Standards in Public Life in the UK: A 2020 vision

It’s 25 years since the UK set up its Committee on Standards in Public Life. As author of the ‘Nolan principles’, the Committee has inspired other countries around the world to introduce codes of conduct for public officials and politicians, but what has become of the UK standards landscape in the meantime? In this post, CSC researcher Rebecca Dobson Phillips maps the landscape.

In the heat of our fast-paced, media-focused culture, it is perhaps inevitable that interest in public standards peaks in the wake of a scandal and then troughs in the quiet in-between when much of the real work is done. The 25-year anniversary of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) therefore provides a welcome opportunity to reflect on public standards more broadly, as a public good with a frontline role protecting our democratic institutions from corruption, conflicts of interest and other forms of misconduct.

I was delighted to be commissioned by the Committee to undertake a new mapping exercise of the standards landscape in England and reflect on the key changes over the past quarter-century. The full review, published today, provides an overview of the standards landscape effective in central and local government in the United Kingdom. This offers a vantage point from which to view the landscape’s shape and form over time, its strengths and weaknesses, and challenges to the maintenance of public standards in the context of emerging technological, social and political pressures.

The public standards landscape is conceived broadly. It ranges from Westminster and Whitehall to the judiciary and local government, and also incorporates groups that formerly might not have been considered public entities at all, including political parties and third-party actors such as lobbyists and private sector providers of public services. This broad approach reflects the concerns of the CSPL as it has responded to the demands of a shifting political culture and the take up of governance approaches that have blurred the distinction between the public and private spheres.

The Mapping Exercise charts the embedding of standards through codes of conduct, transparency and accountability mechanisms, ethics training and tailored advice. However, the direction and speed of travel is uneven and there remains significant discretion particularly in political and judicial institutions, which have a preference for self-regulation and case-by-case judgments. These exceptions serve to maintain the sovereignty of political decision-making and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. However, they also reveal the clear limits of bureaucratic accountability, highlighting the importance of simultaneously supporting democratic processes and the rule of law to ensure our institutions are well governed, responsive to the public interest and provide effective checks on power.

The upholders of public standards have a crucial role in anticipating challenges, whether these originate in society—through changing public attitudes, the role of technology and social media, and the influence of lobbying groups—or from within political institutions, manifest in the policy decisions made by those in power. Success at the ballot box provides governments with the democratic mandate to reform governance arrangements in pursuit of their stated policy aims. However, it is important to recognise that such reforms can compromise existing standards frameworks. The unintended consequences of changing institutional cultures and ways of working in the pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness can have ethical consequences, potentially increasing the risks to high standards along the way.

We have a long tradition of thoughtful and balanced responses to ethical issues, possess a widely distributed system of public standards, and for the most part have well-embedded cultures of integrity in our public institutions. But this is not a moment for complacency. We are experiencing a period of profound social and political change, which will likely test the limits of the standards regime. Public standards are not inalienable; to a large degree they rely on shared principles and trust in others, and this trust can easily erode during periods of change and uncertainty. In this context, the CSPL’s Seven Principles of Public Life are an essential reminder to all—whatever the pressures of the time—of the duty to act with integrity and without bias and in the public interest.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life first published this blog on 24 February 2020.

The Report can be accessed here.

Building public procurement integrity in Jamaica

Public procurement is one of the key ways of corruptly channelling money out of the state, not least because it is one of the few areas of public spending where there is significant discretion. In a well-functioning state, there are many bodies with an interest in controlling and overseeing procurement. Yet it is surprisingly rare to see all the parties together in the same room, talking about how they can work together. As CSC Director Liz David-Barrett explains here, that is exactly what just happened in an intense two-day workshop on analysing procurement data for integrity risks in Jamaica.

Our main partner, and co-organiser of the workshop, is the Integrity Commission of Jamaica. With a mandate to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption, one of the Integrity Commission’s core functions is to oversee public procurement. Moreover, it is because they – and one of their predecessor organisations, the Office of the Contractor General – have been collecting and publishing public procurement data since 2006, that we were able to select Jamaica as one of the countries of analysis in our GI-ACE research.

