GAB is pleased to welcome this guest post by Susannah Fitzgerald, Network Co-Ordinator of the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, which brings together the UK’s leading anti-corruption organisations to tackle corruption in the UK and the UK’s role in facilitating corruption abroad.
President Biden’s June 3 commitment “to prevent and combat corruption at home and abroad” is welcome news to corruption fighters around the globe. Five years ago, then U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron outlined similar ambitions at the International Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Yet, despite a promising start in the years after the Summit, the U.K. anti-corruption agenda now looks alarmingly close to stalling.
It is time reinvigorate that agenda, and not only for the sake of British citizens. Like the United States, the United Kingdom is an important financial center, and the measures it takes to curb corruption, fight money laundering, and ease the return of stolen assets will benefit populations around the world.
Here is what the UK has done so far do to tackle corruption, why it matters, and what more the Coalition believes it needs to do.
What has the UK been doing to tackle corruption?
While the UK has previously taken up the global mantle on issues like extractives transparency and the global campaign for beneficial ownership transparency, it lacks the same urgency when addressing problems in its own defences against dirty money. Although the UK Government announced reforms to Companies House in September 2020 and previously committed to introduce a Register of Overseas Entities Bill, both were conspicuous by their absence in the most recent Queen’s Speech in May, which set out the legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session.
The UK Government also missed an important opportunity to better hold Ministers to account with the appointment of a new Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests. Despite clear advice from the UK’s public ethics advisory body, senior Conservatives, and members of the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, the new Adviser has started his role without the power to open independent investigations into breaches of the Ministerial Code. As scandals about brazen conflicts of interest and inappropriate lobbying hit the headlines at an alarming rate, the UK desperately needs to address its complacency about corruption at home and get its own house in order.
One positive step, however, is legislative space for new procurement legislation, particularly in light of the UK’s deeply problematic response to public contracting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has proposed ambitious reforms to unify a fragmented patchwork of rules and make procurement data, from contract award to implementation, more transparent and accessible. We are keen to make sure that this vision comes to pass, that the government properly invests in this transformation, and that any loopholes are addressed.
Why does this matter?
These issues have a cumulative effect, which can undermine genuinely positive reforms.
For example, the UK’s recently introduced Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regime could help hold kleptocrats around the world to account if it is used effectively and ambitiously. Yet it risks being undermined as a half measure or hypocrisy when the UK fails to ensure that its own defences against corruption or money laundering are as robust as they should be. If there is any doubt about this, a look at the Russian Embassy’s response to the launch of the regime makes for sobering reading.
This is a pertinent point for our allies as well as our enemies. While the Biden administration pushes forward with tangible reforms to ethics regulations and corporate transparency ahead of the Summit for Democracies, the UK’s inaction becomes all the more apparent and risks undermining its own Open Societies agenda during its Presidency of the G7.
What needs to change?
We urge the UK Government to address the gap between its rhetoric on corruption and the reality.
We need fair and effective public procurement, a strong democracy with high standards of conduct, and a government that is both open and accountable. We need leadership in the global fight against corruption and on greater transparency in the fossil fuel and critical mineral sectors, particularly in light of the climate emergency and the UK’s chairing of COP26 later this year.
The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading financial centers, and we urgently need action to end its role a safe haven for kleptocrats’ dirty money by –
- Stopping the abuse of U.K. companies for economic crime by legislating reforms to the law governing the Companies House, the national corporate registry, to strengthen its ability to monitor, verify, and investigate suspicious companies.
- Bringing forward the Register of Overseas Entities Bill in Parliament to create a register of foreign companies owning UK property and protect the UK’s property market.
- Reforming the UK’s outdated corporate liability laws, including the identification doctrine, and introducing a failure to prevent economic crime offence to ensure that all companies can be held to account for corruption, money laundering, and fraud.
- Comprehensively reviewing the UK’s Anti-Money Laundering regime to ensure it is fit for purpose.
- Delivering on the commitments made in the UK’s Economic Crime Plan.
Now is the time for meaningful action to address these issues. Our Agenda for 2021 provides key actions that the UK Government can take to tackle these problems head on and create a stronger economy, fairer society, and cleaner politics.