Do we still need the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group?

The G20’s ACWG has been around for a decade. In this post, Professor Robert Barrington argues that on balance it is more useful than not, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement.  If it is to survive a further decade, he argues, some tangible progress is necessary.  This is the sixth and final blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda.’ 

G20 ACWG Accountability Report 2021
Credits: G20 Italy – Anti-Corruption Working Group
Continue reading

Ambitious, collaborative, accountable: to deliver change, the G20 must first empower a wide array of anticorruption actors

It is too easy to sigh that ‘more must be done’ by international fora such as the G20, writes Maggie Murphy. Rather than to deliver a breakthrough intergovernmental agreement, Murphy argues that the point of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) is to create inches of space for other actors to enter and expand the anti-corruption field. This is the fifth blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

© Transparency International Lithuania |
Continue reading

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’.

Continue reading

G20 and anti-corruption: Time to follow through, rather than generate more hot air

Assessing the 11-year-long experience of the G20’s Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) M. Emilia Berazategui argues that it is time for the G20 ACWG to focus on implementation. As she writes, the anti-corruption commitments made are often not new, repeating promises that were already made, and not follow through, before. This year represents an occasion for the Italian presidency to set a new standard. This is the third blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

“Hot Air Balloon” by Doug Scortegagna, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Continue reading

Making strides in anti-corruption cooperation: the establishment of the GlobE network

Informal cooperation between law enforcement authorities is crucial in countering different forms of crime, including corruption. But, as Dr Nassar Abaalkhail writes, authorities in many countries are not empowered enough to engage in such cooperation. The Riyadh Initiative towards the creation of a Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (GlobE) aims to enhance direct contact between anti-corruption law enforcement authorities, thus helping a wider range of countries to engage in international cooperation. This is the second blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

Establishment of the GlobE Network – Credits, UNODC 2021
Continue reading

The G20 as an engine of quiet change: Reaching a summit is crucial to success, but coming back down is even more so

In reflecting on the work of the G20’s Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG), Phil Mason explains that while grand international summits often consist in more ‘theatre’ than substance, they can nevertheless provide important avenues for reform. As he writes, “these processes can be powerful, if virtually invisible, engines of quiet change”. But, as the balance between words and action remains vastly out of kilter, a much stronger focus on implementation is essential to make the exercise worthwhile. This is the first blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working group in influencing the global agenda’.

Space Engine
“The summit is just a halfway point: completing journey seems the unfinished business now to attend to”, writes Phil Mason. Image credits: K-putt, shared under a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence.
Continue reading

Boris Johnson’s Downing Street refurbishment: might a law have been broken?

With the Prime Minister under investigation by the Electoral Commission over the so-called ‘cash for curtains’ affairs, Dr Sam Power, Lecturer in Corruption Analysis at the Centre for the Study of Corruption, breaks down the questions that Boris Johnson and the Conservative party are facing, the legal implications of the accusations, and what the potential political fallout might look at. This piece was first published in The Conversation on April 29th 2021 and the original can be found here.

Continue reading

Corruption, Sport and what we can learn from the Super League debacle

European Super League, we hardly knew ye!

On Sunday 19th April 2021 12 of Europe’s ‘biggest’ football clubs announced their plans to break away from established European competition to form their own ‘Super League’. Little more than 48 hours later over half of them had backed down in the face of overwhelming opposition and the Super League idea (in this form at least) was all but dead.

Continue reading

The USA continues to drift down corruption league tables; where to now?

The 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index was published on 28 January 2021. One score that was eagerly awaited was that of the USA. Perhaps predictably, the US performed worse than it did in 2019. Is Donald Trump’s departure likely to mark a turning point in the anti-corruption thinking in the USA? Highly likely. That shouldn’t distract from the fact that the USA’s corruption problems go deeper than making sense of the behaviour of one now former president. It’s going to take time (and no little effort) to genuinely turn the ship around.

