G20 Bali summit: Leaders Cannot Continue to Ignore Kleptocracy

Transparency International billboard calling on G20 leaders to stop kleptocrats blocked after year of inaction on cross-border corruption
14 November 2022

As G20 members arrive in Bali for the leaders’ summit, Transparency International is calling on them to confront cross-border corruption and unite against the threat of kleptocracy. The organisation had arranged a physical reminder of the G20’s responsibility to act but has been blocked from displaying a billboard with a simple message: “G20, #StopKleptocrats”. In a year when the disastrous impacts of kleptocracy became painfully clear, this is a deeply troubling development.

Blocking civil society voices

Despite initially agreeing to rent available space on Bali international airport’s premises to the organisation, an advertising agency rejected our request after receiving the content for the billboard over the weekend. They referred to the Bali governor’s instruction that asked billboard agencies to install official G20 publicity material and suggested that Transparency International amend the banner to a “positive message”.

According to media reports, the Bali governor has rolled out restrictions to ensure “an orderly, disciplined and full of sense of responsibility” G20 summit. Evidently, this has been used to stop a number of civil society activities. Last week, Greenpeace climate activists reported threats and intimidation, forcing the organisation to cancel its bicycle campaign. This Saturday, authorities blocked the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation from meeting, claiming their conference would interfere with the summit. Even the “Bali for Climate Aspiration Platform and Youth Arts” public discussion planned for 5 November – 10 days before the summit – at one of Denpasar’s coffee venues was cancelled.

This is the second time a Transparency International campaign billboard was blocked ahead of the summit in a G20 host country. In 2014, when Australia hosted the G20, the Brisbane airport authority deemed our messaging “political” and rejected our request to mount a billboard that stated “Dirty money not welcome here. G20, it’s time to act.”

Danang Widoyoko, secretary general of Transparency International Indonesia, said:

“Limiting civic space by restricting their freedom of expression and sidelining civil society in the name of a successful G20 summit is unacceptable. The G20 has already recognised the critical importance of working together with civil society through the formal engagement with the C20 to ensure all people’s voices are heard in decision-making. It has a responsibility to take our calls seriously.”

A year of negligence

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the war and its global economic impact have dominated the global agenda. But the G20, which brings together advanced and emerging economies from every continent of the world, has largely ignored kleptocracy and the large-scale cross-border corruption that have fuelled the current crises. While many Western economies, including those that make up the G7, have begun to implement long overdue anti-money laundering reforms, these efforts still leave gaps – both in the measures taken by such countries and because their actions alone cannot end the flow of dirty money around the world. Coordinated action by all major economies, as those making up the G20, is the only way to tackle this global problem.

The G20 began the year with some acknowledgement of these issues. Just one week before Russia began its attack, the G20 wrapped up its first meeting of finance ministers under the Indonesian presidency and recognised the necessity of effective implementation of global anti-money laundering standards in its communiqué. However, divisions among members over if and how to denounce Russia’s actions derailed many of the later meetings, resulting in no future communiqués. The disarray also meant leaders didn’t even hold discussions on specific measures to fix the systems and mechanisms that enable kleptocracy. For the G20 to carry out its mandate of supporting global development and prosperity, it cannot continue to ignore this threat as kleptocracy is consolidating and undermining democracy around the globe.

Maíra Martini, corrupt money flows expert at Transparency International, said:

“While our physical reminder was blocked, Transparency International will not be silenced. At the summit and beyond, we will continue to hold G20 accountable and demand they fulfil their responsibility of confronting kleptocracy.

“G20 members once showed anti-corruption leadership – but in recent years they’ve dragged their feet, unable to agree on key measures and failing to implement even those to which they had already committed. In the meantime, the corrupt have consolidated wealth and power, allowing them to attack everything from sustainable development to global security to democracy.”

In an open letter released ahead of the Bali summit, Transparency International representatives from across G20 countries are collectively calling on their governments to take immediate action against cross-border corruption.

#StopKleptocrats campaign

The rejected banner prepared by Transparency International calls on the G20 leaders to #StopKleptocrats with the simple hashtag, used for the campaign since it began in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion. As part of the campaign, Transparency International has conducted research into the needs and capacities of countries to stop dirty money, releasing the report Up to the Task? The State of Play in Countries Committed to Freezing and Seizing Russian Dirty Money. It also gathered over 160,000 signatures on a petition with change.org calling for governments to act, and provided input for national and international policymakers implementing critical reforms.

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