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03/06/16

Hot air and hypocrisy won’t end corruption

The recent anti-corruption summit in London produced more than its fair share of headlines in the UK and international press, though what the event achieved is difficult to quantify.

Six countries, Britain, Afghanistan, Kenya, France, the Netherlands and Nigeria, have agreed to publish registers of who really owns companies in their territories, the so-called registers of beneficial ownership. This is a primary objective of anticorruption groups. Six more, including Australia, have said they will consider doing so.

Meanwhile eleven nations have pledged to join the 29-strong group where lists of beneficial owners are drawn up and shared between governments, although not publicly. The Isle of Man and Jersey are among this group.

Two of the main speakers at the summit were UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Both produced stirring speeches expressing their desire to stamp out corruption and clean up the world, and there was praise from Mr Cameron for the work done by the Isle of Man. Meanwhile Mr. Kerry said he had been shocked at the extent of global corruption since taking up his post – though not it seems shocked sufficiently to commit the US to the pledge to share registers of beneficial ownership.

It was possibly the hypocrisy of Mr Kerry’s position that finally proved a step too far for Isle of Man Chief Minister, Allan Bell. In an unusually frank and hard-hitting repost Mr Bell told the summit that there wouldn’t be any real progress until the US made its own tax havens such as Delaware more open.

Mr Bell stated that to defeat corruption every nation must sign up – “We need action not fine words,” he said, while later accusing the US Secretary of State of presenting a speech full of platitudes, but little substance.”

How much notice the Americans will take remains to be seen, but it’s about time the outrageous hypocrisy of the their position was challenged publicly.

Mr Bell’s comments will have caused little more than mild embarrassment for the Americans, but at least they have received an airing in many of the world’s most influential newspapers, including the New York Times.

Just how much of the summit’s final 32 point communiqué, full of grand hyperbole and ambitious objectives, ever comes to pass awaits to be seen. A global declaration against corruption needs a coordinated global response. That remains some way off.

The Isle of Man may not be perfect and there is clearly work still to be done, but by its actions the Island has shown itself to be part of the solution, not the problem.

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