Sexual exploitation, bribery, nepotism and large-scale cross-border theft of natural resources were some of the aspects of corruption that came into sharp focus as heads of government,civil society organisations and business leaders came together at the Commonwealth’s anti-corruption conference in London today.
The high-level gathering ended with a bank of measures being proposed and the showcasing of successful initiatives to rid the world of the corrosive influence of corruption, as speaker after speaker stressed its human costs and the need to come up with real-life solutions.
The development of a Commonwealth Standard to tackle corruption, an initiative to grow regional networks of national anti-corruption agencies, and efforts to make information about companies publicly available to help expose fraud and tackle money laundering, were just some of the proposals outlined at the day-long event on 11 May.
Organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat in partnership with Transparency International, Thomson Reuters, Omidyar Network, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, the B Team, and the ONE campaign, the Tackling Corruption Together conference at Marlborough House attracted more than 300 participants.
Delivering the keynote speech at the conference this morning, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, who has pledged to drive out corruption at home, called for an international initiative to deal with cross-border corruption and facilitate the return of stolen assets.
“I therefore call for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that will monitor, trace and facilitate the return of such assets to their countries of origin,” he told delegates. “It is important to stress that the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions.”
The conference precedes the Anti-Corruption Summit: London 2016 on 12 May, hosted by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, which aims to agree a package of practical steps to expose and drive out corrupt practices.
In the final conference panel session, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, who is currently Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, described how his government has given greater protection to whistle-blowers, introduced strict party financing rules, and removed a 10-year legal time-out under which politicians could not be held accountable for historical corruption offences.
He said: “Are we perfect? No we are not! Are we free from controversy? No we are not! But what we have done has given a clear signal to our society that we mean business in tackling corruption - and we are eager to share and eager to learn.”
In her closing remarks, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland commended the leaders of Nigeria and Malta for their “brave and courageous” agenda and urged all participants at tomorrow’s event to work towards concrete outcomes. “I go to tomorrow’s summit with your collective voices fresh from today to set out those principles that have been advocated,” she said.
“Tackling corruption is not about rich countries lecturing poor ones, or the big imposing on the small, but about telling home truths by looking out for each other,” she said.
“President Buhari rightly described corruption as a hydra-headed-monster, which threatens the security of countries and does not differentiate between developed and developing countries. As a Commonwealth of 53 countries of different sizes and shapes but with so many common aims and values, we know that to be true.”
Earlier, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, spoke about the importance of empowering citizens and supporting whistle-blowers. She also urged businesses to join the fight.
Their role is “much more than corporate responsibility,” she said. “It’s in businesses’ best interest to join the fight against corruption, because corruption is bad for business. Governments will play their part but the onus is also on businesses themselves to take action on transparency on procurement, on who they are working with.”