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

The Case of the Disappearing Transparency Report

Last week a colleague sent a link to a report assessing Norway’s compliance with its promises to the Open Government Partnership to increase government transparency.  Surprisingly, given the Norwegian government is considered one of the more open and transparent on the planet, the authors gave the government low marks. What’s even more surprising is their candor in assessing the transparency movement in Norway. They suggest that transparency has become an end in itself.

My fear is that this is a trend not confined to Norway.  Rather than pursuing transparency as a means to a more accountable, less corrupt government, the Norwegian case illustrates what has become all too common among transparency advocates: they have come to believe that transparency is an end in itself — to be pursued no matter the consequences.

Shortly after the report appeared on the website of the NGO Engine Room, its institutional author, it disappeared — which may mean I am not the only one who found the report quite damning.  In any event, while I didn’t download the entire report before it was taken down, I did copy an excerpt from the abstract showing my fear is not fanciful: Continue reading

Guest Post: Typologies of (Anti-) Corruption — How Much More Boring Can It Get? Or Maybe Not…

Dieter Zinnbauer, Senior Program Manager for Emerging Policy Issues at Transparency International, contributes the following guest post:

Remember that childhood game, you say a word over and over and it seems to lose its meaning and just dissolves into a melodic sound? I feel similarly about trying to slice up the umbrella concept of corruption and sort it into practical, reasonably comprehensive, and distinctive subcategories – an endeavor that usually gets out of hand, consumes disproportionate amounts of scarce thinking-time and energy, and eventually leaves the participants more confused and in disagreement than at the outset. Yet quite recently I have begun to change my mind a bit about the unproductiveness of typologizing (anti)corruption. In fact, I have begun to derive some surprising enjoyment and inspiration from playing around with different ways to look at and classify different types of (anti)corruption. Here three examples: Continue reading