Financial backing key to fighting corruption

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Anti-corruption commissions need proper financial backing and true independence as well as public support to be effective, former UK Attorney General Baroness Patricia Scotland has warned. 

She said Britain’s overseas territories, including the Cayman Islands, should look to be world leaders on the issue to safeguard their economies as investors become increasingly unwilling to pay the “corruption tax”. 

In a lecture at the University College of the Cayman Islands on Tuesday, she warned efforts to stamp out corruption could only be truly effective if commissions were given teeth. 

“There are a number of features which it is really important for anti-corruption commissions to have – independence, rigour, funding and expertise. Those elements are critical if anti-corruption commissions are to do their work … 

“A commission can only be as good as we make it. If we don’t give them the funding, if we don’t give them the power, if we don’t enable them to monitor the situation, then they will be forgiven for not making a difference,” she said to loud applause at the latest instalment of the university’s distinguished lecture series. 

Both Police Commissioner David Baines, head of the anti-corruption commission in Cayman, and Karin Thompson, who heads up the Commission for Standards in Public Life, were at the lecture. 

They have previously warned that their commissions, set up in 2009, are under-resourced and, in the case of the Commission for Standards in Public Life, lack the legislative backing to make any real difference. 

Ms Scotland expressed confidence that the new government would get to grips with the issue. 

“The government is considering, even now, how to structure the funding for the commission and how to implement this. 

“You now have the benefit of a new government which appears to be committed to looking at these issues favourably and energetically. 

“I’m very much going to watch this space. I am wishing you well but you do know that, as a citizen, you have the ability to put a pin on every minister’s chair so they can’t sit down very comfortably till they listen.” 

She made those remarks in response to a question from lawyer Suzanne Bothwell, who suggested the commissions had suffered a “failure to launch”, in part, because they lacked genuine independence. 

Earlier, Ms Scotland said Cayman and the other overseas territories could make themselves more attractive to investors by signing up to global standards on fighting corruption. 

“My central proposal is the creation of the international kite-mark of agreed standards. 

“You always hear people say, ‘I would like to be straight, I would like to be honest, but no one else is’. 

“I think we have to create a new paradigm where the advantage will rest with those of us who are honest and straight because we will set a benchmark that says you cannot play in our market unless you adhere to the highest possible standards.” 

She added: “There are key incentives for the territories in being seen as a global leader on these issues, not least in the increased attractiveness to investors … The territories can, and in my view, should lead the way.” 

 

Proceeds of crime 

Ms Scotland also urged authorities to use all available legislation to strip convicted crooks of 
their ill-gotten gains. 

She said many criminals feared the loss of cash and the glitzy lifestyle more than they feared jail. 

“We need to catch them, need to lock them away and we need to relieve them of their assets, like Robin Hood, and give it back to the poor,” she said. 

Ms Scotland also made a plea to the public to take personal responsibility for reporting corruption, warning that turning a blind eye amounted to tacit approval. 

“The most important thing for us to do is to not think that battling corruption is somebody else’s business. Those of us who close our eyes and say nothing are as complicit as those who actually commit the corrupt acts. It is really important to create a system where we disclose, we challenge and we don’t accept.” 

The evening was the second of UCCI’s distinguished lecture sessions focusing on corruption. 

Jack Blum, a leading US white-collar criminal attorney and specialist in money laundering, will be next up, speaking at the college in November. 

Roy Bodden, president of UCCI, said the college had a responsibility to lead the debate on morality and corruption issues. 

UCCI will host the Caribbean Conference on Ethics, Values and Morality in 2014. 

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Baroness Scotland addresses the audience at UCCI.
PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER