Any crime that generates money can lead to money laundering, but one of the biggies – and one of the most worrying for governments, with its reputational implications – is corruption. We tend of think of high-level, regime-toppling corruption (naming no names, but come on – we’re spoilt for choice these days) but in terms of social harm, the best definition is the simplest: the abuse of public power for private gain. This catches all magnitudes of corruption, from the politician who uses his power to line his own pockets to the traffic cop who pulls over motorists and issues on-the-spot fines for non-existent infringements – all are damaging to the fair operation of our economies and our communities. And to help MLROs keep track of which jurisdictions are most tainted with corruption, and which are doing the most to combat it, we have the annual Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International.
This year’s edition appeared on 29 January 2019; it “draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean)”. There is little change at the top (Denmark triumphs with 88 out of 100, while New Zealand, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland follow close behind) or indeed at the bottom (Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and North Korea all score less than 15 out of 100).
There is plenty of analysis to be done on the CPI – on TI’s own website, they offer several specific insights, including “Western Europe and EU: stagnating anti-corruption efforts and weakening democratic institutions”, “Americas: weakening democracy and rise in populism hinder anti-corruption efforts” and “Trouble at the top: why high-scoring countries aren’t corruption-free”. Of course I am particularly interested in my own jurisdiction – the UK. And we’re not doing as well as we might – which is surprising, when you consider how we are handling all other political issues with such panache. (If Brexit happens, will words like panache and élan be outlawed?)
Looking at the bald figures, in 2015 and 2016 the UK scored 81 out of 100, and in 2017 we bumped that up to 82. But in 2018 we went down to 80 – and thereby dropped out of the top ten in the ranking. So what has gone wrong? According to TI analysis: “Over the past year, the UK experienced a few public sector scandals involving Members of Parliament who were found guilty of taking undeclared holidays paid for by foreign states. In addition, questions over the origin of money used in the EU referendum combined with concerns over the future of Brexit make future movement of the UK on the CPI unclear.” We’re also mixing with some fairly unsavoury company, as Robert Barrington of the UK chapter of TI points out: “We also note the huge fall in rankings of Azerbaijan [from 31 out of 100 in 2017 to 25 out of 100 in 2018] whose President was in the UK just last year meeting with the British Prime Minister and whose ruling family owns a number of UK-based assets. Although hosting corrupt kleptocrats in London does not affect the score on this index of public sector corruption, the UK government should be aware of the detrimental impact it has on the UK’s international standing.” With all of that going on, I think we can count ourselves lucky to have stayed as high as we have in the index – I will hardly be able to look at the 2019 edition.