Jamaica was an obvious choice for our follow-on work, in which we are collaborating with the Integrity Commission to develop an online interface that will make it much easier to analyse procurement data. As well as having good data, there are a number of highly competent interested agencies in Jamaica, with various roles in overseeing contracting, and longstanding Department for International Development (UK-DFID) support for local agencies that work to fight grand corruption and organised crime.

The Integrity Commission expertly convened a group of potential users from a range of government agencies to attend our workshop. As well as their own investigators and monitors, and their data collection and analysis team, they invited several other organisations to the table. Over the two days, we learned about the many different ways in which analysis of procurement data could assist their work.

Instead of relying on a random sample, the Auditor General, for example, is interested in running a series of analyses of supplier risk, sectoral risk, and cost over-runs, as a preliminary risk assessment that would help them choose more selectively where to target their audit resources. Another government agency, meanwhile, is interested in matching up how much companies declare in income with the value of the contracts they have been awarded. Yet another wants to improve project implementation throughout the public procurement process.

The Public Procurement Commission, which is responsible for checking the credentials of companies that wish to register to participate in public tenders, is keen to develop a mechanism for evaluating contract performance. They also would like to identify conflicts of interest among public bodies and contractors, and create risk profiles for suppliers. Such information might inform their decisions to deny access to public contracts, or to downgrade or suspend the registration of suppliers.

Policymakers also are keen to build an evidence base that can inform future policy design, using the tool to compare competitive and non-competitive processes, assessing the impact of a change in thresholds, and to tracking efficiency in areas such as framework agreements.

Law enforcement agencies emphasise the generation of evidence about individual cases, which can include tracing conflicts of interest and gaining a sense of contract-level and supplier risk patterns.

There was huge enthusiasm in the room for developing a user-friendly tool to detect corruption in contracting. Our next step is to assess just how many of these needs we can meet in the online portal design. Much of that depends on the underlying data, but where we can’t immediately fulfil a need, we will be able to highlight areas where collecting more data could underpin enhanced analysis in the future.

The workshop has already had one big benefit: It helped create awareness and support networks among these varied agencies on how they can work together. One participant reported, “It was rewarding to get the different views on the challenges faced and the different suggestions and remedies; it also opened the gate for future collaboration,” while another commented, “The information from the other participants served to show the endless connections and the interconnectedness that can be achieved.”

Fighting corruption is partly about having the evidence base to design good policy, but it’s also about having the right teams in place to implement it.

This blog was previously posted by the Global Integrity-ACE programme.

Dos Santos files: what’s new?

Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption, asks whether the Luanda Leaks are just another leak – or tell us something more about the world of global corruption.

