Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they take to ensure that anti-corruption measures are supported as part of (1) aid to developing countries, and countries recovering from natural disasters, and (2) the reconstruction of former conflict areas.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate. I thank other noble Lords for participating in such numbers, even though it has an impact on everyone’s timing. I also thank the House of Lords Library for the research briefing we all received, which I am sure everyone agrees is excellent. I am especially pleased that today we have the privilege of my noble friend the Minister finding time in his busy schedule to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government.
I begin by making absolutely clear that I am a passionate advocate of the Government’s commitment to investing 0.7% of GDP in international development. It is now more important than ever that the UK is seen to be at the forefront of international development, and I echo the ambition of my right honourable friend in the other place, Andrew Mitchell, that the UK must be a development superpower as we find our way forward in a post-European Union environment. Too often, corruption in recipient countries is used by some as a reason for the UK to reduce its aid programmes. It is my view that it is our responsibility to try to eliminate corruption in recipient countries, whether at a governmental level or, as is often the case, at an endemic cultural level, and not to stand aside from it.
I very much welcome the Government’s joined-up corruption strategy, especially the focus on joint working resulting from the 2016 anti-corruption conference and the five-year plan from 2017 to 2022. However, while not wishing in any way to underestimate the importance of the Government’s international efforts, I should like to focus this afternoon on the country-by-country strategy that I believe is necessary to deal with corruption in much of the developing world.
My interest is in seeing the UK use its significant development muscle to ensure that the corruption that blights so many of the developing countries we wish to support is reduced. This corruption does much to undermine the social and political contract necessary for developing countries to succeed. There is little point in our investing in the stability of these states if the populace do not have confidence in their state. It is also essential that our international development programmes have the flexibility to react to new types of corruption formed in reaction to natural disasters and post-conflict situations. All too often, this corruption manifests itself around the issues of internally displaced persons, refugees, human trafficking and the abuse of minorities.
I refer to my registered interests and to my visit last year to Baghdad with my noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, as guests of the Iraqi Government. Time and time again, when speaking to young people, religious minorities, government Ministers and representatives of civic society, we were told that corruption was the greatest obstacle to reconstruction. From the ability of internally displaced people to return, to the ability of young people to get on and not have to think constantly of emigrating to North America or Europe, it was the insidious low-level corruption that follows war—as night follows day—that was raised with us. The Iraqi Government were trying their best to deal with the problem, but it was clear that there was an expectation that at least some of our development support should be directed towards supporting them in that task.
In Iraq and elsewhere, it is frequently minorities—for example, Christians and Yazidis in Iraq—who find corruption the biggest obstacle to remaining in their own country. Emigration then becomes the only option for many and, as the critical mass of the minority decreases, the corruption faced by the remaining minority increases. Corruption undoubtedly falls more heavily on minorities, and raises significant human rights issues. That is why an important part of the work that DfID should do is to develop a country-by-country strategy, identifying both victims and potential victims of low-level corruption, and how aid and partnership—working with the relevant Governments—can reduce pressure on these minorities. Day-to-day corruption, focused on specific minorities or certain geographical areas, can easily become a human rights issue, and I would be grateful if my noble friend would confirm that there is regular interaction between the various country desks in the FCO, human rights monitoring and DfID on these issues.
The report on overseas corruption by the International Development Committee in the other place clearly identifies that it is only through bespoke country plans that corruption can be dealt with at source. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for corruption in any individual country; it needs to take into account the culture, customs, history and demographic make-up of any individual state. The department has correctly been praised by, for example, the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, for being able to focus a bespoke plan on countries. What progress has been made in producing new country-by-country anti-corruption strategies? I am disappointed that the last publication of a large number of country-by-country strategies was in 2013. I recognise and applaud the enormous strides the Government have made in supporting anti-corruption in Afghanistan, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. However, unless there are broader strategies beyond these countries, the department may lose reactive flexibility.
Likewise, there clearly needs to be a serious focus on low-level, day-to-day corruption, along with a requirement to reverse what can be a deeply embedded culture, which will take a long-term timescale. We are in danger of always looking at five-year cycles, and of short-termism when dealing with issues that have been embedded for many decades. Even in these unpredictable times, with the support of all major parties, DfID has an enviable position, in contrast to other departments, of being able to develop a long-term plan beyond the usual five-year cycle. Would the Minister reassure me that a longer-term approach can be used on anti-corruption methods in individual countries, beyond the five-year cycle?
