An Anti-Corruption A20: The case for an Academic Roundtable to support the G20’s Anti-Corruption agenda

Fighting corruption is both a technical and a political process. In this post, CSC Director Liz David-Barrett argues that an ‘A20’ group of academics could inject much-needed evidence and learning into the work of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, providing technical support for this high-level political process. This is the fourth blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

In autumn 2020, the Centre for the Study of Corruption (CSC) was asked to co-organise, with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an academic roundtable to support the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group. This was the first ever such meeting of G20 academics, an innovation of the Saudi G20 presidency aimed at injecting independent expert views and the latest research findings into the conversation.

The G20 has spawned a range of ancillary organisations since it was founded in 1999, to allow non-governmental voices to shape the debate. Business is represented by the B20, civil society by the C20 and think tanks by the T20. All of these feed in views to the various policy areas with which the G20 engages.

But in the field of anti-corruption, academia can add value in five key ways.

First, academics build theoretical frameworks to understand relationships and mechanisms and to explain how change happens. For the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, these underlying theories of change are a critical basis for policy innovation.

Second, academics are at the forefront of developing new methods of measuring corruption. While first- and second-generation corruption indicators were developed by international NGOs and multilateral development banks, the latest indicators, which are more targeted and objective, are emerging from rigorous academic research.

Third, academics investigate why anti-corruption policies are working – or not – and how their impact varies according to context, through rigorous empirical research, such as the Anti-Corruption Evidence programme, for example. These findings need to be fed in to policy debates, so that we do not simply transfer policy ideas to situations where they are unlikely to achieve results.

Fourth, academic research leads to policy innovation, with the latest theory and evidence underpinning the design of new ideas – as well as setting up methods to evaluate their impact.

Finally, academics are not campaigners. The feedback I received from a number of participants in the G20 meetings suggests that this is tremendously valuable to the Anti-Corruption Working Group. The independent stance of academics means that recommendations based on rigorous research are credible and trusted.

The October 2020 Academic Anti-Corruption Roundtable focused on three areas: enhancing cooperation among anti-corruption law enforcement practitioners; targeting corruption in public procurement; and assessing the effectiveness of anti-corruption policies. Academics with relevant expertise representing all of the G20 countries were invited to discuss these topics. And the discussions resulted in evidence-based recommendations that I presented to the G20 ministerial meeting later that month.

The first of these areas, cooperation among law enforcement, was one of the Saudi G20 presidency’s priorities. It is critical to tackling the widely recognised implementation gap in anti-corruption: we have good laws, but implementation requires political will and institutional capacity, which are often lacking. Moreover, since corruption is a transnational problem, building capacity entails building better links across borders between anti-corruption agencies.

Academic research suggests that coordination is a critical part of anti-corruption leadership. We see this for example from the case of Brazil, which launched ENCCLA in 2003, an interagency forum which fostered coordination among public agencies in the fight against money laundering and corruption. As a major investment in capacity building over several years, it laid the foundations for the investigation into the Lava Jato case a decade later.

Other research confirms that law enforcement cooperation requires trust and the building of informal relationships among investigators. These tend only to emerge through working together on cases and building up relationships over time. For this reason, interagency task forces are very valuable for improving anti-corruption enforcement results and sharing learning.

One legacy of the Saudi G20 presidency is a new organisation, a Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (or GlobE Network, for short), which promises to make transnational anti-corruption cooperation a reality. Its design seeks to ensure that the connection with academia – and the ability to learn from emerging evidence – is baked in.

Fighting corruption is both a political and a technical process. The G20 is mainly cut out for the political side. It has the potential to build transnational political alliances and show leadership in key areas. But leadership needs to be underpinned by clear ideas about the technical side of reform too, and that is where academic research can help, so that policies are evidence-based and learning is systematised. The Academic Anti-Corruption Roundtable needs to become a permanent partner for the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

Liz David-Barrett is Professor of Governance and Integrity and Director of the Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex. 

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