In the age of the transparency revolution, we are growing used to leaks.  Wikileaks, the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, Luxleaks, Swissleaks, and so on.  It would be unsurprising if leak fatigue were to set in.  The media will become tired of the same old stories; the public will not want to read about them because the scandals all sound the same, and there is a lot of innuendo and few smoking guns.  Before we switch off about leaks, here are three things that strike me about why the dos Santos case could have longer legs:
1. Corruption (allegations of) lies at the heart of this case.  In many of the previous leaks, one can see a series of shell companies leading back to something like a privatised State-Owned Enterprise in a post-Soviet country in the nineties.  The origin of the money looks suspect, but it is hard to pin a charge of corruption on the acquisition of the funds.  In this case, the allegations are that corruption was firmly at play – as well as fraud and theft.  Allegations, I emphasise, but clearly about corruption.
2. The heat is mounting on professional enablers.  Much of the Luanda Leaks coverage has not been about Ms dos Santos, but about how firms of professional advisers (accountants, lawyers etc, variously called professional enablers or gatekeepers, depending on what level of empathy you are seeking) have facilitated the acquisition and (alleged) laundering of her wealth.  Were there not sufficient red flags that they should have approached client take-on with particuar care – or were the rewards so lucrative that the red flags magically became more orangey? The global law enforcement community has been getting steadily more worked up about the ‘enablers’ in recent years – respectable professionals who seem to make a mint and get off scot free by distancing themselves from the illegality.  But lawyers and acountants are now firmly in the cross-hairs of regulators, law enforcement agencies and the media.
3. Leaks work.  We know a great deal more about global networks of corruption than we did even five years ago, in large part thanks to leaks.  As well as shining a light on individual cases, they have other functions – for example, acting as a proxy public register of beneficial ownership, demonstrating the value and public interest of having information that is not solely available to regulators or law enforcement agencies.  Like them or not (and some people don’t, because they disclose confidential information) leaks have become easier in the tech age and are part of the transparency revolution.  But – it has not been so good for the whistlblowers (leakers).  All sorts of laws exist that protect the criminals and criminalise the leakers.  Rui Pinto, who was responsible for this round, is currently awaiting trial in Portugal.
By the by, Ms dos Santos has hired the fearsome law firm Schillings to sue the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which published and analysed the leaked documents.  A multi-billionaire taking legal action against a small NGO is normally a one-sided affair, irrespective of the merits of the arguments, illustrating the complex debate about whether the ultra-wealthy can buy better access to justice when defending themselves and their assets against corruption charges.
We discussed the case in our weekly ‘bring your own scandal’ discussion group this week, part of our MA on Corruption & Governance.  Three other excellent points we talked through were:
– The gender dimension.  Is this case getting more attention because the protagonist is not just rich but the ‘richest woman’ in Africa?  And if Ms Dos Santos were guilty, does this validate the corruption theory that women are less likely to be perpetrators of corruption and more likely to be victims, until they reach a comparable level of wealth and power, at which point things even out?
– Witch hunts.  Ms Dos Santos has claimed that not only is she innocent, but the cause of all this is a political witch hunt initiated by her political enemies in Angola rather than kleptocracy.  It is worth remembering that both can be true: someone can be both guilty of kleptocracy and the subject of a witch hunt by their political successors keen to ensure that there is no political comeback.
– People get hurt.  An associated banker in Portugal has taken his own life.  In the real world of corruption cases, that kind of thing happens.  But violence against suspects and witnesses pales into insignificance compared to the victims in countries from which the wealth has been looted – the loss of budgets for schools, hospitals, infrastructure, the incentives in the public services to be corrupt in turn, the deterrent to investors.
At first glance, this may look like just another leak.  But delving deeper, there is so much in the case that – whether the allegations are true or false – it is likely to be emblematic for years to come.

Corruption; a world tour

Last week, Transparency International published its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. In three articles published in newspapers and magazines around the world, Dan Hough, Professor of Politics, looks at what the CPI can – and can’t – tell us about corruption in the UK, US and China.

United Kingdom
In the New Statesman, Professor Hough says ‘We need to talk about corruption in the UK – many people have lost interest precisely at the moment when all the evidence says we need have our eyes wide open.’ Read his article here.

United States
Writing in the Washington Post, Professor Hough notes: ‘In 2019, the U.S. ranked as more corrupt on this international index. That happened last year, too. It’s tough to measure corruption, but Transparency International’s annual scorecard gives trends to watch.’ Read his article here.

Professor Hough asks in the South China Morning Post ‘Is China still on an anti-corruption road to nowhere, despite Xi Jinping’s campaign?’ Read his article here.

UK and the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI); Good, but could do (much) better

Transparency International’s (TI) annual Corruption Perceptions Index was published on 23 January. The UK comes out pretty well. But, as the CSC’s Dan Hough notes, there’s no grounds for complacency.

Every year in January Transparency International (TI) gets the world talking about corruption. Not that corruption isn’t discussed at other times of the year, but TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), for all its sins, focuses plenty of minds on who appears to be doing well (and not so well) in tackling graft.

Traditionally, the UK has been one of the better performers in the CPI. Britain has never come out top of the pile, but it’s always been much nearer the right end of the league table than the bottom. Think Tottenham Hotspur rather than Liverpool.