We are all rightly proud that, through DfID, we as a country are available to help immediately after a natural disaster, or to help those fleeing conflict zones. As well as day-to-day, low-level corruption, there is a danger of any emergency aid programme being reactive and, in a fast-moving environment, that systems protecting programmes from corruption may not yet be in place. As part of disaster prevention, can bespoke strategies be identified for potential disasters in vulnerable and developing countries, so that on arrival in that country, British aid and emergency help may be prepared for any corruption endemic in that particular country?
I do not share the cynicism of some in this country about the benefit of the work DfID carries out. We have a humanitarian responsibility, and it is fundamentally in our own interests, to support developing countries across the world. It would be helpful, however, in dealing with the naysayers in the United Kingdom, if there was a clear country-by-country strategy on what corruption we are determined to remove from these countries.
I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords this afternoon. We have much to be proud of in all that DfID does, but we must move beyond just a commitment to 0.7%, to ensure that everything we do deals with the corruption that gets in the way of so much development work.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his initiative and on his challenges, particularly on long-termism.
My concern is that, with so much evidence of serious corruption and malpractice, those in the field and on the front line will become demotivated, and the public—the taxpayers—will become demoralised and turn against development aid. There are many such stories. Last week, for example, I read of the position in Haiti. Ten years after the earthquake, little has changed and, after 18 years, PetroCaribe has become a vast cash machine: $2.4 billion has just disappeared, at a time when there is so much need in that sad country.
Yet we in Europe should be hesitant about throwing stones at those in the developing world. For example, the Nordics top the league tables of the least corrupt countries in the world, but there is increasing evidence of their defences against corruption crumbling before the incoming tide of Russian dirty money. If a branch makes a healthy profit, why should the head office worry about it? Take Danske Bank; over €200 billion of questionable Russian money flowed through its Estonian branch. Last week, the biggest bank in the Baltics, Swedbank, was revealed to be the conduit for €135 billion of Russian and other ex-Soviet money.
How well do we do at combating this? How clean are our hands? At the risk of complacency, overall our record is good. We are just eighth in the Transparency International index. The anti-corruption strategy from 2017 to 2022 is impressive, showing a clear awareness of the problem domestically and internationally, and a determination to establish monitoring procedures. The noble Lord mentioned the problem of Iraq; I hope that when we turn to reconstruction in Syria, we will have learned some of the lessons from there. It is absurd that Russia is looking to the West to take a major role in reconstruction in Syria, having wreaked so much damage itself.
Most troubling of all is the claim trumpeted in the strategy document:
“We will put transparency at the heart of our approach to government. This will include continuing to champion the adoption of public registers of company beneficial ownership and working with the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to implement strengthened arrangements. It is our ambition to ensure all countries adopt public registers”.
Since then, an amendment has been moved in Parliament. We note, for example, that only after the Skripal outrage in Salisbury did the Government yield to all-party pressure and bring the overseas territories, such as the British Virgin Islands and others, into the net of a public register—to yelps of pain from the overseas territories. Equally, when faced with a similar all-party coalition in the other place to make the Crown dependencies have public registers, the Government unexpectedly withdrew a whole Bill, to which the all-party coalition had tacked the question of the Crown dependencies. If we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that we should set a great example ourselves, coming to the table with clean hands when we lecture the developing world, we should clearly look carefully at what we have done on transparency, with regard to the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies—Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man—or we shall rightly be accused of hypocrisy. Dickens defined hypocrisy as a signpost that points the way to go but does not go there itself. We should be well aware of that danger. Our record is good, but there are omissions and problems of which we should be well aware.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for raising this important Question. I draw attention to my non-financial interest as a vice-president of the Leprosy Mission. I hasten to add that, to the best of my knowledge, that excellent organisation has not been infected by the scourge of corruption.
However, all of us involved in third sector aid must be vigilant and realistic about the temptations even for those whose careers and lives are essentially altruistic. The diocese I serve used to have what the Anglican Communion calls a companion link with a diocese in a very poor area of a very poor African country, where corruption is rife at all levels. We found it extremely difficult to support church work, rural clinics, schools and so on without significant amounts of money going astray—despite our best efforts as required by the Finance Act 2010 and by our own ethical standards.
