Justine Greening: Tackling corruption together

International Development Secretary Justine Greening's speech on how civil society, business and government leaders can tackle corruption together.

Introduction: the cost of corruption

Thank you for that introduction and thank you to our hosts the Commonwealth Secretariat and Baroness Scotland.

I’m delighted to be able to join you today. This conference is an absolutely critical precursor to tomorrow’s Anti-Corruption Summit. I know there have already been some important and wide-ranging discussions over the course of today.

I’m not going to take this opportunity to make a long and detailed argument about why corruption is a bad thing…

We know corruption is propping up failed and failing regimes, and providing cash for criminals and terrorists. We know how corruption is bad for global economic growth – and adds about 10% to business costs globally.

We also know how, behind all the statistics, there are people… people being robbed of the life they might have had…women being sexually exploited when they try to get basic services like water and electricity. People who then have no chance to get justice from corrupt law enforcement officials.

Corruption hurts the poorest most – but in the end it is a threat to the national interests of every country.

The brilliant ‘Leaders Manifesto’ published by Transparency International today is an extraordinarily powerful call to arms for why we must take action now.

Corruption is bad for people. Bad for development. And bad for business.

And yet – despite knowing how much it costs us - as a global community I believe we have been far too hesitant about getting to grips with corruption. It’s too often been seen as too entrenched, too widespread, just too subsuming to knock down.

So the questions we’re left with are not whether corruption should be fought but whether corruption can be fought and whether we - as a global community - are prepared to fight it?

Growing momentum

The answer to the first question is yes – yes, we can fight corruption and secondly yes, we can defeat it.

Many brilliant examples of civil society, citizens, businesses and governments fighting corruption have been showcased here today.

And for the last few years there’s been growing momentum around this agenda.

The Open Government Partnership, strongly championed by the UK and others as part of our role in driving forward a global movement on transparency, has grown from 8 to 69 countries since 2011. Greatly welcome President Buhari’s commitment that Nigeria will join.

The Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the world last year acknowledged the vital importance of tackling corruption for defeating poverty - with Global Goal Number 16 committing us to reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms.

I’m very proud of how the UK, led by our Prime Minister David Cameron, has seized the initiative on this these last few years. The government’s 2010 Bribery Act introduced some of the world’s strictest legislation on bribery - making companies corporately liable to prosecution if they fail to prevent bribery. We are first major country in the world to establish a public central registry of who really owns and controls companies that will go live next month.

But we need to do more – and do more together. Which is of course the theme for today, and indeed for tomorrow, tackling corruption together – all of us, civil society, business, government leaders and citizens.

Picture: Cordelia Nelson/DFID
Justine Greening speaking at the Commonwealth Secretariat. Picture: Cordelia Nelson/DFID

The Summit: exposing, punishing and driving out corruption

So is the world really prepared to take the comprehensive actions needed to stamp out corruption?

Tomorrow’s summit, hosted by our Prime Minister, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to show that we are. The summit brings together world leaders from Afghanistan to Colombia to Nigeria to Norway, multinational companies, civil society groups, law enforcement bodies and multilaterals like the UN and the World Bank.

But whether or not this summit will truly be a turning point in the fight against corruption depends on whether this unique coalition will commit to practical, transformative steps that will expose corruption, punish the perpetrators and drive out entrenched corruption wherever it exists.

We all know the world we want – countries’ resources being used to improve people’s lives not stolen and squandered domestically or hidden abroad - the international legal system effectively recovering stolen funds and the perpetrators being punished - citizens being able to report and expose the corruption if they encounter it in their daily lives - businesses operating in a level playing field.

So what needs to happen tomorrow to ensure that we get there?

Firstly, tomorrow’s summit is about developed countries including the UK getting their own house in order and making key commitments.

In critical areas such as:

  • Lifting the veil of secrecy over who ultimately owns and controls companies
  • Denying the corrupt the use of legitimate business channels and ensuring anyone who launders the proceeds of corruption feels the full force of the law
  • And ensuring the necessary laws are in place to expose and punish corruption, including working together across international borders to pursue and prosecute the corrupt.