In 2019 the UK came in equal 12th (out of 180) with 77 points (out of 100). That puts it on a par with Canada, Austria and Australia, just ahead of Hong Kong and Belgium and just behind Iceland, Luxembourg and Germany. In the great scheme of things that’s a reasonable performance. That performance is also broadly in line with how the UK has done in previous years. A slip of four places on 2017 (8th with 82 points) but an improvement on 2012 (17th with 74 points). A statistician may well look at that sort of data and argue that it looks very much like a case of trendless fluctuation: in other words, pretty stable.

The CPI’s critics have always argued that we shouldn’t read too much into fluctuations anyway. The survey’s methodological flaws, so they argue, leave it wide open to criticism. Quite what the qualitative difference in anti-corruption progress is, for example, between a score of 77 and a score of 78 is far from clear. Furthermore, it is anything but obvious what a country scoring 100 would actually look like. How would a corruption-free state work? We don’t know, and it’s safe to say that we never will.

Throw in the fact that the CPI doesn’t actually measure corruption (it measures perceptions of corruption, and perceptions and reality can be very different things) and that those surveyed have traditionally come from the business community and the CPI’s critics have plenty of ammunition at their disposal.

Be that as it may, and as I have argued elsewhere, throwing the baby out with the bathwater also makes little sense. TI has carefully played with the CPI’s methodology over the years and the index is certainly more robust than it used to be. It is no longer quite so focussed on the attitudes of business to corrupt practice.

Plus, countering one of the more obvious criticisms directly, perceptions of reality can often be every bit as important as the reality itself; if you think you’re sitting next to an angry lion, for example, you’re going to up sticks and run as quickly as you can regardless of whether that angry lion really does exist. Plus, the point of the CPI is to show broader trends and patterns and to give onlookers a feel for where progress is being made; it’s not meant to be a scientific dissection of everything that is conceivably understood as corrupt.

And that’s why UK policy-makers should pause for thought. If the UK’s position is broadly constant, then what has the mass of anti-corruption initiatives that recent administrations have come up with actually achieved? Has the 2010 UK Bribery Act not had any significant impact on the bigger picture? Has the UK’s Anti-Corruption Strategy merely shifted a few deckchairs without changing anything too fundamental? Has the tough talk on beneficial ownership in the domestic context in practice shifted little? What of the impact of the various anti-corruption champions, or indeed the multitude of words that David Cameron in particular produced on the matter? If all of this leads to CPI scores that are bobbing around at more or less the same level then some re-thinking needs to be done.

To be fair to UK policy-makers, shifting the course of large ships of state is no easy task. It takes time and indeed no little luck to get the right policies in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, corruption is a systemic problem and the UK is part of a broader international system that can’t simply be reformed at the behest of the inhabitant of 10 Downing Street. But it does also appear that progress has been painfully slow. Given that, what might the UK realistically do to try and improve on where it is now? Four things come to mind.

Ways Forward

Firstly, there are certain high-profile areas where political life in the UK faces well-known and well-documented challenges. These include ongoing questions concerning how political parties should fund their activities and how to regulate the process of political actors spinning through the revolving door.

There is also the age-old issue of cronyism. Quite how, for example, Zac Goldsmith can be seen as an appropriate member of the House of Lords is not clear. Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire, was made editor of a magazine (owned by his uncle) at 23 before twice losing electoral contests for the Conservatives in a seat they could certainly have won. He also managed to lose a London mayoral race (following a campaign that was viewed by many as highly divisive). So what precisely did he do to deserve, at the ripe old age of 45, a nomination to the UK’s upper chamber? Whatever UK PM Boris Johnson’s motives in promoting his Old Etonian friend, the public think this kind of thing is corrupt – and perceptions count. This is subsequently not a case that covers the UK political establishment in glory.

Secondly, there are significant ongoing issues with London’s role in laundering proceeds of corruption from elsewhere. A small but significant number of lawyers, accountants and estate agents are able to act within the law when effectively laundering proceeds of corruption from abroad. Tackling this is hard. Eradicating it effectively impossible. But if the UK wants to maintain its position in the vanguard of anti-corruption thinking then progress does need to be made.