The Finance Act 2010 requires those giving money for charitable purposes to assure themselves that it is being spent as the donors intended. Although this is absolutely right, it makes it almost impossible for relatively small donors to give to anything other than large, well-managed appeals. The easy way out of this problem is to pull out of offering or providing aid in those contexts where corruption is most rife. On the small scale at which a parish, or even a diocese, operates, this might be the right and only option, unless we can afford to have our own people on the ground, which in any case adds a whole new layer of difficulty and potential for corruption.
Sadly, I suspect that the days of small organisations giving money for small projects in difficult areas may have to end. But on the scale of major NGOs and Governments, that approach will not do and cannot be countenanced. The sad fact is that the very poorest are the main victims of corruption. It is they who suffer and lose most, but they are also the ones who suffer even more if corruption is punished by the withholding of aid.
It is widely recognised, including by our Government and the United Nations, that we must design and deliver aid programmes so that corruption becomes as near to impossible as we can make it. I venture to hope that, as the Government and the larger NGOs address this issue, they will also consider how smaller charities and even individuals can safely offer aid and support to the sort of small-scale projects that can make a real difference to people but come under the radar of much of the policy-making in this area.
I am proud of our national 0.7% commitment to overseas aid, and of the wonderful work done by government, NGOs and faith bodies to serve and support the poorest people in the world. May we not put that noble task and responsibility at risk because of corruption, but instead lead the world, as we should, in finding effective ways to give aid that reaches the most needy people and communities.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this short debate. Of course, the Government have a statutory requirement to spend 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance. They have a duty to be accountable to the taxpayer for the appropriate and effective allocation of those funds to projects worldwide, but in the real world of delivering humanitarian aid, the challenges are to assess the extent and nature of corruption in the host country and how effectively we can still deliver aid to those in dire need; and to judge if it can ever be in British interests to refuse aid or withdraw it once granted.
In June last year, the International Development Committee in another place highlighted concerns over whether money spent outside DfID is subjected to the same rigorous evaluation as that spent by the department. The chair, Stephen Twigg, said that spreading ODA across government created potential for new partnerships in aid delivery, which can be useful but also risked undermining its quality. What steps have the Government taken to ensure coherence across government in delivering aid overseas which takes account of the need for anti-corruption work in recipient countries and with what success?
Action on this matter is vital because we know that the British public are not quite as committed to the 0.7% pledge as most of us in Parliament are. That was recognised by Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary at DfID on his appointment last year. He said that when you ask people why they do not support the 0.7% pledge,
“they say they don’t think it works … Or they think the whole thing is corrupt and money never ends up where it should. Those are both … criticisms and we need to address them”.
What progress does the Minister believe DfID has made in addressing those criticisms over the past year?
The very nature of DfID’s work means that its officials operate in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions around the world, as in South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example. In South Sudan, civil war has raged for years and its Government seem to have no care for their peoples and treat the national treasury as a personal bank account. The level of corruption and disarray means that DfID cannot do capacity-building before allocating aid, as would be the “normal” way of its doing business. Cash transfers are used to provide health services and girls’ education that give them a minimum ability to function. The education is extremely basic, but it keeps girls at school and less likely to be married off at 11 years old. That is vital in a country with high levels of sexual and gender-based violence and early marriage. I hope the Government will continue to give full support to DfID’s programmes in South Sudan.
I also welcome our humanitarian presence in the DRC in the face of sporadic violence and continuous government corruption. Can my noble friend the Minister outline the anti-corruption work carried out by the UK there and how it co-operates with other international donors?
There is evidence that UK aid work in the DRC can succeed. When at the FCO, I visited La Pépinière in Kinshasa, an excellent DfID-supported project which focused on the economic empowerment of women and girls. Can my noble friend say what gender-specific projects are supported by DfID in the DRC today?
To add to all that, the DRC has now been hit by its worst ever outbreak of Ebola; it is the second-worst ever outbreak globally. Adding to the crisis, rebels in the region have begun attacking the clinics treating Ebola sufferers. What is the Government’s assessment of the aid they can give to those trying to contain the spread of the virus?
UK humanitarian work in countries such as South Sudan and the DRC demonstrates how important it is that international donors do not “walk away” but stay to deliver aid to those who need it and persist in both anti-corruption measures and capacity-building with host Governments who cannot, or will not, help their own peoples.
