StaRs: Time to prioritise, but not to panic
“Not one single country in the world, is corruption-free” according to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index which was published yesterday. It ranks 168 countries in terms of the perceived levels of public sector corruption. Sixty-eight per cent of countries worldwide have a serious corruption problem. Half of the G20 are among them.
Transparency International explains that the Corruption Perceptions Index is based on expert opinions of public sector corruption. A poor score is a sign of prevalent bribery, lack of punishment for corruption and public institutions that do not respond to citizens’ needs. High scorers share key characteristics of open government; high levels of press freedom; access to budget information, so the public knows where money comes from and how it is spent; high levels of integrity among the people in power; and an independent judiciary that does not differentiate between rich and poor.
A heat-map sets out the corruption hot-spots; dark red indicates a highly corrupt public sector. Lighter red and orange countries fare better, but corruption among public institutions and employees is still common. Yellow countries are perceived as cleaner, but “not perfect”.
Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden ranked in the top 5. The UK has made progress moving up from 14th into the top 10.
Transparency International’s UK chapter welcomes the move up for the UK which is consistent with the leadership role the UK will want to play at the forthcoming Anti-Corruption Summit in May. Transparency International warns that this position must be maintained, or indeed built upon. “It’s vital the UK gets its own house in order before it can claim to lead globally on tackling corruption.”
Transparency International has outlined areas of action for the UK, including “cleaning up” politics and bolstering the Freedom of Information Act, strengthening the anti-money laundering regime and improving transparency over beneficial ownership of companies and property.
The introduction of a publically accessible register of the individuals who have ultimate beneficial ownership and control of UK companies and limited liability partnerships (April 2016 under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015) will improve transparency in this area, and discourage those who currently hide the assets from corruption in the UK. If, as we anticipate, Unexplained Wealth Orders are unveiled at the Anti-Corrupt Summit, UK prosecutors will be able to require explanations in relation to “unexplained wealth” and to instigate asset recovery proceedings against such assets.
The need for effective law enforcement is underlined in the report, and ensuring the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has sufficient resources to do the job is specifically cited. The latter will be music to SFO Director David Green’s ears who has repeatedly turned to Parliament to seek additional funds for his cases.
Although the latest verdicts in LIBOR 2 may be disappointing for the SFO they are the product of a healthy jury trial system and should not be regarded as undermining of the SFO’s recent achievements. 2016 will be big year for the SFO. We can expect its focus on corporate offending to continue with more corporate investigations, prosecutions and DPAs. Whether a change to the corporate attribution principle will also go its way remains to be seen as it is currently off the political agenda, but after the Summit in May there is likely to be renewed scrutiny of whether large corporates and institutions are escaping the criminal process due to an outdated method of assessing their criminal culpability.
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