Friday, November 16, 2012

The western world is on both sides of the corruption battle

The west talks a good game in wanting the corruption in poorer countries to  stop. Our leaders often use their pulpits to bully the poorer nations into cleaning up their act. The leaders of the poor nations that score some victories gain our respect and aid money. Still there are many systems in the western world that support the corruption.

Paul Collier's latest opinion piece for the Guardian points out that those perpetrators of corruption often turn to the western world for help. The thieves hire lawyers and public relations firms from New York, Paris or London. Their dirty money often flows thru the western world without anyone stopping it. Collier is calling on western leaders to do more to stop helping the thieves. In this snippet, he mentions Guinea leader Aissatou Boiro who was gunned down last Friday by supporters of the very thieves he was trying to catch.

With the US election out of the way, it is time for American companies to face this reality. To date, their response to the Cardin-Lugar amendment requiring transparency in their transactions has been to mount a legal challenge. Rather than this doomed and demeaning strategy of pushing back, they would be well advised to push forward. Cardin-Lugar is being imitated: this month the European parliament is likely to adopt it across Europe. Canada, home to the world's main financial market for second-tier resource extraction companies, is about to become an aberrant laggard that is surely not beyond the reach of influence.
The success of decent African governments in their struggle against corruption is not only in our interest, it is partly our responsibility. Inadvertently, we are currently providing much of the capacity needed for corruption to fight back. We are not, of course, complicit in the murder of Boiro, though her blood should remind us that brave people are putting their lives on the line. But the sharp lawyers and slick public relations consultants who counter the effort for clean governance are not based in countries such as Guinea: they are in London, Paris and New York.
Similarly, the clandestine flows of dirty money essential for corruption, which Boiro was trying to trace, depend on an army of facilitating lawyers, accountants and bankers. They are the people who establish shell companies and nominee bank accounts to conceal true beneficial ownership, and whip money across borders far faster than the lumbering process of inter-governmental legal co-operation. Governments such as Guinea's bear the brunt of these ethically wretched activities, but they are beyond their capacities to address.
They are not, however, beyond our own capacities. We could turn the system of mutual legal assistance, whereby governments are supposed to co-operate to prise information out of suspected criminals and witnesses, from a sham into a reality. We could require the documents that establish shell companies and bank accounts to carry the names of the lawyers and bankers who executed them. These people could then face legal liability to ensure that the authorities could readily establish beneficial ownership. Our governments and our associations have an obligation to rein in the unscrupulous tail of our professions.

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