, rather than cooperation, among overlapping levels of government.

In our next post, we will summaraize the conference’s other speeches and panels, on topics ranging from the fight against corruption in post-Maidan Ukraine to the risks posed by cybercrime rings when cities host major events.

Guest Post: Hosting Proceeds Down Under — Australia and the G20 Anticorruption Agenda

Professor Jason Sharman of Griffith University, Australia, contributes the following guest post:

On November 15th–two days from now–the latest G20 leaders’ summit kicks off in my home town of Brisbane, Australia, with anticorruption once again on the agenda. Though the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group has made some important progress, many of the member states have been letting down the side. Specifically, Australia tends to receive less critical scrutiny than it should when it comes to international action against corruption, particularly in terms of hosting stolen assets from other countries in the region. And the G20 leaders’ summit is as good a time as any for the international community to press Australia for its many failures to deal with its status as a regional haven for money laundering in the Asia-Pacific. Continue reading

Curbing Corrpution in Papua New Guinea: What Australia Can do

A lively discussion is underway on the Development Policy Centre‘s DevPolicy Blog about what Australia can do to help control corruption in Papua New Guinea, the largest recipient of Australian foreign assistance.   It follows a government promise that by July 2015 the government will “detail the measures we [Australia] will adopt to protect Australian Government aid funds and how [Australia] will support our partner country’s anti-corruption efforts.”  What’s made the discussion so lively, as Grant Walton and Stephen Howes explain in the initial post, is the juxtaposition of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s recent discussion of the government’s plans to implement the policy with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s evasion of arrest for his alleged role in a major corruption scandal and his attempts to dismantle PNG’s anti-corruption taskforce. Continue reading