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Anti-corruption sign in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Africa Center | Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

One year on from the UK’s Anti-Corruption Strategy: what next?

10 December 2018

One year ago, the government launched the UK’s first Anti-Corruption Strategy. On the whole, it was pretty good, setting out the government’s plans to tackle domestic and international corruption, and laying out a vision for where it wants the UK to be on this issue.

The strategy [PDF] set out more than 100 commitments on a wide range of corruption-related issues from international development finance, to corrupt insiders in UK sectors such as prisons and defence, to the role of London as a money laundering hub for funds stolen from countries around the world.
 
Ahead of a much-anticipated progress report from the government, members of the Bond Anti-Corruption Group reflect on six of the themes covered in the strategy: Has any progress been made? And what does the government need to do next?

Work with other countries to combat corruption: extractive industry transparency

What the strategy said

“[We will] …enhance global standards of extractives transparency, including project-level reporting … continue to champion the EITI domestically … support developing countries to comply with the EITI Standard, including … beneficial ownership disclosure by 2020”; and “work with like-minded partners to strengthen transparency in the sale by producer governments of oil, gas and minerals”. 

What’s happened so far?

UK-incorporated and listed extractive companies, such as mining companies, have completed three years of country-by-country project-level reporting of payments to governments, although the quality of reporting has varied quality. The UK has continued to implement the EITI domestically, and serious differences with mainstream civil society are being addressed.

The government constructively supports the international EITI Standard, including the requirement for all EITI countries to disclose company beneficial owners by 2020.

The UK continues to lead an international dialogue at the OECD on increased transparency around sales of publicly owned oil, gas and minerals and secured agreement there to develop a global company payment disclosure template. DFID’s report “Open aid, open societies: A vision for a transparent world” has confirmed that the Government will spearhead a new global transparency disclosure standard for commodities trading and the UK has commenced a study aimed at identifying potential intervention options in this area.

What needs to happen next?

Civil society is urging the UK government to clarify mandatory extractives payment reporting requirements and to monitor the quality of disclosure by UK-reporting companies. The government should require commodities trading disclosure by amending the UK Reports on Payments to Governments Regulations 2014 and then promote uptake of similar disclosure requirements in other major trading hubs such as Switzerland and at the OECD.

Improve the business environment globally

What the strategy said

“[We will] work in up to 35 countries to support "ease of doing business" and trade facilitation reforms. This includes capacity building and technical assistance aimed at developing robust legislation and transparency standards, promotion of e-procurement platforms, reducing corruption at ports and border points. This will be delivered through UK government programmes, including through the Prosperity Fund, which makes £1.3 billion available over the next 5 years to promote economic growth in developing countries.” 

What’s happened so far?

The government has strengthened the provision of anti-corruption advice for businesses by UK government staff working overseas. This included rolling out guidance and training about the Bribery Act 2010 as well as training on how to report allegations of corruption. 

What needs to happen next?

The strategy mentions the role of anti-corruption and transparency in trade agreements. GFI believes this should be extended by urging the UK to include provisions to make trade misinvoicing illegal in any future UK trade agreements too. By doing so, the cost/benefit gap of engaging in corrupt practices through the international trading system could be tightened. 

Open contracting

What the strategy said

The strategy was ambitious in wanting to root out corruption in public procurement through procurement transparency, strengthened awareness and capability within contracting authorities, and greater confidence inefficient and legitimate contract management.

What’s happened so far?

The government has taken some steps including reminding procuring authorities of their responsibilities to use identifiers, publish more timely data and working with other governments through Contracting 5.

What needs to happen next?

The review of procurement risks in local government has not happened yet and needs to be completed. Procuring authorities are still unaware of the Anti-Corruption Strategy and that the publishing of contracting information is mandatory. Completeness and timeliness of data and the use of identifiers remains low as explained by the Open Contracting Partnership in this blog.

Corporate liability

What the strategy said

The government committed to consider the findings of the January 2017 call for evidence on whether a corporate "failure to prevent" offence should be extended beyond bribery to economic crimes such as money laundering.

“If appropriate we will consult on how new offences might be introduced.”

What’s happened so far?

The Call for Evidence closed in March 2017. 18 months on, the government has still not published the findings or produced a policy response.

What needs to happen next?

The UK must at the earliest opportunity bring forward a consultation on a 'failure to prevent economic crime' offence and task the Law Commission to review the overall corporate liability framework in the UK.

Corrupt bidders

What the strategy said

The Crown Commercial Service will trial a new conviction check to complement existing provisions in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 requiring proof that bidders don’t have relevant convictions. This will inform executive decisions, and will start in December 2017. The strategy also committed to produce specific guidance to assist procurers to identify and tackle corruption.

“By February 2018 we will produce and disseminate guidance to government procurers on applying exclusions in the procurement process, managing conflicts of interest and whistleblowing. We will then work to embed this.”

What needs to happen next?

There is little information in the public domain. We encourage the Cabinet Office to publish the results of the conviction check and state publicly what next steps will be, including lessons learned, and we urge the Cabinet Office to conduct a proper public or stakeholder consultation on the guidance produced.

Mapping the extent and risk of corruption in the UK

What the strategy said

The strategy displayed a good understanding of the gaps in knowledge when it comes to mapping the corruption risks across UK sectors, and set out a plan to build a concrete evidence base, including reiterating the 2014 Anti-Corruption Plan commitment to launch a corruption reporting mechanism in the UK. The government also committed to publish details of the actions it will take in response to GRECO’s evaluation of prevention of corruption at the highest levels of government, which contained recommendations on making more information about UK lobbying available.

What’s happened so far?

The quality of data released on meetings between lobbyists and UK government ministers has markedly improved, although there is still limited information available on the content of those meetings. The UK government is yet to publish a plan of action in response to the GRECO recommendations. Regarding wider UK corruption-related data, preliminary work has been happening behind the scenes, but - apart from the recently released crime statistics - there have been no public statements on how the government intends to map out the risk of corruption in UK domestic sectors.

What needs to happen next?

The government should publish an official plan of action in response to the GRECO recommendations. Hopefully the government’s upcoming update on progress against the strategy will set this out, along with what the government’s immediate plans are to determine and map corruption risk in UK sectors.

This blog was written by members of the Bond Anti-Corruption Group. Find out more about the group here. Bond members can join for free.