Anti-corruption summit outcomes: Promises for the world’s poorest

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari doesn’t want an apology from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron for calling his country “fantastically corrupt.” What he wants, he told audience members at the civil society event, “Tackling Corruption Together” in London on Wednesday, is the return of assets stolen from Nigeria and currently being held in British banks.

Speaking ahead of an anti-corruption summit in London on Thursday, Buhari underlined the role developed countries play in propagating corruption, money laundering and illicit cash flows, often cutting into the potential domestic resources of developing countries and hurting the world’s poorest.

The summit was convened by Cameron in the wake of the Panama leaks, which revealed the identities and financial activities of more than 200 clients of Panama-based corporate service provider Mossack-Fonseca. While largely technically legal, the revelations turned the spotlight on the exploitative effects of tax havens and offshore finance on developing economies and brought renewed calls for international action against corruption.

Adrian Lovett, interim deputy chief executive of the ONE Campaign told Devex by phone that he was “pleased how much of that poverty agenda was central at the summit as the first and primary reason to push forward in the fight against corruption.”

Another promising shift for developing countries, said Stephen Twigg, member of the Parliament and chair of the International Development Committee, could be the announcement of a new “institutional integrity network” designed to foster developing countries’ capacities to fight corruption.

“We look forward to learning more about how U.K. institutions, such as the National Audit Office and National Crime Agency, will support the strengthening of counterpart agencies in countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya and, consequently, those countries’ efforts to achieve SDG 16,” Twigg said in an email to Devex.

Commitments for change

Among the summit’s most significant achievements were commitments from six countries — Great Britain, Afghanistan, Kenya, France, the Netherlands and Nigeria — to establish open registries of the owners of companies operating within their borders.

However, British special territories such as the British Virgin Isles, a known tax haven, have not signed the pledge, and others including Jersey and the Isle of Man pledged to share information only with authorities — a dark spot on the summit, Lovett said.

“I raised that question to [Cameron] and he’s pushed [the territories], but we want him to push them further and harder, the idea that those territories don’t have special influence from the U.K. is clearly not the case. It’s likely to be the unfinished business of the summit,” he said.

The United States was among the countries that failed to sign the pledge to make beneficial ownership information available to the public or authorities. Also included among nonsignatories was Panama, the tax haven which hosts investment firm responsible for the recent Panama leaks, Mossack-Fonseca.

Other milestones of particular interest to the aid community, especially those working in governance sector, include the U.K.’s commitment and call for additional development resources to support and improve recipient country institutions’ capacity for fighting corruption, though exact figures have not been made public.

“Providers of development assistance should help developing countries build the abilities they need, including through making available the tools and expertise that will help them accelerate progress, and providing our international institutions with the resources they require,” according to the summit communique.

Aid for transparency

Jo Kemp, practice lead of governance and state building at Crown Agents pointed to a number of areas where aid and governance practitioners hope to see a new push in the fight against corruption in the wake of the summit.

“It was recognized the harm [corruption] does for doing business, and there was a call for open contracting and improving and making the procurement process more transparent, particularly in the health sector,” she told Devex by phone.

“Often we feel there is corruption in the procurement process, [and] that it’s known but isn’t highlighted as a key issue yet,” she said.

“Transparency around delivery of projects, controls around what the service provider should or should not do, reporting accountability and reporting directly back to the donors” are among some of the key reforms required, added Keith Garrell, practice lead for economic growth and trade at Crown Agents.

One idea floated at the civil society conference that preceded Thursday’s summit, Kemp said, was that donors can improve procurement systems in recipient countries by providing more accurate toolkits and guidelines for partners, she said.

Garrell added that he felt donors are more eager than ever to tackle corruption, once considered by donors “an elephant in the room.”

Years ago, he said, when Crown Agents brought reports of bribery or corruption back to a donor, “they were scared of what we’d reported,” he said, and today “it’s a much different picture.” He pointed to the U.K.’s 2010 Bribery Act as an example,, which clamped down on commonplace “facilitation payments,” or bribes in international business and development work.

Garrell said that the challenge now for donors is to “really involve the private sector, because they are the ones trading across borders and coming across these challenges on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “They want to do transparent business, but they need governments and donors to step up and get traction on these changes.”

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