On 28th January 2021 Transparency International (TI), one of the world’s most prominent anti-corruption NGOs, published its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The USA continued its recent downward slide, coming in 25th (out of 180) with a score of 67 (out of 100). The drift has been gradual but pronounced; as recently as 2017 the USA was in 16th (with a score of 75).

The CPI ranks countries based on how much public sector corruption is believed to exist. The data comes from 13 expert surveys plus information gleaned from polls of business executives. The better a country is doing in terms of counteracting corruption, the closer its score will be to 100. The closer to 0 the worse the corruption. Denmark and New Zealand top the list (88 points), Syria (14), Somalia (12) and South Sudan (12) fill the bottom three places.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the CPI is not a failsafe way of measuring corruption. For one thing, and as its name suggests, it’s an indicator of perceptions and not reality. Its focus is on public sector corruption rather than indiscretions that take place within the private sector. Coming up with a simple score that does justice to complex corruption networks is also a task fraught with difficulty. But, as an indicator of broader trends, the CPI still gives corruption-watchers a feel for how corruption patterns are developing.


The rollercoaster presidency of Donald Trump has certainly played a role in the USA’s worsening performance. But, getting a grip of ideas of good and bad governance also helps us understand how and when patterns of corruption are likely to change. Good governance matters all the time. But it is particularly important in times of crisis. When the quality of governance slips, expect crises to highlight all of the weak points in political systems. The USA in 2020 is a perfect case in point.

Strong oversight mechanisms, for example, are important in preventing abuse of hastily put together relief packages. That’s true whether the relief concerns supporting victims of weather-related disasters such as Hurricane Katarina or indeed health crises such as Covid 19. In the case of the former claims have been made that over US$1bn was siphoned off by fraudsters. In the case of the latter, it’s been argued that close friends of Donald Trump received in excess of $10bn dollars of that relief spending to distribute whilst blanket exemptions from ethical reviews were seemingly granted. In the words of TI, this sort of approach to relief package management “raised serious concerns and marked a retreat from longstanding democratic norms promoting accountable government”.

How does the USA begin to row back against this? The consensus in the anti-corruption would suggest looking at three specific things. Firstly, politicians will inevitably make mistakes. That goes with the territory. Being able to spot the difference before a genuine mistake and a potentially corrupt act is vital. The best way of doing that is to strengthen oversight institutions. Those institutions are briefed to look at and unpack potential acts of corruption (understood in its broadest sense). They need to have sufficient resources and sufficient independence to then be able to do their jobs properly. If a politician is scared of outside eyes looking in, then that in and of itself might be a telltale sign of something untoward happening.

Secondly, information on links between government and those who formally interact with it are often clouded in secrecy. Data on which firms win which public contracts, for example, need to be put into the public domain as a matter of course. How much are the contracts worth? What links do the bidders have to those inside government? At times there are good reasons to withhold information (i.e. national security concerns), but the norm has to be transparency first and secrecy second. Not the other way round.

Thirdly, facts matter. There are no ‘alternative facts’. The world is a complex place, but policy-making needs to done on a clear evidential base. That won’t make every policy the right policy, it won’t mean that there isn’t debate on the right course of action. It won’t prevent all mistakes. But it will at least help onlookers understand why decisions have been made. That is important in helping build and maintain legitimacy. Given the tumultuous end to Trump presidency, that’s something that all advocates of democracy to need actively embrace.

Dan Hough
University of Sussex

Why Newcastle United and anti-corruption in the UK have more in common than you ever realised

2020 is coming to an end. Brexit’s (apparently) been ‘done’. Covid 19 has certainly not been ‘done’, but vaccines are on the way and there is reason to be hopeful that by the end of 2021 it will be a thing of the past rather more than a thing of the present.

Both Brexit and Covid 19 will nonetheless have long-term impacts on politics and policy in the UK (and beyond). One of the many areas where it’s not clear what that impact is likely to be is that of corruption and anti-corruption.