Thirdly, although tackling a number of the UK’s corruption challenges is difficult, the government needs to embrace a more concerted and strategic approach. Recent actions such as the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) attempt to address London’s role as a facilitator of corruption, but recent UK administrations have nonetheless been painfully slow to address the role that UK Overseas Territories play in shifting illicit funds around the globe. The National Anti-Corruption Strategy, for example, pretty much ignores many of the most prominent corruption risks noted here. If the UK government wants to be seen as really moving on corruption, then it can’t cherry pick the anti-corruption actions it prefers and ignore the problems that are more difficult.

Finally, and much more broadly, more thought needs to be put in to how to tone down some of the more adversarial exchanges that have become a staple of British public life. British politics has always been adversarial, but the legacy of deeply divisive debates on Brexit has further extenuated that. British politicians need to find ways of changing the tone of debate.

The divisive discourse that has swamped UK politics can and does undermine trust in politics. We know from elsewhere that this can open the door for genuinely corrupt people to enter political life as voters become ever more anaesthetised to corruption. This makes politics look and feel more corrupt as politicians accuse each other of being cheats and liars thereby changing both internal and external perceptions of the UK. Is this really where the UK should be going? No, and not just because it’ll do little to help tackle corruption. It’s not a great way to ‘do politics’ either.

Dan Hough

University of Sussex

Trump, Corruption and Impeachment

With an impeachment process against US President Donald Trump underway, Dan Hough, Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex, examines whether the actions of President Trump fall under standard definitions of corruption. He concludes that if you are interested in the facts and not partisanship, whichever way you choose to examine them, this is a President who has acted corruptly.

On 18 December 2019 Donald Trump became the third American President to be impeached by the House of Representatives. The House voted 230-197 in favour of the proposition that Trump had abused his office and 229-198 in favour of the notion that he had obstructed attempts by Congress to get to the bottom of what was going on when he infamously spoke to Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on 25 July 2019. In effect, the House found Trump guilty of corruption.

In due course, the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, will likely have its say on the matter. The outcome there is likely to be very different. It will be a major surprise if any of the Republican lawmakers vote against Trump and the staunchness of his support there will ensure that he survives in office. Indeed, the experiences of both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, the two previously impeached American presidents, would indicate that the president has a fair chance of moving on and winning re-election in 2020.

Partisanship on Steroids
Why and how are the two chambers likely to come to such different judgements? It is certainly clear that American politics is suffering from partisanship on steroids. The debates in the House on Wednesday gave the impression that Democrats and Republicans were living in completely different worlds. “Our founders’ vision of a republic” claimed House Speaker (and Democrat) Nancy Pelosi “is under threat from actions from the White House”. She then added that if she had not acted to facilitate impeachment that would be nothing short of a “dereliction of duty”.

Other Democrats queued up to agree with her. Jerrold Naylor, a Democrat from New York, argued that Trump’s actions were an affront to American values and that he “abused the powers of his office” when pressuring Ukraine to help his re-election campaign. Others on the Democratic side of the aisle made much the same case.

Republican Congressmen, meanwhile, saw things totally differently. For many this was nothing short of an attempt to overturn the 2016 presidential election result. Kevin McCarthy spoke for many when he claimed that the ‘Democrats have wanted to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected” before adding that “nothing was going to get in their way, certainly not the truth”.

Clay Higgins didn’t shy away from using particularly colourful language, claiming that “he’d descended into the belly of the beast” and that he was witnessing “the terror within”, inferring that insidious forces were trying to take over America. Barry Loudermilk nonetheless topped off the defence of the president by claiming that even Pontius Pilate “was afforded more rights than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process”. Quite the claim.

Process versus states of affairs
So what of the evidence? Did President Trump behave in a way that could be understood as worthy of impeachment? The literature on corruption offers us plenty of insight. It is nonetheless worth noting that much of the analysis of corruption has traditionally got stuck in a definitional quagmire. This is world that has often been full of shades of grey.

