I had my first visit to a reception inside the House of Lords in London this week at the sumptuous River Room (the official State Room for the House of Lords used for the purposes of entertaining) hosted by The Baroness Whitaker on behalf of Transparency International. You can see some pictures of the room from this link from an entirely different event. Besides the impressive paintings the only other fixture of note in the room was a sculpture of Narcissus. I mark it down as quaint eccentricity, that the British do so well, to plant such a fixture in the main reception of their second chamber of parliament!
The presentation was top notch opened by Laurence Cockroft, Chair Transparency International (TI) UK followed by Lord Robertson, former Secretary General of NATO and UK Defense Minister then John Githongo, Fellow at Oxford and former Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics, Government of Kenya then Bob McKittrick of the UK Anti Corruption Forum and Lord Neill, former UK Government Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Cockcroft outlines TI’s focus in the UK: the defense industry, money laundering, the construction industry and UK legislative reform. He also made a point that the international community could not hope to meet it’s commitments to the UN Millennium Development Goals without decisively tackling corruption.
Lord Robertson said corruption was morally offensive, politically corrosive and economically inefficient. In his days at NATO he said he personally measured corruption in governments by the uptake in investment in shiny suits. His wish he said was a day when such shiny suits would be a measure of sartorial rather than governance standards. A moral victory perhaps for Thomas Otter and DFOF?
John Githongo was indeed challenging – he called on the defense industry publish a list of it’s sales agents in Africa. He marked out the decline of the World Bank as a force for incentive led governance reform as it gradually looses it’s best customers: Brazil, Russia, India and China as they develop rapidly. With such a vacuum opening up he said it was all the more critical for TI and other NGOs to fill the space. Later John told me he held out great hope for web 2.0 to help bring greater transparency to business and public life so long as the information presented could be authenticated properly.
Lord Neill was in combative mood. He unpacked the UK government quandary over it’s decision to suspend investigations into foreign defense contracts in the interests of national security. Lord Neill said it was circular logic for a government not to enforce the law enacted on behalf of the people in deference to the wider public interest. This decision and growing disquiet that not one prosecution has been taken in the UK since the law was updated in 2001 will fuel debate and pressure on this issue from activists for a long time to come. There is growing unrest and public pressure on the UK government to be seen to enforce this law and make an example of someone. You heard it here first.
Similar to Dennis Howlett’s post on The Point, one delegate at the event was really enthused about WIKILEAKS as a whistleblower resource. I checked with other NGO friends and it is indeed used widely by the activist community.
I see corruption as the sharp end of the sustainability debate and a huge, clear and present governance risk for business under current law mostly oriented around the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and nation states ratifying the 1997 OECD Convention. Actually, if the corruption problem can be understood and fixed from both demand and supply perspectives a lot of other good things start to fall into place.