News 09th Dec 2021

IACD 2021: Now is not the time for complacency in the fight against corruption

Daniel Bruce

Chief Executive

Daniel Bruce is Chief Executive of Transparency International UK. He leads the overall strategy of Transparency International UK across all programme and policy areas. He heads up the leadership team and serves as the organisation’s senior-most representative to governments, the private sector and in the media.

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“We are a model of integrity compared to most other countries” – that’s a common response when I talk about corruption in the UK.

No question, there are many countries around the world where corruption is so deeply embedded it has to be factored into even the most routine activities, from a visit to the doctor to sending your child to school.

Nations blighted with conflict or less free electoral systems habitually fare the worst according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) which measures country by country the perception of public sector corruption. Liberal, progressive democracies such as the UK, on the other hand, tend to perform much better.

But that does not mean the UK has a completely clean slate. In the last 12 months alone we’ve seen revelations in the Pandora Papers that once again exposed Britain’s role as a global hub for suspect wealth, lobbying and political integrity scandals that dominated the headlines in recent weeks, and major question marks over how - and to whom – billions of pounds worth of COVID-response contracts were awarded, (our research found 73 that raised red flags).

The UK has positioned itself as a leader in the fight against global corruption. Yet its credibility risks being undermined without tougher action at home.

But let’s not be too downhearted.  The Committee for Standards in Public Life’s latest report, Standards Matter 2 came at a critical time during a so-called autumn of “sleaze”. It provides a blueprint for reform upon which the British government must act to restore public confidence that our politicians will act ethically and in the public interest. It includes recommendations on transparency around lobbying of ministers, the revolving door between public office and the private sector and measures that would strengthen powers of the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests.

Also encouraging, though long overdue, were recommendations from the House of Commons Standards Committee calling for a ban on MPs holding second jobs as political strategists and for making members’ financial interests more transparent by publishing them as machine-readable data.

These recommendations must be implemented urgently. They should not be kicked into the long grass as seems to have happened with transformative property ownership transparency legislation that has been waiting in the wings for nearly three years.

That legislation currently gathering dust would mark out the UK as a leading player in the fight against global corruption. Initially published in 2018 and mentioned alongside the Queen’s Speech the following year, it would reveal the true owners of offshore companies that hold UK property. All too often these are kleptocrats and criminals who currently exploit this loophole to hide their assets.

Business leaders too have joined the calls to clamp down on corruption, working with us to urge the Government to make reforming Companies House a priority in the next Queen’s Speech. Proposals already published by the government would help end the abuse of UK companies for economic crime by making records on the people behind companies more accurate, verifiable and accessible.

Meanwhile, those with money to hide continue to search for new ways to move and hide their illicit wealth. The UK's fast-growing e-money sector -  as will be revealed by our latest report launching next week – risks becoming a major conduit for dirty money unless steps are taken to improve oversight.

This is all against a backdrop of a world stressed by Covid, the effects of climate change, conflict and instability – and the added opportunities these create for those who would abuse them for private gain.

There is no question that Covid-19 vaccines have been a gamechanger in the pandemic response but transparency of clinical trials and contracts between pharmaceutical companies and countries has lagged behind leaving the door wide open to misinformation and misunderstanding.

Our report, For Whose Benefit, found that results had been announced for 45 percent of registered Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials we examined. Of those, 41 percent had no published data analysis. Only top-level results were released by press release, press conference or media report, with minimal data. Clear guidance is needed on how clinical trial data should be shared during a health emergency.

Concerns about the latest Covid-19 variant Omicron have also rightfully underscored the urgent need for an equitable global vaccine rollout.  Yet our Transparency International partners in Bangladesh, Uganda and Zambia report low vaccine availability and immunisation rates well behind World Health Organisation (WHO) targets. When the vaccines do arrive, they often have short shelf lives or come at short notice which has meant these countries have abandoned equity-based approaches to distribution. Whilst our partners work to put in place adequate monitoring, they have also reported cases of bribery or favouritism being used to secure immunization.

Meanwhile, our just-published data on the risk of corruption in defence and security institutions around the world also raises serious concerns. The Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) reveals that 62 percent of countries are at high risk of defence and security corruption particularly when it comes to military operations, fuelling the risk of conflict, instability, and human rights abuses.

The results come as global military spending has increased to some $2 trillion annually, making the implications even more disturbing.

On this International Anti-Corruption Day, we call on the UK government to better protect integrity at home and to take a real stand against corruption globally.  Parliamentary time must be made in 2022 to bring into law legislation that would show kleptocrats and the corrupt around the world that they are not welcome in Britain.