Be that as it may, two distinct approaches exist to making sense of what corruption is. On the one hand corruption is seen as a process. On the other hand some observers tend to look at it more as a state of affairs. Both of these approaches have merit but they also lead analysts to instinctively look for different things.

Process-led definitions of corruption generally centre around four key traits. All of them need to be present for an act to be understood as corrupt. The act in question has to be performed deliberately. Corruption is neither accidental nor a result of incompetence. Actors have to wilfully seek a particular outcome (regardless of whether that outcome actually comes to pass).

Secondly, there has to be a form of abuse involved. Public servants have job specs. There are rules and regulations that stipulate what is and what is not appropriate behaviour. If they go beyond these guidelines then abuse can be said to have occurred.

Thirdly, at least one of the actors involved in corrupt transactions has to enjoy entrusted power. This is nothing more than a statement of the obvious. If none of the actors involved have any power to wield, then they won’t be in a position to engage in a corrupt transaction.

Finally, there has to be some sort of private gain involved. That gain may often be financial, but it could nonetheless come in a range of other forms; bolstering a reputation, saving face, gaining access to other non-financial services. The scope of potential private gains is consequently quite large.

States of Affairs
This transactional definition has come to dominate much of the real-world thinking on corruption. There is, however, a small but powerful literature that looks at what is often known as institutional corruption. This approach to understanding corruption harks back to the thinking of some of the great philosophers. They put morals and ethics at the core of their understanding of corrupt activity.

In this reading corruption happens when those involved move away from a virtuous state of affairs. Corruption is what becomes the norm when leaders are attracted by the twin vices of greed and avarice. It is not about particular sets of actions or indeed one particular person (although given individuals can play prominent roles), it is much more about a move from selfless leadership to immoral behaviour. One powerful analysis within this tradition is Ramsey MacMullen’s 1990 story of how corruption ultimately led to the fall of the Rome. It is well worth a read.

Trump, Ukraine, Congress and Corruption
Given these two distinct approaches to understanding corrupt activity, where does Trump and his phone calls and impeachment bombast fit in? First, the transactional approach;

1. Deliberateness. When Trump made his call to President Zelenskiy it appears abundantly clear that he knew what he was doing. Indeed, Gordon Sondland, Trump’s former ambassador to the European Union, testified on the record that Trump was striking a quid pro quo that involved releasing aid and investigating a potential rival for the presidency in 2020. Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian President may well deny this, but, as the saying goes, he would, wouldn’t he.

That having been said, we can’t get inside Trump’s head to know for sure what he was thinking during that conversation. Zelenskiy’s denial also complicates matters. But these caveats are still not enough to seriously give credence to the idea that this was all one big accident. If that were the case then – unless the person admitted to corruption in public – we’d never be able to illustrate corruption in any case ever.

2. Abuse. The president of the United States has a job spec. It is not a traditional contract of employment (the US Constitution says very little about presidential powers), but the nature of the presidential brief is outlined in a number of places. These ranging from the US constitution to the oath that he/she takes on Capitol Hill when formally taking office. A fundamental part of that job spec involves using his/her judgement to assess appropriate ways forward. The president makes calls, and he/she makes them in line with what he/she judges to be best for the American people in line with what the constitution permits.

Given this, Democrats – and indeed many of those who testified in the meetings that led up to the House’s impeachment hearing – argued that seeking to persuade a foreign country to investigate a political opponent whilst potentially withholding aid clearly overstepped the mark. Nowhere, so they argued, is the president allowed to take decisions solely on the basis of advancing of what appears to be his/her own personal agenda.

As of now, the president’s supporters (and indeed the president himself) have simply refused to engage with this. Trump called the conversation the “perfect phone call” and no one defending him has explained why exactly Trump took the approach that he did. In what way was Trump’s behaviour in the national (rather than the personal) interest? We don’t know. Indeed, Trump’s tubthumpers generally just reject claims of abuse of office out of hand.

