News 03rd Dec 2015

Can the Commonwealth tackle corrupt wealth?

Nick Maxwell

Nick is the former Head of Strategic Engagement for TI-UK.

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“The Commonwealth includes both countries where vast amounts of wealth are stolen from the people and major financial centres that can be used to launder corrupt wealth... Because of all we share, the Commonwealth is a vital international forum to tackle this agenda.” - So started the statement last week by the new Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, the Hon Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta.

Powerful stuff, but how important was the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which took place last weekend, for the anti-corruption agenda?

Well, it was certainly a busy platform for statements against corruption and aspirations for the role that the Commonwealth could play in being a champion for anti-corruption and higher standards of transparency around the world

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth for the next two years, set the tone for CHOGM 2015 with an 8 step plan for the Commonwealth to take action against corruption and the laundering of corrupt capital.

The UK and Botswana Governments followed up with a high level roundtable of 10 select leaders and foreign Ministers to discuss anti-corruption proposals. Cameron announced this session, with an aspiration that the Commonwealth should play a leading role in the fight against corruption.

To top off a good weekend for anti-corruption and to bolster the likelihood of a relevant and impactful Commonwealth on the world’s stage, Baroness Scotland was successfully appointed as the new Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

The video interviews above include one of the first interviews with new Secretary General, where she discussed the Commonwealth’s potential role in fighting anti-corruption. UK Trade Minister Lord Maude also made clear how fighting corruption was a pro-business agenda for the Commonwealth and practical steps that countries could take to improve transparency and accountability.

Finally at the close of CHOGM, the leaders’ communique references the importance of addressing corruption. This reference is more important than it reads, as it provides a mandate for Commonwealth Accredited Organisations to work on anti-corruption for the next two years.

So the Commonwealth could be something of a sleeping giant on this issue. With over a third of the world’s population residing in the Commonwealth, it certainly has scale. With a shared institutional history and approach to rule of law, it is perhaps more likely than the UN forums to take meaningful and impactful action against corruption, and with more authority than groupings of rich countries. The Commonwealth has been referred to in CHOGM 2015 as having a moral leadership role, in contrast to the other economic and military associations that bind nations in international affairs.

The question now is whether the new leadership at the Commonwealth and the drive for anti-corruption that various Commonwealth states are articulating can deliver meaningful results.

The fast approaching Anti Corruption Summit, due to be held in May 2016 in London, is a key milestone to keep an eye out for. It will be a major test for the Commonwealth to see if this new aspiration and energy to tackle corruption and corrupt wealth lasts beyond CHOGM 2015, and manifests itself into direct and effective results.Can the Commonwealth tackle corrupt wealth?