Just before Christmas, Transparency International UK (TI-UK) published a short article reviewing the highs and lows of 2012 in terms of corruption. The article can be found here.  Many of these stories we covered in our blog posts.  It was an interesting year. Ignoring for the moment the long running Leveson Inquiry into the cosy relationship between the media, the police and politicians, the conclusions of which will be debated for years, no doubt, the stories actually listed by TI-UK concerned the police, politicians, banks and former soldiers, and not so many from big business itself (although Oxford University Press reached a settlement in July and Rolls Royce PLC referred some information concerning historic activities to the SFO in November).

Doubtless other less famous companies have also been in touch with the SFO to notify them of other potential corruption issues. It should be assumed that the SFO has a growing pile of cases to investigate. We will blog on the growth in self-reporting to the SFO separately. The common theme between those individuals identified in the TI-UK end of year report was that they were all in a position of power and decided to try to take advantage of it for personal gain in an illegal manner.  For some, there was a swift end and resolution to their conduct, but for others the prosecution and civil litigation will follow them for years and may taint themselves for ever.  

In December 2012,  TI published its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The graphics are quite jazzy and informative and it is well worth a visit via this link.  The United Kingdom is still much lower than it should be, at 17, with a score of 74 out of 100, compared with Denmark and Finland which scored 90. I will now let Susan Côté-Freeman, Programme Manager, Private Sector Programmes, at Transparency International, explain Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012:-

Corruption is the world’s most talked about global problem according to a survey commissioned by the BBC. It’s up there with other seemingly intractable problems like poverty and unemployment.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 – which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 176 countries and territories – is not likely to put an end to discussions on the topic. The index has become an essential tool for policy-makers, activists and the many businesses that use it to develop their anti-corruption risk management systems.

Corruption Perceptions Index: ranking highlights

What is noteworthy about this year’s index? Denmark, Finland and New Zealand tie for first place while Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia once again cling to the bottom rung (read about the top and bottom ranked countries here). What is more dismaying, however, is that two-thirds of the countries ranked in the index score below 50 on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean).

What do this year’s rankings mean for governments? They need to take a stronger stance on governance, including the introduction of more stringent rules on lobbying and political financing, making public spending and contracting more transparent and ensuring that public bodies are more accountable to citizens.

And what should business take away from this year’s index? Transparency International’s message on corruption is clear: corruption can happen anywhere and no country and no company can afford to be complacent. But in looking at the bottom two-thirds of the rankings, it’s clear that the major emerging economies, where so much of today’s economic activity is taking place, continue to be seen as highly corrupt.

How do the BRICS perform?

This year’s rankings for the BRICS economies show Brazil and South Africa tied for 69th place, China at 80, India at 94 and Russia trailing the group at 133. All but one of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies score less than 40 out of 100.

It is estimated that the BRICS have contributed up to 50% of global economic growth over the last decade. It therefore stands to reason that growing emerging economies are attractive for business looking for new markets. But unless persistent corruption is addressed, it will continue to present high risks for foreign investors and for emerging economies, which could see their growth stunted by failure to confront problems like bribery.

Companies also need to be more transparent. Our research shows that while the world’s 105 biggest multinationals are doing more to report on their anti-corruption programmes,  but they are not doing so well when it comes to reporting country-by-country. The BRICS all have more than 60 of those 105 companies operating in their borders, but in none of them do more than a dozen of the companies disclose their revenues and/or taxes paid in the country on their corporate website (for more details, click here).

Tackling corruption is a challenging and complex task. But it is critical for all of us, whether we are in emerging or more advanced economies, to defeat corruption, thus ensuring that governments gain and maintain the trust of citizens and business can thrive in a competitive environment that is open and fair

Overall, this looks like a sorry story, with a great deal of work around the world required to improve the position. Whether the richer countries such as the US and the UK are in fact able to demonstrate leadership to other countries is still not certain. It is true that these countries have tough laws and that enforcement of those laws is increasing year by year, but the number of corruption stories is not diminishing. If anything, it appears to be growing. But is that because we are all more aware of it and there is increased enforcement, self reporting and whistle blowing? Or is there just more corruption? It is probably hard to tell, and it is far too early to work out whether the Bribery Act 2010  has had any real impact, yet, on British or foreign companies’ conduct. Some of those companies currently self-reporting may end up being prosecuted for activities or conduct which took place many years ago. It is going to take at least ten years and probably many more until we can look back and examine whether most businesses which operate in some way in the UK are adhering to the new laws.