My Lords, the World Bank identifies corruption as a major obstacle to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and its detrimental effect on the poorest 40% of people in developing countries. It is estimated that, every year, up to £2 trillion is lost globally to corruption.
My brief remarks will centre on the dangers of corruption in the post-conflict, post-ISIS Iraq referred to by the noble Lords, Lord McInnes and Lord Anderson, and on British aid to Pakistan—I should declare that I am co-chair of the Pakistani Minorities All-Party Group and visited Lahore and Islamabad last November.
On 11 October 2017, Ministers confirmed to me funding for 80 projects benefiting Yazidis and 171 benefiting Christian communities targeted by the ISIS genocide; £40 million had been earmarked for urgent humanitarian assistance and more than £25 million for UN stabilisation efforts. On their return to the region, 746,000 Iraqis from minority communities were meant to benefit from these Funding Facility for Stabilization projects managed by the United Nations Development Programme. Over subsequent months, news circulated that the money was not reaching the affected communities. One of the main reasons for this failure was corruption. NGOs drew this to the attention of the Government and I attended a meeting with Ministers at which the details of a phantom project were described.
At the end of 2017, in response to a freedom of information request, the Department for International Development refused to provide information describing how these projects were benefiting those minorities and how they were being implemented. DfID relied on several exceptions, saying that disclosure would or might prejudice relations between the United Kingdom, Iraq and international organisations or courts, and would or might prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. In reality, the information could easily have been disclosed without identifying any details that could jeopardise the various interests cited. As many NGOs assisting survivors in Iraq insist that the money does not reach the intended recipients, such a lack of transparency is extremely disturbing.
Retrospectively, DfID now uses independent monitoring, which should have been in place from inception, rather than coming into play months if not years after the projects began. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the department’s current assessment is of the situation in Iraq. What issues concerning corruption have been detected, how have they been addressed and what steps have been taken to address the issues identified by several NGOs and raised in 2018 in a letter to the Government from Dr Russell Blacker on behalf of the National Caucus for the Persecuted Church acting on behalf of communities targeted by ISIS? This is public money and taxpayers are entitled to know the answers.
When comparable concerns about corruption in Iraq were raised with the US Administration, they responded with admirable urgency, transparency and openness, initiating internal inspector-general investigations into the final destination of US funds sent to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization. The UNDP has itself initiated several internal investigations into allegations of corruption, and we should do the same.
A comparable challenge applies in Pakistan, which receives a staggering £383,000 of British taxpayers’ money every single day—£2.8 billion over 20 years. The World Economic Forum identifies corruption as the third-greatest problem for companies doing business in Pakistan, after government bureaucracy and poor infrastructure. It affects all Pakistanis but it disproportionately affects vulnerable populations— the poor, women, and religious minorities. In its report Equality in Aid, the International Dalit Solidarity Network recommended that DfID should prepare vulnerability mapping tools, inclusion monitoring tools and methods for inclusive response programming, issues I have probed with the Minister in Questions for Written Answer. Two weeks ago, I sent him news reports that one of the top three DfID spending programmes in 2018-19, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Sector Programme, which secured £41 million, also needs to be carefully scrutinised. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has asked officials to do that. It is alleged that in several districts, money allocated to establish new educational institutions and refurbish schools was misappropriated and that these are phantom projects—ghost schools. How does the Minister intend to establish the facts? Waiting for NGOs or newspapers to report such cases simply is not good enough.
I therefore hope that today’s debate will point us towards the far more rigorous and effective use of British resources. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for giving us the opportunity to raise these issues.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McInnes for tabling this important debate. It goes without saying that the health of a nation’s governance has a material impact on its prosperity. It is also clear from our work at the Legatum Institute—I refer to my interests as set out in the register—that the rule of law and strong institutions contribute significantly to economic growth. It should therefore not be surprising that, when hampered by corruption, a nation is not able to fulfil its true potential. According to the World Bank, the average income in countries with a high level of corruption is about a third of that in countries with a low level.
Corruption can take the form of small amounts of money—for example, a bribe to an official to speed up or approve an application—and we saw evidence of this in 2015 when 32 judges in Ghana were caught accepting money and even livestock in exchange for passing shorter sentences. It can also be the large and more systemic misuse of public or private funds. Again, we saw this in Honduras when the former director of the Honduran Social Security Institute was accused of awarding $200 million-worth of contracts to phantom companies.