Secondly, and just as crucially, tomorrow is about supporting change in developing countries, because tackling corruption is a two-way street – it’s not ‘us and them’ or ‘here and there’, it’s about sharing expertise, information and best practise – for our shared interests.

And that’s why it’s so important that developing countries, like Kenya, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria will have a voice at the table tomorrow, so that we can work together, in partnership, to stamp out corruption in all its forms.

And let’s be clear – supporting these countries to fight corruption should be an absolutely key priority for everyone working in development. In many of the poorest countries, the resources lost through corruption often far outstrip the aid flows they are receiving.

It’s a key priority for the UK, as set out in our new UK Aid Strategy. I’ve ensured that my Department for International Development has anti-corruption and counter-fraud plans for every country we give bilateral aid to.

And we’ll be saying more tomorrow about our commitment to boost partnerships between UK institutions and their counterparts in the developing world.

Of top concern to me is effective and transparent tax systems.

I believe the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI) launched at Financing for Development last year has the potential to be really transformative. Countries like Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania are signing up to put a priority on developing their own sustainable tax administrations - while donor countries like the UK are providing the right support, we’re doubling our support whether financial or technical assistance. It means as growth happens, these countries are better placed to reap the financial rewards.

To date, 31 countries have committed to the ATI and over the course of this summit we want to see many more step up and make a public commitment to this crucial initiative.

Thirdly, this summit is not just about governments – we also want to see businesses really seizing the initiative on this.

To me this is about much more than corporate responsibility – it’s in businesses’ best interests to join the fight against corruption. Corruption is bad for business.

And in a recent survey of business attitudes to corruption – carried out the by business risks consultancy Control Risks - 34% of respondents from Africa reported losing out on deals to corrupt competitors. That’s why having a level playing field is so important.

So governments will play their part but the onus is also on businesses themselves to take action on transparency, on procurement and who they’re working with - and it’s crucial that we see more and more businesses adding their powerful voice to the anti-corruption agenda. And I want to see businesses engaged in a race to the top in terms of standards.

Fourthly, and importantly, tomorrow’s summit must be about empowering citizens to fight corruption - with civil society playing a key role in this.

This summit needs to offer new hope for citizens – a guarantee that when the dust settles it won’t be business as usual and that corrupt leaders and officials will not have impunity.

That means commitments for more opening up of government data to citizens, using the latest technology to make it accessible and it means protections for whistleblowers.

Civil society will continue to have a vital role helping to mobilise citizens to monitor their governments using all the new data available. And I hope that even more civil society groups can play a role in changing attitudes, and changing public expectation over what can be achieved in the fight against corruption.

I also want to see civil society organisations building innovative partnerships with other players…in particular working in partnership with businesses to stop corruption.

I look forward to hearing from you on how this could work in the next session.


So, in the end, this issue of tackling corruption is for everyone.

Tackling corruption is not only morally the right thing to do – it’s in our national interest, it’s in every country’s national interest.

This week is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for developed countries to get their house in order and for developing countries who suffer the most from corruption – and have the most to gain by stamping it out.

There is no question that corruption matters wherever you are in the world, whoever you are and whatever field you represent.

That’s why this Anti-Corruption Summit needs to stick – it can’t be a one-off, it has to be the start of a truly global movement to stamp out corruption.

Governments need to live up to their promises – and civil society and businesses need to hold governments to account but also commit to learning and adapting from each other.

We won’t eradicate all corruption at the summit tomorrow, but we are taking a crucial step in the journey. And I firmly believe that, with the right global effort, we can turn back the tide of corruption.

We owe this to the poorest people in the world – we owe it to ourselves. The world and our global economy can’t afford not to tackle corruption. The world needs to look very different by 2020. Let’s make sure tomorrow’s summit is the crucial step to driving just that.

Thank you.