The phone-hacking scandal shows Britain has a long way to go before it can consider itself free of corruption.
By Chandu Krishnan
Public protests around the world in 2011, often fuelled by corruption and economic instability, clearly show citizens feel their leaders and public institutions are neither transparent nor accountable, and all too often are systemically corrupt.
Today marks the release of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) which ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. Not surprisingly the events and public anger of 2011 are reflected in the results.
This year it scores 183 countries and territories from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean). It uses data from 17 surveys that look at factors such as enforcement of anti-corruption laws, access to information and conflicts of interest.
It is striking that, although public sector corruption is generally seen as a greater problem in the developing world, there are some significant exceptions - this year, Hong Kong, Barbados, Bahamas, Chile and Qatar are ranked higher than the US and France. Italy and Greece don't even make the top 50 countries on the Index.
What about the UK? It ranks 16th, with a score of 7.8. Although the introduction of the UK Bribery Act has no doubt improved the UK's ranking since 2010, recent events such as the phone hacking scandal have shown that there are still too many areas of corruption vulnerability in the UK public sector.
We certainly cannot afford any complacency. Given the government's professed commitment to greater transparency and accountability, the UK should be in the top ten. However, practices that have been taken for granted for many years are still awaiting change, such as the willingness of politicians to accept corporate and media hospitality and 'revolving door' employment between
major media companies, political offices and the police.
Although there are several changes that must be made to strengthen the UK's defences against corruption, two are imperative.
It is time to clean up politics. Recent scandals involving the movement of individuals between government and the private sector – such as the cases of Geoff Hoon and Andy Coulson – have highlighted the corruption vulnerabilities left open by the current system. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority should draw up post-public employment rules for MPs, taking into account differences in the incidence of conflict-of-interest risk between various roles (while also being sensitive to the job insecurity that elected MPs face). Political party funding is in desperate need of reform, as highlighted in the recent report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Corruption is not just something that happens abroad. It exists at home too. Despite this fact, there is no individual or institution with responsibility to coordinate a robust response to corruption in the UK. Ironically the government has an 'overseas anti-corruption champion', reflecting its underlying assumption that corruption is a problem overseas but not here. This remit must be extended to cover domestic corruption. Before it calls for better standards abroad the UK needs to address urgently the problems in its own back yard.
Chandu Krishnan is the executive director ofTransparency International UK.
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