If we want to see the nations and people we support through our aid budgets thrive, it is essential that anti-corruption measures are embedded and supported as part of our response to disaster relief and post-conflict reconstruction. Corruption hinders this development and rebuilding process, but the converse is also true. Eradicating corruption restabilises society, builds trust and strengthens the very institutions that support citizens. It creates an environment where entrepreneurship can flourish and people can build their own ways out of poverty, disaster zones and conflict. It also builds political trust where fragile nations can begin to build more stable Governments and even see healthy oppositions develop.
What does it take to stamp out corruption? Eradicating a practice that runs deep and, in many places, is cultural does not happen naturally. Reducing corruption takes deliberate action, supported by a combination of strong political will and credible leaders, effective institutions and cultural transformation.
The challenge is not insurmountable. Issues will be, in part, as we have heard from noble Lords, specific to the culture of each nation. However, countries can learn from the example of others where corruption has been successfully reduced. As mentioned, best practice shows us that strong leadership and a consistent message of intolerance towards breaking the law has a significant impact.
In Liberia, while there is a long way still to go, the post-war commitment of President Johnson Sirleaf to reducing corruption saw her suspending her own son, along with 46 other senior government officials, for failing to disclose his assets to Liberia’s anti-corruption officials. This is strong messaging. Can the Minister outline what steps we are taking to support those leaders of fragile nations demonstrating the greatest commitment to eradicating corruption? This material was difficult to find and what I did find was evidence of how we are protecting DfID’s budget but not of how we are driving out corruption in the nations to which we are giving money.
Just as strong and effective leadership is essential in the fight against corruption, so too is the building of effective institutions. In Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s, an exciting new era of growth was marred by significant widespread corruption. It was common for bribes to be required when applying for schools, housing and other public services. Even ambulance crews would ask for a bribe before collecting patients and a corrupt police force was turning a blind eye to, or even protecting, illegal activities. After increasing unrest and protest by the people, the independent commission against corruption was established. By creating an institution responsible for enforcing anti-corruption measures, Hong Kong has seen a remarkable shift and now, according to Transparency International, ranks as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Can the Minister outline where we are supporting the building of anti-corruption institutions as a crucial part of our post-conflict strategy?
Just as strong leadership and the building of effective institutions are essential in the fight against corruption, so too is a change of culture. To create cultural transformation requires concerted effort. One of the ways in which South Korea, Estonia and Latvia have sought to achieve this is through a commitment to e-government by creating an environment of transparency where bribery is no longer feasible. It has begun to create a shift in cultural norms in public services. Can the Minister outline what steps are being taken to support the development of e-systems that contribute to a change of culture and the eradication of corruption when supporting nations recovering from conflict or natural disasters? I look forward to hearing from him shortly as he outlines how his department’s strategy is harvesting these opportunities.
My Lords, I shall perforce be brief speaking in the gap, but I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McInnes for calling this debate. I have limited, and rather outdated, experience of the developing world. I used to be chairman of an organisation called the Halo Trust, which was and may still be the world’s largest charity engaged in lifting landmines and clearing the debris of conflict from the developing world. I saw the work it did and was very impressed. I was also a founder member of the International Development Committee in the other place and spent six or seven years on it. I saw dedicated people doing excellent work on our behalf.
I believe we have a Christian duty to help those less well off than ourselves. I suspect that the right reverend Prelate, and perhaps others in the room, would agree with me, because we are extraordinarily well off and we must help other people. However, I shall give a little story. I am older than I would wish, but 50 years and more ago, at school, we had an excellent organisation called Brothers to All Men. I do not know whether it still exists. It was a Christian charity that dug wells in the developing world for those who had no access to clean water. I was so impressed that I put pennies, or perhaps even shillings, in a money box—do noble Lords remember money boxes?—to support that charity. When I was on the DfID committee—this was 15-odd years ago—we saw wells that had been dug with British aid money around the developing world.
I now see advertisements on the television imploring me to give money to charities to dig wells around the developing world. The one point I wish to add to the debate, which I have much enjoyed listening to, which perhaps the Minister will answer is: what has been going on for 50 years? Travelling around the developing world when on the DfID committee, I saw the tanks, the fighter aircraft, the conflict and the Mercedes cars provided for politicians, but I have still seen people who have no access to clean drinking water. That should have been happening through their Governments over the past 50 years.
