I find it hard to believe that Transparency International, the world’s premier anti-corruption campaigning organisation have marked the UK as having improved on 2020 in their most recent Corruption Perception Index and have the UK as within the top 15 countries. So I ask why might this be?

In 2015, I looked at the numbers behind the overall scores where they judge: political parties, parliament, police, business, civil service, the judiciary, NGOs, religious bodies, the military and education. In 2015, parties and parliament were both scored poorly and so if one looks at the recent events that might impact the score, mainly in these arenas there’s not a lot further for them to go. It’s annoying that TI have stopped publishing the sub-scores and the methodology of making the score.

In the Conversation, Prof. Daniel Hough also finds it strange that we score so well but observes that TI are mostly interested in public sector corruption and so the cesspit that is the City of London’s money laundromat and the secrecy of the London property markets do not count against the UK’s score. He also points out that the CPI is probably a lagging indicator. The UK public sector would seem to score fairly well outside politics although the recent procurement and possibly planning decisions suggest a weakening of this standard and every five years or so, there’s a local government scandal, although this would seem not to be one of TI’s categories.

Over the last 18 months, we have had the spectacle of the most corrupt prime minster in British history fighting off police enquiries into illegal parties, the funding of the redecoration of No 10 Downing St, the appointment of peers and other honours and the police investigation into the sourcing of his technology lessons othwerwise known as the Arcuri affair. We also have the corruption of the public procurement process during the pandemic, epitomised by the £37bn expense on a failed track and trace run by a Tory MP’s family. Over half the cabinet are in breach of the ministerial code, enforced by .. err .. the Prime Minister. There is also a lobbying crisis allowing ex-PM Cameron, Jenrick & Desmond and Patterson to avoid any sanction, although Patterson had to resign in disgrace. The Govt is selling gongs, Ks and peerages again., which is being investigated, once again by the Met. Our simplistic and underpowered election regulator can’t stop foreign money entering and buying our politics, can’t make political parties keep to the rules nor does it inhibit the rich. If one looks back to the 2015 election there are over 30 exceedingly lucky Tory candidates that didn’t have to answer to the courts for overspending and it took four years to clear the one MP they sought to prosecute, although his agent wasn’t so lucky. We also have the strange coincidence of the delay and null findings by the Met Police when investigating Boris Johnson’s tenure in the role of Mayor of London (the Garden Bridge and the Arcuri affair) and latterly his time in Downing St.. I looked at some of these issues in “Impunity and Contempt in Govt” [ www | medium ] and at the investigation into the Arcuri affair in an article called “Technology Lessons” [www | medium ]

The huge elephant in the room is the 2019 prorogue crisis where the Govt dissolved its ultimate control, and our supposed final safeguard, Parliament, so it could not be held to account. One might want to argue that the controls worked, the Courts overruled the prorogue decree, but the good faith of the Prime Minster and the Leader of the House (Jacob Rees Mogg) are in tatters, and the Tory Party and its allies in the press are attacking the judges and lawyers that worked to hold them to account to the law. This is a continuation of the attack on the Judges and courts, exacerbated by the ruling that the Govt. needed Parliament’s approval to give notice to leave the EU, but the limitation of the powers of judicial review and the cuts in funding to the legal aid budget and the courts themselves are all part of the pattern.

The monopoly ownership of our press is another example of money buying influence including the Telegraph paying Johnson £¼m p.a. for a ‘column’ once a week, characterised as chickenfeed by Johnson which he claimed only took half an hour a week, although presumably his two pieces of copy on Brexit might have taken him more time. The press/politics revolving recruitment door is further illustrated by George Osborne taking the editorship of the Evening Standard. The problems of the revolving recruitment door occur across many sectors, with finance and energy being obvious sources of second income and post parliamentary income and more insidiously corrupting the police and regulators who may anticipate better paid work in the organisations they once supervised. There is a two year embargo, and a process by which ex-ministers and senior civil servants are allowed to work for private sector organisations they once regulated, but it doesn’t seem to be taken very seriously and is not statutory. The Parties have also used the House of Lords as a means of rewarding party donors and topping up the pensions of Party bureaucrats.  

The Press/Politics relationship is an important part of how the political power is corruptly maintained. The press is seen as dominated by the right wing; there are no constraints on foreign media ownership, the application of monopoly law to the press is weak to the point of being diaphanous and this government both financially threatens and seeks to control the BBC. The goal of most of these papers is to maintain or increase the power and wealth of their owners. Very few papers and journalists are interested in talking truth to power, the days of earning the name, the 4th estate are long gone. I republished [ www | medium] Will MacAvoy’s speech from the first episode of “The News Room”, originally because of its call for the US to remember its past, but he finishes the speech with a reminder, that great democracies need a free and responsible press.

So what about the private sector, Hough’s comments led me to look at Simmons & Simmon’s Corporate Corruption Index, which doesn’t suggest that the National Crime Agency is so good at brining prosecutions for serious corporate crime, but it does show how long these cases take to come to court. It’s not as if we don’t spend enough money on the NCA, £469m in 20/21, albeit down £50m from the previous year. The NCA have a page on money laundering which is one of their three key goals but in this Chatham House report, called, “the UK’s kleptocracy problem”, CH identify, the development of a risk based approach to notifying the NCA which means that apart from Banks[1], it is easy for the UK entities to avoid, that there is only a one year cooling off period for ‘politically exposed persons’ and zero time for their family. They also note that the NCA is understaffed and not competitively paid.

When we look at the Financial Conduct Authority, they boast about the low number of convictions which they avoid due to cost, effort and duration. Again their threshold is Anti-Money Laundering systems quality, not effectiveness. Furthermore the FCA is funded through the fees it charges those they regulate, yet claims to be independent. And like the NCA they also pay a lot less than the staff and tax experts employed by the financial services industry. It’s hard to say if this is a fault or feature of the public sector pay freeze or the regulatory organisational architecture we now have. They are not the only regulators to fear the deep pockets of those they’re meant to police! ICO I am talking about you. Most of the industry regulators are funded by those they regulate. The starving of the regulators of money, the uncompetitive wages are deliberate attempts to frustrate the goals of regulation and to the regulators, inc. the National Crime Agency we need to add that the courts, legal aid and judicial review have all be restricted. (Perhaps TI should look at the availability of justice as well as the independence of the judges and courts. )

I started this because I was honestly confused as to how Transparency International could mark the UK so well when from the evidence in front of me, it didn’t seem right. It seems the discounting of the private sector, the ignoring of the rotating recruitment doors between the press & politics, and the regulators and the regulated and the under staffing and underpay of the regulator & court staff we have an answer as to how they get away with it.

It’s not the laws that count, but the power and deterrence of effective enforcement.

Dave Levy

The question I ask of Transparency International, is just how much worse are those they mark down, which is most and yet how is the UK so well marked. Unlike Watergate, it seems it’s not the cover-up that gets you.


[1] From Chatham House, “Banks appear to have become risk-averse – operating blanket restrictions on certain kinds of transactions – while being risk-insensitive and failing to identify actual cases of potential money laundering …. there is a general belief that, outside of the banking industry – which submits too many Suspicious Activity Report [ 432,106 in 2018/19], apparently for defensive purposes (i.e. to avoid criminal liability) – there is widespread failure to file SARs. Only 861 were issued by estate agents in 2021, compared with approximately 1,500 issued by legal professionals in relation to property deals.”

Are Transparency International wearing rose coloured specs?

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