News 31st Mar 2017

7 Anti-corruption Takeaways from OECD’s 2017 Integrity Forum


Robert Barrington

Executive Director

Robert joined Transparency International UK in 2008 and was appointed as Executive Director in 2013. His areas of expertise include the Bribery Act integrity in the private sector and corruption within the UK. Recent projects and publications include ‘Anti-Bribery Due Diligence for Transactions’, ‘Adequate Procedures & Guidance to the UK Bribery Act’ and ‘Corruption in the UK’.

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This week, the OECD held its annual Integrity Forum – where a collection of experts from governments, inter-governmental organisations, business and civil society gather to discuss corruption.  Robert Barrington discusses some of the key themes from this year’s meeting.

Meetings like this can be good or bad: they can be a bunch of the same people talking over the same issues; or they can be melting pots of ideas and inspire people to continue the fight for the next year.  This year’s OECD Forum – thankfully – tilted more towards the positive end.  Here are seven big themes I picked up in the panels, plenaries and – perhaps more importantly – the corridors:

1. It’s not all about money.  Analysis of the impact of corruption often focusses on the financial costs and cost-benefit analysis of, for instance, paying a bribe vs the probability of being caught, or the impact on economies of grand corruption.  This year, there was a refreshing discussion of the other costs in society, like inequality, exclusion and disillusionment.  It was neatly encapsulated in the speech of the UK government’s Anti-Corruption Champion Sir Eric Pickles who noted the UK government’s view that the reasons for tackling corruption are both ‘ethical and economic’.  TI has been asking the government to clarify this for a few years: it’s good to hear it is now government policy.

2. Policy capture and political engagement by companies.  Unsurprisingly, much more of a concern to governments and anti-corruption agencies than to the business groups.  But smart companies are picking this up as a key issue for the near future.

3. Global security: a much wider acceptance than every before that corruption fuels insecurity; both enabling terrorism and driving disenchanted populations towards extremist groups.  A key question: now this has become orthodoxy in the anti-corruption community, will it start to permeate foreign policy discussions?

4. Getting the basics right: a useful reminder that we don’t just need lots of new laws.  There are some simple things that can be done, such as implementing transparency in public procurement (‘open contracting’ in the new jargon) and enforcement of existing laws and regulations.  An example of this is in defence exports.  It’s fairly clear that exporting weapons to kleptocrats, while lucrative, does not promote global stability: but current export regulations in many countries should prevent the exports.  It’s not new rules we need, but enforcement of the existing ones.

5. Open data.  An emerging theme for the past three years, but now increasingly intertwined with anti-corruption activity all round the world.

6. Whether you describe it as illicit financial flows, following the money or corrupt capital, the links between money laundering and corruption are becoming ever clearer – likewise who is responsible or complicit.  Certainly the banks, but don’t forget the ‘professional enablers’ of lawyers, accountancy, estate agents and others without which it would be harder for corrupt individuals and companies to steal and hide the money.  Post-Panama Papers, this fundamental analysis is now accepted wisdom across the world.

7. Rising up the agenda: aid and corruption; the role of corruption in undermining conservation, climate change mitigation and wildlife protection; and much more focus on State-Owned Enterprises as a key nexus of corruption.

Finally, a note on where the UK sits.  A year ago, the OECD Integrity Forum was held in the run-up to the London Anti-Corruption Summit.  The UK government was clearly setting out to take a global lead.  And now – post-Brexit and in a very different world?  It’s not yet clear.  Sir Eric Pickles said the right things.  But the world’s eyes are on the UK’s Anti-Corruption Strategy.  Will it be world class or a damp squib?  When will it appear? (December 2016 was promised).  Will the UK set and maintain global standards – or retreat into short-term thinking mired in domestic politics?  When the UK’s strategy is published, meetings like this will know whether the UK is still intending to be a leader.