The UK and the Toon Army

Before we can say anything about where the UK is going to go in terms of anti-corruption thinking, it’s worth trying to work out where the country currently sits. Now, that’s not as straightforward as it may appear (although see here and here for good snapshots of what we need to be looking for). Defining what corruption actually is can be tricky, measuring it can be even more problematic. That’s before you even get round to actually enacting successful anti-corruption policies. Given that, where does one start?

Well, when thinking about this recently I began in an unlikely place; with Newcastle United Football Club. Now, I’m not saying that Mike Ashley, the club’s owner, has been up to any particular skulduggery (and that even though his management style is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea), it’s more that Newcastle’s position in the English football pyramid reminds me a lot of the UK’s position in the corruption world. Hear me out on this one.

If you take Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) as your starter for ten, the numbers stack up nicely. In the most recent edition of the CPI the UK is 12th out of 180. Newcastle, meanwhile, are mid-table (currently 13th) in England’s Premier League. If you take the UK government’s definition of elite football as your marker then that translates to being 13th out of England’s 158 elite level football clubs.

The vast majority of English football clubs would subsequently love to be Newcastle. Indeed, a place that high in the football pyramid seems all but a dream for most. The same applies to the UK and its place in the CPI; a place in the top 20 looks a long, long way off for much of the world.

A question of perception

Yet, from Newcastle’s perspective, things must look and feel a little different. There was a time when they were the very best; they are 4 time title winners, 6 time FA Cup winners. But no Newcastle fan realistically thinks those days are returning any time soon. Newcastle look like a club with a rich and decorated history but a future that will see them exist at best as a top flight also ran.

In corruption terms, Britain has never hit the top spot in the CPI. In pre-CPI days the UK certainly did enjoy a reputation for taking probity very seriously. That was never quantifiable, but it was nonetheless widely acknowledged. Is the UK going to be able to turn back the clock and challenge the Nordic countries for the CPI’s top spot? Unlikely.

Losing the love

Furthermore, there was a time when Newcastle United were everyone’s second favourite team. In the late 1990s and 2000s the side played marvellous, attacking football and came close to winning silverware; the likes of Kevin Keegan, Tino Asprilla, Peter Beardsley and David Ginola were not just entertainers, they were more pretty successful. There was lots of good will towards them. No longer. Mike Ashley and the regime he runs has seen to that. Newcastle fans bemoan the lack of investment and they hate the fact that survival in football’s top flight appears to be the only goal.

Read that across to the UK. Once (for many, if not all) an object of admiration, the UK is becoming seen as a something of a chancer that is frequently rather tiresome. The UK used to exude confidence and it had a soft power that was second to none. Four years of ugly Brexit discussions have changed all that. Second favourite team now? Less so than was the case before, that’s for sure.

The same can be said if you bring the issue of finance into the equation. For a number of seasons Mike Ashley has been trying to sell the club and appeared prepared to dip into the murky waters of potential Saudi ownership. The response on Tyneside was muted; potentially bringing in extra cash will always find advocates, but significant questions about the legitimacy of the source were also very much in play. The UK, meanwhile, has increasingly dabbled (and arguably facilitated) the (even murkier) world of global money laundering. It’s no secret that the UK has become a potentially attractive option for those with ill-gotten gains. Two sorry stories.

Finally, even as you get closer to the field of play there are similarities. Whilst political battles take place around the Newcastle boardroom, Steve Bruce, the Newcastle manager, carries on. He’s a competent and under-rated custodian. He’s ‘doing the right thing’ with chaos never seemingly far away. The UK civil service, meanwhile, finds itself in much the same position. Corruption allegations are regularly made against UK politicians, yet UK bureaucrats try relentlessly to keep things on an even keel.

One can, of course, push all this too far. But the similarities do nonetheless seem rather apt.

Dan Hough, University of Sussex