Loretta Minghella OBE
Loretta Minghella is Chief Executive of Christian Aid, which works in 40 countries to help in tackling the root causes of poverty such as corruption. It works with civil society organisations around the world to hold the powerful to account. http://www.christianaid.org.uk.
Shining a brighter light on corruption around the world
Corruption has many faces. In my career I have seen the horror of corruption and other financial wrongdoing in the faces of the poorest people in the world. I have also seen it wearing smart suits in the City of London. Corruption may be local or facilitated by global networks of individuals, companies and secrecy jurisdictions - as the recent ‘Panama papers’ revealed.
Corruption has a disproportionate impact on the poorest people, who pay the cost in dignity and wellbeing, as money bleeds away from essential services like health and education. The UN estimates that corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion drain developing countries of US$1.26 trillion each year, close to the amount needed to finance the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals.
Global problems need solutions on a similar scale - but where to begin? Greater transparency weakens the international architecture of corruption which enables officials, crime lords and tax dodgers to operate outside their societies’ rules and laws.
Securing transparency cannot be left to governments alone. Too often politicians and businesses only act when exposés such as the Panama Papers alert the public to the uses and abuses of secrecy. Transparency harnesses the power of civil society to safeguard the public interest in bringing wrongdoers to book.
The UK has recently introduced a public register of companies’ true owners but, crucially, it has chosen not to insist on the same transparency in its Overseas Territories, which are among the most financially secretive places in the world. This is a shocking failure to harness the power of transparency. Private access to the data for law enforcement won't be enough. Connections will be missed. The money trail will go cold. And which law enforcement officers will risk investigations against their own bosses or government ministers?
This Summit must match the scale of the problem. Countries including the UK must commit to public registers of beneficial owners of companies in every jurisdiction they control. Unless Governments show a willingness to take at least this preliminary step, their commitment to tackling corruption must be in serious doubt.