I know it is a very difficult situation, but—I say to my noble friend Lord McInnes, that this is what the debate is all about—what can the Government do to ensure that the countries we assist with every good intention actually spend that money on helping the people they are meant to help? That includes all Governments around the world, including in developing countries.
My Lords, I also draw attention to my entry in the register of interests and commend the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for securing this debate on a very important subject. Like other noble Lords, I shall refer to Iraq. I strongly believe that development assistance is not the Government’s money: it is from the British public and therefore should be directed towards its intended purpose and spent properly and, where possible, used to lever in better governance and anti-corruption measures. In some respects, because it is diverted to the most vulnerable in the world, there should be even more transparency and probity over this kind of government expenditure than all others.
I had the privilege of taking through the Lords the 0.7% Act referred to. Some of the criticism levelled against it at the time was that if there was an increase in expenditure over a fixed period, that would increase the likelihood that it would be wasted. The Act’s purpose was to enshrine it in law so that government could plan on a much longer basis, as the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, said. It is a fact that now we can plan further ahead, we can take a longer view of some of the deep, systemic issues, and corruption is one of those. It is also a fact, however, that development assistance is now only a very small proportion of all aid transfers, given the depressing need for much greater humanitarian assistance around the world. Therefore, the focus on anti-corruption measures in humanitarian assistance is even more important.
I wanted to make one comment of sensitivity on this issue. On some of my visits to the least developed countries, and those in a post-conflict state, over the last couple of years, I have also heard comments about countries where a President has been elected, and then shown grotesque nepotism by putting a daughter, son- in-law or other family member in office, with other members of the President’s cabinet making huge profits out of that situation. I have heard comments about a Government elected on a minority basis, then granting serious cash flows to a minority party representing one sector or group for it to be sustained in government.
We must also be sensitive to the fact that we are not immune from unfair practices in the West. That said, the UK has a strong record on transparency and aid. I am a strong supporter of the International Aid Transparency Initiative to secure development and humanitarian resources, so that their results address poverty and crises. I am also a strong supporter of Publish What You Fund, and the Aid Transparency Index—the only independent measure of aid transparency —shows that the UK ranks the highest of all Governments in the world for transparency in aid and development assistance. When we reach 90.9 out of 100, compared to China with 1.2, it shows that other large and important countries can learn from the UK.
We can also learn from the work of Transparency International. A recent interesting report looking at the DRC, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan—as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned—Yemen, Libya and Somalia also highlighted that those countries are the lowest performing in the Corruption Perceptions Index. There is a link to instability, poor transparency and corruption. In referring to some of those countries in the post-conflict scenario, a high level of corruption leads to constant instability. The work of the World Bank shows that even in those fragile countries at peace, if there are high levels of corruption, the likelihood of violent conflict increases when Governments do not adequately prevent corruption or ensure justice. In that regard, I have visited Iraq on many occasions over the last two years, one of them with the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and corruption in some parts is, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, an inhibitor to proper social reconciliation, stabilisation and reconstruction.
Last week—this did not receive much reporting in the UK—100 people drowned in a ferry disaster on the Tigris in Mosul. The Iraq Council of Representatives sacked the former governor, with whom I had a number of difficult meetings in Ninawa in the last two years over misuse of funds. I met the anti-corruption commission representative on some of those visits and, yes, the commission has an office, but it is one person with no computer, no ability to bring cases and no ability to properly tackle the challenges.
If we are to show leadership in meeting our target, we can also show leadership in meeting global goal 16 on good governance being a condition of our support, and making sure that our long-term planning drives better standards of governance. There should not be a choice between getting aid through to the people who need it and building up good institutions. Both are necessary if we are to ensure that aid goes to those who need it most.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, for initiating this debate. It is positive that in a debate on corruption, we have made a strong case for development support. I thank the noble Lord for that. As he pointed out, corruption does not just steal money from where it is needed most; it leads to weak governance, which in turn can fuel organised criminal networks and promote crimes such as human trafficking and arms and migrant smuggling.
