First ever UK anti-corruption plan a big step forward, but blind-spots remain
18 December 2014
The launch of the first ever cross-Whitehall strategy for tackling corruption is a major milestone in the UK’s efforts to combat corruption at home and abroad, said a coalition of leading non-governmental organisations today.
These moves will reinforce the positive steps the UK government has taken this year in the fight against corruption, such as forcing companies to declare their real owners (1) and publish payments they make to foreign governments for lucrative mining and logging contracts (2). However, the long delay in the plan’s publication calls into question the extent of the government’s political will and priority on this important issue.
The 66-point plan, published today, outlines some big steps forward including:
- improved coordination amongst those responsible for investigating and reducing corruption;
- support for the new Anti-Corruption Champion; and
- integration of the government’s approach to international and domestic corruption.
“This plan marks a step change in tackling corruption. It promises coordinated efforts across departments and, importantly, recognises the link between international and domestic corruption. However, such plans only work if there is political will. The proof of that now lies in its execution”, said Rachel Davies, Chair of the BOND Anti-Corruption Group.
The coalition – which makes up the BOND Anti-Corruption Group – highlighted the urgent need for action to implement key parts of the plan, such as a new proposal for corruption risk assessments for government departments.
The coalition highlighted several major blind spots in the plan, including whether the strategy will be subject to a formal, transparent review process, and loopholes in the actions proposed. The coalition:
- called for more detail on the transparency and accountability of the private sector in tackling corruption (especially in relation to providers of public services, such as prisons);
- requested that a commitment to a 2016 peer review be set in place to assess the progress made;
- called for cross-party support for anti-corruption measures to be written into the political agenda over the long term; and
- reiterated its request for the new Anti-Corruption Champion to make an annual report to parliament on his work and the implementation of the plan.
“This is a great statement of intent from the government. By doing business with corrupt regimes, governments and individuals, Britain’s banks, legal system and property market allow money into London and the UK that should be used to strengthen developing economies overseas. The public should be proud that there’s now a strategy in place to address this – but it still has weaknesses, and they need tackling if it’s going to do its job” said Chido Dunn of Global Witness.
“The plan could help level the playing field for those doing good business and save lot of people a lot of wasted money. Corruption increases costs of doing business and currently costs the EU economy at least €120 billion annually and Africa an estimated $148 billion every year, which is about 25% of the continent’s GDP and several times more than it receives in aid” said Beck Wallace of CAFOD. “But a plan is just a plan – it will only be as good as its implementation. The government must publicly report on the delivery of its commitments and back this effort with political will, resources and leadership in order to succeed,” added Joy Saunders of Integrity Action.
Britain’s role in overseas corruption is increasingly well-understood. For example, documents uncovered by Ukrainian NGOs revealed how the presidential palace compound of former President Viktor Yanukovych was bought via an anonymous shell company registered in the UK. Meanwhile $23 million of suspect funds associated with his regime have been frozen in the UK.
“Those working inside our banks and businesses are often best placed to deter, detect and prevent corrupt practices. These same people, however, often have the most to lose. The creation of a single reporting line will simplify the process for whistleblowers by ensuring that information about suspected corruption goes to the right body for investigation. However, inevitably the challenge will be encouraging those with information to act. In this respect more must be done to strengthen legislative and non-legislative protection for whistleblowers. Measures such as the introduction of a statutory code of practice for organisational whistleblowing arrangements, greater protection for whistleblowers who are blacklisted after raising their concerns, and greater clarity around anti-gagging provisions would send an important message that demonstrates that the fight against corruption often begins in the workplace” said Cathy James of Public Concern at Work.
More also must be done to address the gaps left in the domestic approach, such as the plan’s proposed reviews of the current systems of parliamentary ethics, which currently lack sufficient detail.
So far, the UK has failed to tackle some of the key facilitators of corruption, like big banks and law firms. In 2011, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) found that 75% of UK banks weren’t doing the right checks on their customers to make sure they weren’t handling laundered funds. 48% of construction professionals feel that corruption is commonplace within the UK construction industry, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Building. And 90% of British citizens believe that the UK government is “run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”, according to a recent survey. The plan does not go as far as it should in addressing these problems, and does not confront the issue of resourcing and enforcement of existing rules.
The plan initially had a launch date of the summer of 2014, and so its release at the end of December 2014 (nearly six months late), has given the coalition some cause for concern.
“It is great that we finally have the plan, but the long delay in its publication suggests a lack of political will and priority on this important issue”, said Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch.
“This plan represents a great step forward and a great opportunity. But for the plan to work, it is dependent on political will. The serial delay of the plan’s publication calls this into question. There is an opportunity for success; but a risk of failure. The government has certainly left little time to implement the plan before the next election” said Robert Barrington of Transparency International UK. “The government needs to give an unambiguous message that tackling corruption through this plan is a high priority.”
Notes to Editor:
1) Legislation is currently being debated in Parliament that would end corporate secrecy by requiring the real owners of UK companies to be disclosed. This would make it much harder for criminals to hide their activities and funds behind them. See here for more information.
2) A new law came into force on Monday 1st December 2014 which requires UK companies to publish details of the payments they make to governments across the world for access to natural resources – see here for more information.
3) The idea of a National Anti-Corruption Action Plan was first proposed for the UK by Transparency International in 2011, following its 4-volume report 'Corruption in the UK'
The Anti-Corruption Group within Bond has the following core members: Article 19, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Corruption Watch, Global Witness, Integrity Action, ONE, Public Concern at Work, Tearfund, The Corner House, and Transparency International UK.