Tackling overseas corruption - MPs ask questions of Government approach

19 February 2016

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s Anti-Corruption Summit, to be held in London in May, the International Development Committee is holding an inquiry into the direction and effectiveness of the Department of International Development’s (DFID) current anti-corruption efforts.

Recalling that in 2013 DFID published anti-corruption strategies for all the countries it works in, the Committee is inviting evidence as to how effective these have been and how to measure that success. Questions are asked of whether the existing strategies adequately take into account the political and social context of the countries in question and whether there are certain sectors that require particular attention. It is exploring what the balance should be between seeking to tackle corruption top down at institutional level and bottom up at the grass roots, and in particular, on what works now and what is not working as well, and why.

With the public purse in mind, a key issue under scrutiny is how can DFID manage the risks associated with corruption and reconcile them with its value-for-money agenda;  should there be a longer term approach to tackling corruption or a more nuanced approach to tackle corruption over the long term?

One of the key topics under debate is the development impacts of UK Government policy on corruption, and the coherence of the Government’s approach as a whole. Indeed, an International Corruption Unit (ICU) was set up in August 2015. The ICU brought together existing investigation and intelligence units funded by the Department for International Development from the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Police and National Crime Agency. (See our related blog, HMRC proposals for tackling off-shore tax evasion seriously flawed). A significant five year funding stream - £21 million – will be provided to the ICU up to 2020. MPs may wish to learn more about how this is operating in practice.

The UK Government prides itself on the Bribery Act as offering an international gold standard, and cites the extra-territorial reach as something to be proud of. Indeed, the first Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), approved on 20 November 2015, is an agreement with Standard Bank Plc (now known as ICBC Standard Bank Plc) relating to the activities of a subsidiary in Tanzania.

However, the inquiry asks what more should the UK Government be doing to use its influence to encourage coherent international action, and refers to issues such as beneficial ownership and tax havens. This is a timely question given that we expect the Finance Bill 2016 to be presented in the Budget (16 March 2016) detailing a criminal offence for overseas tax evasion (see our related blog).  Moreover, changes are to be brought about under the Small Business and Enterprise Act 2015 with the introduction of a register of people with significant control over a company as a way in which to identify beneficial ownership – a key part of the anti-money laundering regime. Whilst these reforms will have a clear impact domestically, the inquiry is asking what more can be done by the UK government to limit the effects of corruption on developing countries.

While we await the official announcement of the date of the Anti-Corruption Summit, it is clear that tackling international bribery and corruption is a key interest for law makers and one which the UK prides itself on playing a key role.

Further information

For further information, please contact Caroline Day, or visit our Corruption & Bribery page.

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