UK PM pledges transparency drive to tackle corruption

28 Jul 15

Anti-poverty campaigners have welcomed UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s commitment to lead a global effort to boost transparency, saying it will recover funds that need to be invested in vital public services.

In a visit to Singapore today, Cameron announced that Britain would lead the way by publishing a register of UK company ownership, which he said would usher in a “new era of public transparency”. There are concerns that many London-registered companies are little more than shells to facilitate money laundering.

Lack of transparency not only assisted tax avoidance but was the key vehicle for corruption, the prime minister said.

He said it was time to lift the “shroud of secrecy” that surrounded parts of the corporate world and he urged other countries to follow the UK’s lead.

“We need to be able to trace data from one country to another,” Cameron said.

“The spotlight should be able to follow. If we are to win [the fight against corruption] we have to make sure there is nowhere to hide.”

Fighting corruption needed to be at the heart of the international agenda, the prime minister added. He said there was a need to use international aid to “drive better governance”.

Responding to Cameron’s remarks, Laura Taylor, head of advocacy at Christian Aid, said they represented “another step forward in the battle for greater transparency”.

“Countering corruption is of fundamental importance in the fight against global poverty because of its impact on developing countries,” she said.

“Corruption takes money out of the pockets of the poor, and reduces their access to essential public services such as health and education by undermining economic development. It also undermines democracy by encouraging apathy and mistrust, which can lead to violent conflict.”

But she questioned whether Cameron’s rhetoric would be translated into action, noting that 18 months after being instructed to, UK Overseas Territories had still not published the beneficial owners of companies registered in their jurisdictions.

“It will take the full force of the law to cut through the elaborate networks of shell companies and arcane tax practices that companies and individuals sometimes hide behind, particularly off-shore to dodge tax,” Taylor added.

At the ONE campaign, which works to eliminate poverty and preventable disease, UK director Diane Sheard said: “Transparency is the most effective vaccine against corruption. These new measures could make it harder for corrupt individuals to spend ill-gotten money, stolen from some of the world’s poorest countries.

“Lifting this veil of secrecy will developing countries to identify and recover these funds, which should be spent on essentials like health and education.”

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