At the end of last year, the G7’s Financial Action Task Force gave the UK its highest ever ranking in recognition of the initiatives taken to help tackle corruption at source. The UK has created the first open data register of beneficial ownership, introduced measures of accountability for senior bankers and passed laws requiring individuals to explain unexplained wealth. But are these measures enough? The National Crime Agency describes the scale of the problem as,
“a strategic threat to the UK’s economy and reputation”.
By allowing the criminal and corrupt to launder their money through our financial system, we encourage and enable more organised crime and authoritarian regimes who threaten our national security.
At the time of the Salisbury attack, Global Witness analysed cash flows from Russia, which revealed that £68 billion had been invested in the UK’s overseas territories, with the British Virgin Islands the second most popular destination for money leaving Russia. As my noble friend Lord Anderson highlighted, Parliament forced the Government to require the overseas territories to bring in public registers of company owners by 2020.
I am sure the Minister will refer to the International Anti-Corruption Conference in October, where the Government announced that they were launching a campaign for global beneficial ownership transparency. For that to be credible, however, the UK must ensure that all its jurisdictions play by the same rules. As noble Lords have indicated, fighting corruption and ensuring that aid and development finance improves development outcomes requires greater levels of transparency and new ways to engage citizens to promote accountability. It is about a system of checks and balances.
I recognise the strong measures put in place by DfID to counter fraud and corruption but, as a major donor, we could advocate more. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, about making the case for a longer-term and country-by-country strategy; I wholeheartedly support that. I hope the Minister can agree that when we are proactive in publishing comprehensive, detailed and timely information on aid and development finance, we go beyond the basics and do more. I acknowledge just how much we are doing, but if we worked with partner Governments on supporting their efforts, that would also increase transparency.
My final point concerns the importance of civil society in the transparency process. It is not just about focusing on Governments and politicians; it is about ensuring that we promote the idea of checks and balances in the system. That means that when we give support, we should properly engage with civil society and citizens to ensure that they have the information so that they can hold their parliaments and parliamentarians to proper account. That is certainly what I saw when I was in Zambia last year: there were corruption scandals but, when local leaders of communities could challenge their MPs about the information that we brought to them about that corruption, we heard a different tone. I hope the Minister will be able to respond to that point.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord McInnes on securing this debate. I thank him and all noble Lords for their contributions during this short debate, which has gone impeccably to time, urged on no doubt by the gentle interruption at the outset from my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott.
It has been a wide-ranging debate. My noble friend Lord McInnes began by talking about how corruption can sometimes be used by those who would seek to undermine the value of overseas development assistance. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about transparency, particularly in the banking system. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough talked particularly about the pressures on small charities. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, spoke about some specific examples of work done in South Sudan and the DRC, particularly around gender. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the importance of monitoring and the inclusive approach. My noble friend Lady Stroud powerfully drew a direct link between institutions, governance and economic prosperity. My noble friend Lord Robathan talked about the importance of Governments’ responsibility to their own people and ensuring that that is the prime responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, highlighted excellent third- party sources of data, such as the International Aid Transparency Initiative and Transparency International’s corruption index, and how important it is that they can be used in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, concluded by pointing to the link between corruption and organised crime and the role which civil society can play.
Let me put on record what DfID is doing in this area and then I will turn briefly to the questions that have been addressed to me. The noble Lord, Lord McInnes, rightly began by talking about the importance of tackling corruption, not only as a priority for DfID but as part of our commitment to sustainable development goal 16. Corruption impoverishes developing countries. It diverts public resources from productive use and deters business investment. It hurts the poor the most, a phrase repeated by many of your Lordships.
Tackling corruption and illicit finance is not only essential for development but is firmly in the UK’s national interest. Fighting corruption helps keep the UK secure and opens up new business opportunities and trading partners for the UK. DfID operates in a diverse range of difficult and fragile environments such as Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and in areas recovering from natural disasters and conflict, many of which have been mentioned today.
The UK is a world leader in humanitarian response and the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, urged us, in the words of my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell, to be a development superpower. That is already there if one looks at the response of the British public and DfID to the events in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
We have robust measures in place to reduce the risk of aid diversion. We conduct regular assessments of our partners’ financial capability systems and processes, including those of partners further down the delivery chain. This gives us confidence that our partners are well prepared to deliver aid in emergencies and that the aid will go to those in need.
