The EU is often seen as a bastion of integrity, but these findings show that countries across the region remain vulnerable to the insidious effects of corruption. During a health crisis, using personal connections to access public services can be as damaging as paying bribes. Lives can be lost when connected people get a COVID-19 vaccine or medical treatment before those with more urgent needs. It's crucial that governments across the EU redouble their efforts to ensure a fair and equitable recovery from the ongoing pandemic.
These results should be a wake-up call for both national governments and the EU institutions. Corruption is undermining public trust and policy makers need to listen to the concerns of the public. There are many immediate actions that can be taken to remedy these problems, such as increasing lobbying transparency both at the EU and national levels and tackling tax avoidance. And EU policies to protect whistleblowers and fight money laundering must be effectively and swiftly transposed into national law.
Corruption thrives when institutions, meant to hold the executive accountable, are undermined. The latest chain of events follows the alarming pattern of executive overreach observed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when social accountability mechanisms were curtailed in the name of the emergency. We call on the El Salvador government to respect the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers.
Despite all the publicity that Agrofert generated, the Czech Prime Minister was able to conceal his personal and economic ties to the company’s German subsidiary. It was disappointing to see this, especially as analogous registers of Slovakia and the United Kingdom had listed him as the owner. While we are pleased to see that the information has now been corrected, the case illustrates that Germany has a long way to go to improve on beneficial ownership transparency, especially when it comes to verifying data.
It’s not a surprise that registries around the EU have gaps. In the majority of EU countries, competent authorities do not verify information submitted to them by companies. The European Commission has a perfect opportunity to address this as part of the EU anti-money laundering single rulebook, which should be proposed in the coming months.
The Agrofert saga showcases the power of public beneficial ownership registers. It also makes the case for improving and promoting public access to beneficial ownership data across the EU. The correction made to Germany’s register of company owners strengthens our anti-corruption efforts and encourages civil society everywhere in the EU to scrutinise available data.
The current systems are failing when it comes to deterring large-scale and high-level corruption, often stretching across borders. The international anti-corruption community has been actively discussing areas for reform. What is needed now is for the UN to work on concrete new frameworks and structures for ensuring accountability and justice.
As corruption schemes evolve, it is crucial that the international framework to tackle corruption also responds to new patterns and trends we see around the world. Discussions on gaps and weaknesses in the current anti-corruption mechanisms, and on what could be done to address them, need to be conducted in a truly inclusive manner. This means involving experts from Member States as well as from international organisations, civil society, academia, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders in order to ensure we are making meaningful progress.
All parts of our societies around the world have spoken. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from indigenous peoples’ groups to tax justice advocates, from distinguished diplomats to multi-national companies, we all agree: anonymous companies are vehicles for corruption and other illicit practices that jeopardise the common good. We are asking country representatives preparing for the UNGASS 2021 to heed this call for urgent action.
In recent years, many countries have made progress towards ending the abuse of anonymous companies – most recently the United States. But, as our campaign shows, there is an overwhelming consensus that fundamental fixes are necessary across the board. Criminals and the corrupt must have nowhere to hide their ill-gotten loot. This means universal adoption of public beneficial ownership registers, based on a robust definition of beneficial ownership and accompanied by strong verification processes.
The G20 has made over 60 anti-corruption commitments over the years, but implementation is still lagging far behind these good intentions. If this meeting is to result in more than empty promises, we need to see the G20 take concrete steps to rise to the challenge of the moment. Top priority should be to make sure relief funds reach those most in need. Countries receiving assistance should be able to expect not only anti-corruption leadership and guidance, but financial resources for anti-corruption to protect the unprecedented sums involved.
Money lost to foreign bribery wastes millions of dollars that could otherwise go to lifesaving services like health care. Too many governments choose to turn a blind eye when their companies use bribery to win business in foreign markets. G20 countries and other major economies have a responsibility to enforce the rules.
Despite big corruption cases involving companies like Airbus, Odebrecht, and many others, our research shows that many countries are barely investigating foreign bribery. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for businesses in wealthy countries to export corruption to poorer countries, undermining institutions and development. And no country is immune.
Once again, the tireless work of investigative journalists has helped expose a systemic failing with huge repercussions for ordinary people worldwide. At the same time, governments are attempting to silence those exposing corruption, and in nearly all countries whistleblowers are not adequately protected by law. These latest revelations should be a wake-up call for governments to get serious about holding the powerful to account and protecting those who expose the truth.
Individual sanctions in the form of asset freezes and travel bans against those perpetrating or aiding violence have the potential to hurt the authoritarian regime at the highest level and encourage them to listen to the clear demands of the people. Once the crisis is over, Lukashenko and his regime must answer for the acts of violence and gross breaches of universal human rights in European and international courts.
Alexander Lukashenko was elected by the people of Belarus in 1994 on an anti-corruption platform. He has betrayed his mandate and the trust of his people on many occasions during his 26 years as president.
We are out in the streets – everybody who has courage and strength – to show that we will not stand another stolen election. Government has responded by unleashing riot police, mass detentions and violence, suppressing protesters rights and freedoms.
“The lack of real progress against corruption in most countries is disappointing and has profound negative effects on citizens around the world. To have any chance of ending corruption and improving peoples’ lives, we must tackle the relationship between politics and big money. All citizens must be represented in decision making.”
Frustration with government corruption and lack of trust in institutions speaks to a need for greater political integrity. Governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems.