A high-profile event took place in London on May 12, 2016, entitled “The Anti-Corruption Summit,” with important international figures attending from all over the world representing governments, civil society and NGOs. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and the host of this function, mentioned, on camera, that Afghanistan and Nigeria, two Muslim countries; one poor and in the throes of extremist violence and the other one rich but, also, unstable politically speaking, are the most corrupt countries in the world: “fantastically corrupt countries.”
As for the American Secretary of State John Kerry he said to the press that corruption tears apart the very fabric of society and is as dangerous as extremism and repeated that in his opening remarks:
"We are fighting a battle, all of us. Corruption, writ large, is as much of an enemy, because it destroys nation states, as some of the extremists we are fighting or the other challenges we face."
However, one wonders, quite rightly, why hold this meeting, bearing in mind that the West has known for ages that corruption is as lethal and dangerous to world stability as violent extremism.
Honestly, this summit sounds more about tax evasion and tax havens, in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal and its damaging effect on the economies and reputation of democratic countries than combating efficiently the scourge of corruption worldwide, which is, very much, a huge octopus with tentacles reaching out everywhere evil is.
London’s reputation hampered by money-laundering practices
In an op-ed published by the very serious British newspaper The Guardian, David Cameron presented the issue of corruption, prior to the summit, in the following terms:
“Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of the world’s problems. It destroys jobs, traps the poorest in poverty, weakens security and even undermines the sports we love. The longer I have been in this job, the more I have come to the conclusion that the things we want to see – countries moving out of poverty, people benefiting from their nation’s natural resources, the growth of genuine democracies – will never be possible without an all-out assault on corruption.”
To show to the world that Britain means business, Cameron proposed, then, to introduce a new corporate money-laundering offense whereby companies are obliged to register.
For many critics, however, London and its famous financial hub in the City, have always been the biggest money-laundering site in the world, encouraging dictators, criminals, tax evaders, corrupt officials to bring their dirty money to invest an fructify away from any possible scrutiny, control or instability, especially in their undemocratic environments.
As such, billions of dollars came to London over the years fortifying the British economy and driving, at the same time, property out of the reach of the locals, who many of which, as result, flew the capital because of its unbearable costs not only in property but, also, in food staples and transportation costs. For many Londoners, the rich foreigners are taking control of their city and pushing them to migrate to the provinces.
Donald Toon, the director of economic crime at the National Crime Agency declared to The Times:
“I believe the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.”
The West and double standards
When Baghdad fell to the Americans in 2003 and Paul Bremer assumed occupational authority of Iraq from May 11, 2003 until June 28, 2004, he distributed millions of dollars of bribery money to the Sunni tribes to gain their allegiance to the Pax Americana, showing to the world, quite convincingly, that you can have your cake and eat it, too.
In the Gulf States, corruption is almost as acceptable as if it were a constitutional right. All ruling officials when they are negotiating deals with foreign companies require between 10% and 15% commission, payable in hard currency on a foreign offshore bank account. Most of the companies that do business with Middle Eastern countries come prepared for this and even encourage it to gain contracts. Western governments know very well this practice and often look the other way, giving the impression to the officials that there is nothing wrong with this because they know that in the end this money will be invested in their countries in property or different businesses or bonds.
To be honest, both the US (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (1977)) and Britain (UK Bribery Act (2010)) have enacted stringent laws on foreign corruption, with supposedly extra territorial reach, but one wonders to what extent these laws are activated and are efficient in eradicating practices of bribery, corruption and fraud, bearing in mind that these two countries are among the biggest business partners of the Middle Eastern countries.
For EY organization, the practice of bribery, in the form of kickbacks or backhanders, is still very common in the business arena in the Mideast, in spite of foreign legislation:
“As Middle East economies have developed and become increasingly sophisticated, so too have the methods of committing fraud in the region. Despite high profile efforts by governments to combat fraud, bribery and corruption, they remain common in the Middle East. Management boards of organizations vary widely in their approaches to stamping out fraud. Some companies appear willing to tolerate fraud."
In the Middle East, especially among officials, bribes and kickbacks have been made to become a cultural expression of gratitude and thanks ikramiya, besides being a privilege imtiyaz that goes with the office in almost a “constitutional” form. The respondents to the research conducted by EY on this phenomenon, point out that bribery in business is considered legitimate:
“Respondents said that in the Middle East, the practice of bribery had come to be widely regarded as a legitimate way of doing business. They indicated this mindset would be difficult to challenge and pointed out the culture of the region could make identifying a bribe difficult: “In Middle East culture, people are not fully aware of what bribes are. If you refuse a gift it is offensive. There is a lack of awareness of what are gifts and what are bribes. Gifts may be expected during the awarding time, but intentions are misunderstood or misused.””
In 2011, the Arab uprisings called for an immediate change in political practices and philosophy and denounced, in no doubtful terms, the incapacitating corruption, bribery, fraud and nepotism, which were and, still, are in practice today. But, other governments came into power and corruption is still alive and kicking.
In many countries of the world, undemocratic governments use corruption to reward their supporters, followers and backers, be they officials in power or political parties and civil society organizations. Corruption is used as a carrot and those who refuse it and denounce its presence get the stick, instead.
Life goes on and so does corruption
An immediate setback to David Cameron’s Anti-Corruption Summit is the decision of the British Virgin Islands to rebuff his call for British overseas territories and crown dependencies to make public the identity of owners of offshore firms. It must be pointed out that British Virgin Islands, Panama as well as FIFA were not invited to the conference because of their fraudulent history.
At the end of the conference, David Cameron triumphantly declared:
"Today the world has come together in a coalition of the committed to expose, to punish and to drive out corruption."
But, his general remarks did not spell out a precise strategy with field measures to combat corruption, or to be, more specific; he did not come up with a prescription medicine for this ailment, he, himself, called “cancer”:
"the cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we need to tackle in our world"
The results are of this international meeting are definitely meager, they are as follows:
- Global plan to help recover stolen assets;
- Launch of public registers of true company ownership, and
- Property crackdown in London, UK.
So after this one-day conference presented in the British press as a “landmark”, life will go on as usual and so will corruption and fraud.
However, the only hope and beacon of light, in the long fight against corruption, today, is undoubtedly Transparency International, an NGO founded in 1993 and based in Berlin, Germany, that though it is lacking in funds, yet it is very active in denouncing corruption and proposing a pedagogical approach to combat it, in a comprehensive strategy.
Image Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org
You can follow Dr Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu