This weekend, leaders of the world’s 20 most powerful countries – known as the G20 – met in Brisbane, Australia, to discuss the challenges facing the global economy.
Amid rumours that Vladimir Putin left early because he got a frosty reception from other leaders, critical issues affecting the world’s poor were discussed – in particular the fight against corruption.
But underneath the rhetoric and PR (which sent a lot of positive signals) a number of critical gaps were left unaddressed as the leaders put down their pens and published their joint statement, or communiqué.
Good progress was made in preparation for the summit, developing new standards and principles which G20 countries would adhere to. But leaders stopped halfway down the road and missed an opportunity to fully close the loopholes that allow corruption to flourish.
On anonymous companies – a weapon of choice for the corrupt – leaders agreed to a set of high level principles – which is significant progress, given reports that some governments were blocking this until the last moment. But while these principles lay out the importance of governments having access to information about who owns companies and trusts, they fail to concede that the public should see this information. Developing countries without legal treaties with G20 countries would also be denied this information.
On a crucial point, the Australian G20 regressed: transparency of the extractive industries. Under the Russian presidency last year, the issue was profiled in the official communiqué, but this has simply disappeared this year and been relegated to the annex as an area which is at risk of corruption, among others. It hasn’t completely fallen off the agenda but certainly isn’t front and centre. With the EU progressing to transposing a new directive into national laws, and Canada close to finalising laws, the G20 missed an opportunity to give a boost to extractives transparency internationally.
On tax evasion, the G20 referred to helping developing countries improve tax collection. It is positive that the G20 agreed to take forward Automatic Exchange of Information. But developing countries that don’t have the systems in place to reciprocate and provide information to large countries like the US or Germany, would not be able to access information from the start. Similarly, companies will be required to disclose their financial details on a country by country basis to governments as part of a broader project on reforming international tax rules – a positive step – but again this is not available to the public or to countries without tax treaties with G20 countries.
On Open Data, the G20 anti-corruption working group has developed a work plan on improving public sector transparency and integrity noting that “Open data…gives citizens better visibility of the flow of public money across borders, and enhances public debate on the use of public money.” The G20 will develop principles on Open Data and G20 countries will assess their own progress. A toolkit on budget transparency will be developed and G20 countries will assess their own standards with a view to improving the disclosure of budget information. This is a positive move and ONE will be following up on the details.
So over all, an amber light for G20 leaders when it comes to addressing the Trillion Dollar Scandal.
It’s now up to each G20 member state to go further. ONE is asking countries leading on these issues to keep up their efforts and to be ambitious in the fight against tax evasion and corruption, particularly in Europe where the opportunity for securing a new standard on beneficial ownership is being agreed as we speak.