It is that out and out rejection that makes those very claims of abuse more persuasive. Putting it another way, I can claim that Shrewsbury Town Football Club are the current Premier League champions. If a critic then points out, say, that Manchester City actually won that crown last season and indeed Shrewsbury Town aren’t even in the same division then a Trumpian response would simply be not to engage, to reject the criticisms out of hand and to double down on what is an outlandish claim. In the cold light of day, this does little to help refute the allegations made.

3. Entrusted Power. All American presidents are entrusted with significant powers. That there are checks on these powers and that other institutions have a say in significant areas of policy is also a given. The president is not (by any means) all powerful, but even if there is disagreement on where presidential powers begin and end it is beyond debate that the president has some power to wield.

Given that, and much as was discussed above, the issue is whether in this case Trump abused the authority that he possesses. The arguments there remain much the same; the president appears to have had discussions with the leader of a foreign state with a view to forwarding his own domestic agenda. Given that the interests of the US state and the domestic interests of Donald Trump are not synonymous, Trump looks like he is on stony ground.

4. Private Gain. Traditionally, private gain has centred around financial interests. Given that Trump is the epitome of a transactional president, money has often been at the centre of allegations of improper conduct that have been made against him. In this case, the claims are different. This is about power. It is about trying to ensure that he gains an advantage over a political rival.

Does Trump or indeed do any of his supporters actually say this? No. But then again they are never going to. To do such a thing would be an open admission of corrupt behaviour. But is there enough evidence to substantiate accusations that Trump is acting for private gain? Certainly.

Denial and dismissal doesn’t equal genuine acquittal
A transactional approach to understanding corrupt activity therefore leaves us with little option but to understand Trump’s behaviour as at best problematic and at worst corrupt. His supporters may well be right that the Democrats have been looking to remove him since day one. They may also be correct that the partisanship that is paralysing American politics is driving much of the behaviour within and around the House (and indeed the Senate).

That, however, cannot render the facts themselves meaningless. Even if one were to prefer to take a non-transactional approach and to invoke the ideas of older philosophical thinking, Trump’s case hardly looks stronger. In that reading, corruption occurs when those involved are governing in their private interest and no longer in the public interest. The particular sets of actions that render something corrupt need not be directly stated, it is much more about a move from selfless leadership to immoral self-serving behaviour. That is hard to illustrate empirically, but that there is a case to be made is certainly true.

Donald Trump and his supporters have summarily failed to engage with the details of the cases to hand. Their approach has been one of outright rejection. That may ultimately prove to be a politically astute way of dealing with the fallout from Trump’s call to Kiev. But it is not a good way of unpacking what looks like a persuasive case illustrating that the American president has behaved in a corrupt manner.

Are UK aid-funded enforcement efforts to end the UK’s role in corruption working?

The UK is unique in using overseas aid money to fund its own enforcement authorities to help fight corruption in which the UK plays a role. Sue Hawley, Director of Spotlight on Corruption, an NGO that holds the UK to account on enforcing its anti-corruption laws, discusses a new evaluation which shows that this is working, albeit slowly

Since 2006, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has given £48.5 million to UK law enforcement agencies to fight UK corruption that impacts on developing countries. Its stated goal in doing so is to reduce incentives:
• For corrupt individuals from developing countries to launder their money in the UK; and
• For UK companies and individuals to pay bribes in developing countries.

The funding is an important recognition of the “outsized role” the UK plays, as a major financial centre, in facilitating global corruption. Back in 2006 when the funding started, there were few UK law enforcement agencies that would touch a foreign bribery or corruption investigation. The UK was facing international opprobrium for dropping the BAE/Al Yamamah investigation, and its role in laundering the funds of former Nigerian Dictator, Sani Abacha’s, through London banks.

There is no doubt that by providing funding for UK enforcement, DFID helped kick-start more enforcement in this area in the UK. But as a major independent evaluation of the funding from 2006 to the present day is published, the question is: does funding enforcement actually reduce incentives for corruption?