The UK has led global efforts to tackle corruption. Effective measures against corruption require action at three levels: with our partners in developing countries to tackle corruption in their systems; internationally to stop the flow of corrupt money across borders, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned; and, in rich countries also, to show that we are not a haven for corrupt money, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also referred.
We can be proud of our achievements working with partners in developing countries. Due to our work, corrupt officials in Sierra Leone have been sanctioned as a direct result of data produced by the DfID-funded Pay No Bribe digital platform, which maps real-time anonymous reports of bribes. Helping countries to address corruption after conflict is vital, because if a country has been destabilised, there are new and greater opportunities for corruption to occur. DfID expertise helped in Afghanistan to establish the flagship Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, which brings together law enforcement and justice institutions to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate high-level corruption cases. My noble friend Lady Anelay talked about DfID’s work in Sudan. She has been a distinguished Minister in these roles and I pay tribute to the DfID staff who work in that difficult posting. It has been a testing time and we appreciate what they do in respect of the girls’ educational challenge and many of the other things happening there.
In addition to supporting change in developing countries, the UK must also ensure that we have our own house in order and that we are not a safe haven for corrupt money. We have a good story to tell here, although we should not be complacent. DfID funding has enabled the National Crime Agency to investigate and prosecute money laundering and bribery overseas where there is a UK link. Since the programme began, 30 people and companies have been convicted of corruption offences and almost £800 million of assets stolen from developing countries have been restrained, confiscated or returned to the developing countries.
I turn briefly to the questions that were raised during the course of the debate. I should say at the outset that if time does not permit for me to give all of the responses, of course I will write to follow up on them. My noble friend Lord McInnes asked whether regular interaction takes place between the FCO and Human Rights Watch. DfID continues to work closely with the FCO on anti-corruption and human rights issues, including with the main human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International. He asked what support we are giving in terms of country strategies. DfID country teams are working closely with HMG colleagues to implement country anti-corruption strategies. They are updating those strategies at the most appropriate time for the country context—for example, after elections—rather than in line with a UK publication timetable.
The UK is seeking to develop more cross-HMG country anti-corruption strategies as set out in the UK anti-corruption strategy published in December 2017. My noble friend asked about the anti-corruption strategy specifically for Iraq, an issue also raised by my noble friend Lord Robathan and the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Alton. DfID country teams work closely with HMG colleagues on anti-corruption strategies in Iraq and I will write with further information on those.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, talked about the role of overseas territories and the Crown dependencies as financial centres and asked what is being done in that area. They are committed to global transparency standards such as the provision of information to law enforcement and for the automatic exchange of tax information. We expect the overseas territories to have fully functioning public registers by 2023.
My noble friend Lady Anelay raised the issue of anti-corruption measures in DRC. DfID’s public financial management accountability programme supports the use of public resources to enable better service delivery and more accountable government in DRC.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about Pakistan. He has been in regular contact about this issue and I know of his concerns. We are certainly not complacent and want to look into the situation carefully. DfID Pakistan takes a holistic approach to addressing corruption through various programmes including on education, health, taxation and economic growth. It addresses corruption by delivering programmes to engage citizens to demand better services in order to create more transparent, effective and accountable institutions. However, I am in the process of writing further on that particular issue.
My noble friend Lady Anelay also asked about aid for DRC. A robust planning process involving the relevant partners has been undertaken to determine the activities required to end Ebola. These activities have been worked into a single strategic plan that the UK and other donors are working on.
My noble friend Lord Robathan asked how we can ensure that overseas aid is being spent effectively. He made the point that Governments have prime responsibility for this. I commend the speech of the Secretary of State to the Wellcome Foundation last year. She pointed out that in future, one test we should have is that the UK Government should not step in where the domestic Government can and should be doing things themselves, such as providing clean water.
My noble friend Lady Stroud asked what steps we have taken to build anti-corruption institutions and e-systems in fragile states. Where possible, we work with Governments. DfID has programmes such as the Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, which I have already mentioned. The corruption centre helps to achieve our targets under sustainable development goal 16 on reducing corruption and illicit flows. Helping to reduce threats to our security is firmly in the UK’s national interest. The UK is proud of the global momentum we have built up to fight corruption, but we cannot be complacent. We will continue to work with our partners around the world to reduce corruption. This will build a fairer future for people in developing countries and a better future for the people of the UK.