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Two weeks to the Anti-Corruption Summit – and it could go either way

Written by Robert Barrington on Friday, 29 April 2016


We are now two weeks away from the Anti-Corruption Summit that the Prime Minister announced last July in Singapore.  Will it be a success?


How is this Summit going?

We are now counting in days not weeks, and  experienced diplomats say that what happens over the next few days could make the difference between success or failure.  So far, the signs are good – but while the UK has set out its stall to be ambitious and apparently not buckled to pressure to water down some stretching ‘deliverables’, it still has some housekeeping of its own to do, and there is a risk that the rest of the world will not share the same level of ambition.

What does success look like?

Its worthwhile re-capping what success for this Summit would look like.  This could be a genuinely ground-breaking event that significantly moves forward the global fight against corruption; and that’s because the UK’s civil servants have done a very good job in analysing why previous anti-corruption events have failed, and what loopholes there are in the global system that need to be closed.

An ambitious agenda

An ambitious agenda would be having thirty or so of those loopholes being closed by as many countries as possible, combined with better laws and law enforcement.  Key issues and loopholes include: beneficial ownership transparency for companies and property; open contracting in public procurement; illicit enrichment;  visa denials; debarment for corrupt companies; intensive focus on key sectors such as extractives and health, and key institutions in areas like security and justice; sanctions for professional enablers; better  enforcement of key conventions; protecting whistleblowers; and, more broadly, a commitment to end impunity for the corrupt, promote transparency and lift the secrecy in the global financial system.   The risk at this point is that other countries will try to take out some of the key items on the agenda or have the commitments watered down.  If anything, this Summit should be the occasion for the commitments to be made as tough as possible, as it’s a rare opportunity to have a summit of the willing.

Having the right people turn up

This is meant to be a Summit in which governments that genuinely want to tackle corruption make the change happen.  A big unknown is who will turn up – but a couple of dozen key governments that genuinely want change could create a seismic shift in the global fight against corruption.  If representatives of corrupt governments turn up, they should be politely told to go away or, at very least, asked to sit quietly in the corner and not stop the rest of the world trying to have a successful summit.  They should certainly be given no platform or opportunity to water down or block progress.

What they sign up to

An innovative thing about this Summit is that it does not rely on consensus – governments can sign up to the parts they are willing to deliver.  That means it should move beyond the usual platitudes, but it also means some of the more stretching deliverables might get very few signatures on the page.  To be a success, each of the deliverables needs to have sufficient countries that there will be a critical mass.  But it will be better to have a smaller number of countries sign up to something ambitious than to have lots sign up to unenforceable platitudes.

Making sure the deliverables are delivered

Since this Summit is not part of en established process like the G8, there is no body to monitor that countries are sticking to their commitments.  One way round this is to embed each ‘deliverable’ in an international organisation like the OECD or World Bank; another is to convene a follow-up summit in 2-3 years.  For the UK, what is needed is a national anti-corruption strategy, led by a strong anti-corruption champion, who reports to parliament about progress.

How to make it successful

Success will be keeping to a stretching agenda, good attendance at high level, and enough countries signing up to enough things that real progress has been made.  At this stage, two weeks beforehand, nothing is yet guaranteed.  The UK government needs to do some hard work to get the right people there, show resolve in keeping to an ambitious agenda, and make sure that countries sign up and don’t just talk.  But it’s not just about the UK.  Other governments need to step up to the plate.  The UK government has created the platform, and we wait to see who will use it.

Does the UK have the credibility and authority to make this Summit a success?

Finally, there is the issue of the UK’s own credibility.  It is quite likely that some of the Summit participants, precisely because they are dedicated to tackling corruption, will be critical of the UK.  It’s not too late to head that off, and here are three things that could be done:

  1. Commit to developing a UK Anti-Corruption Strategy, which will cover corruption both in the UK and overseas – to demonstrate the UK is committed to the Summit outcomes and to get its own house in order for the long-term, not just around a one-off Summit.  The strategy could incorporate how the UK will be implementing the new Sustainable Development Goal on corruption at home in the UK.
  2. Strengthen the UK’s anti-corruption enforcement capability.   That means adequate resourcing, sorting out the broken anti-money laundering supervisory regime and above all settling the status of the Serious Fraud Office.
  3. Make an announcement that if the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories do not voluntarily create public registers of beneficial ownership by May 12th 2018 (five years after the Lough Erne Summit when they were first asked to do so), they will be required to do so by an Order in Council or an equivalent instrument.  The secrecy around these jurisdictions remains a weak spot in the global system and a problem for the UK.  It is positive that the PM has stated the end goal of public registers of beneficial ownership; but we lack a plan and timescale for the journey towards that destination.

Which way will it go: outstanding success or just more words?

At this stage, it could still go either way.  The conditions for success are outlined above.  The UK government still has work to do, but ultimately the Summit also depends on others.  If the global community fails to seize this moment, it will be just one more failed anti-corruption event, and quickly forgotten.  But there is a great deal at stake if the Summit is a success: making a genuine and lasting impact on global corruption, improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, and setting the anti-corruption agenda for an entire generation.  That’s a big prize, and it’s still possible to achieve.



Read 368 times Last modified on Monday, 23 May 2016 10:58

Robert Barrington

Robert is TI-UK's Executive Director. You can view his full bio here, and tweet him @TIukED.

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