Successful “to some extent” – key findings from the evaluation

DFID has always seen investment in enforcement as bringing good returns and the project has consistently met or exceeded its milestones. In 2019, law enforcement reported that £783.3 million in corrupt assets have been restrained as a result of the program. It is also great value for money: the amount restrained has always far exceeded the amount of money invested by DFID.

But the crucial question is whether this is actually deterring corrupt individuals from investing in the UK or UK companies from engaging in bribery. That is more difficult to gauge.

Deciding what has worked because of law enforcement specifically funded by DFID, as opposed to other significant institutional and policy developments in the UK, such as the introduction of the Bribery Act and Unexplained Wealth Orders, or increased enforcement by other non-DFID funded agencies such as the Serious Fraud Office, isn’t easy.

However, the evaluation’s key findings are broadly positive. It finds that:

1. The DFID funded law enforcement has “to some extent made the UK less attractive for Nigerian PEPs (Politically Exposed Persons)” wanting to launder corrupt wealth but not deterred them completely.

The evaluation focused heavily on Nigeria since the UK has historically been one of the most attractive destinations for Nigerian PEPs seeking to launder the proceeds of corruption. The high-profile UK convictions of various Nigerian governors for corruption, including James Ibori, particularly in the early stages of the DFID funding, and the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) were seen as key successes making the UK less attractive for laundering money. And the UK’s introduction of UWOs in January 2018 caused the hotline for Nigeria’s Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme to crash.

However, the review found that the supply of corrupt funds to the UK from Nigeria to the UK “continues to remain very high” and that Nigerian PEPs are resorting to “indirect means and new “tricks”” to launder money into the UK, “including the use of shell companies and routing funds via third countries.” The report also suggests that Nigerian PEPs are using alternative ‘easier’ locations for laundering money including Dubai, the British Virgin Islands, Ghana and the Caribbean islands, as well as keeping cash in Nigeria.

This increased use of new ‘tricks’ has made UK professional enablers “a more important actor” in laundering Nigerian money into the UK, the report finds. And the evaluation is critical of how few prosecutions there have been of UK-based enablers of laundering.

2. British companies are less likely to pay bribes since the DFID funded program came into existence. But that’s not all down to the program.

The review found that the DFID-funded law enforcement has helped create a “sanctions environment” which has reduced incentives for UK companies to pay bribes. Outreach programs and education by enforcement bodies to UK companies have also been very useful, it says.

However, the DFID-funded law enforcement has only resulted directly in bribery convictions for seven individuals and one corporate. A bigger impact on driving corporate behaviour change has been the introduction of the Bribery Act and enforcement by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) – which has notched up nine successful criminal actions against companies in the same time frame.

While the SFO is meant to focus on the large players, the DFID-funded NCA’s International Corruption Unit has yet to conclude a successful bribery prosecution against a medium-sized or small company. The report concludes that just one successful case against a medium-sized UK company paying bribes in a developing country “would be highly impactful.”

Lessons for the future

The UK government has announced that it will continue, and increase, aid funding to law enforcement bodies from 2020 to 2025. So, what are the key lessons from the evaluation going forward?

The report makes no bones about its central conclusion in relation to both PEPs and companies, which is that while the threat of enforcement action may have some impact, “the evidence indicates that actual prosecutions are a more powerful catalyst for behaviour change.” Tellingly, the evaluation cites some evidence that companies waited until the first prosecution under the Bribery Act (in 2016) before committing to properly implementing their Anti-Bribery policies. The 2012 conviction of Nigerian governor, James Ibori, also sent major ripples through the Nigerian PEP community.

Overall, the evaluation recommends increased enforcement at all levels: more intense use of UWOs, more prosecutions of medium-sized companies for bribery and increased enforcement action against UK enablers of corruption.

The message is: keep going. Aid-funded law enforcement is working – at least to some extent. But more convictions are crucial to long-term success.

Addition 12 Dec 2019: In order to ensure a fair comparison between the SFO’s overseas corruption efforts and those funded by DFID, the correct figures are that the SFO has brought 9 corporate convictions and 19 individual convictions compared to one corporate conviction and 7 individuals for DFID funded enforcement.