Today is International Anti-Corruption Day, a day to highlight the cancer that blights our global prosperity and security. It is also an opportunity for me to underline my determination to drive forward the work that we are doing at home and overseas to address it.
The recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta saw growing determination to take collective action against corruption from the Caribbean to the Pacific, from Southern to West Africa. Countries large and small from all over the world, both developed and developing, all united in their resolve to confront the scourge of corruption.
As the Prime Minister has said, corruption threatens global growth, development, security, and the environment. We can't afford not to take action: the stakes are so high and the consequences so plain to see. Billions of pounds stolen and laundered in jurisdictions that trade on secrecy, dysfunctional governments, stagnant economies, increased mortality rates, under-resourced schools, major sports events that are rigged, and armies unable to cope with insurgents.
We know that oppressive and corrupt governments can drive people into the hands of extremists. Tackling corruption is one the most under-stated but important elements of a rules-based world order. It goes hand-in-hand with good governance, strong institutions and the rule of law. Our strategies for dealing with these complex issues need to be focused and aligned, something the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review makes clear.
One part of this will be better collaboration among law enforcement agencies, which is often slow and bureaucratic. Corruption cases often span numerous jurisdictions and involve a complex chain of financial transactions. We need to build a stronger culture of cooperation, the structures to support this, and ensure that investigators and prosecutors have the powers and support they need.
In the UK we have been working hard to implement our first national anti-corruption plan and have made good progress - for example by abolishing bearer shares and setting up the world's first public register of company beneficial ownership, which will go live in June. We will be reporting on the plan early in the new year, and there is plenty more to do.
Transparency is crucial to both deterring and detecting corruption - by driving out the grey areas that make it easier to hide suspicious activity behind otherwise legitimate institutions. This is vital in tackling money laundering - but transparency can also help to clean up international sports organisations like Fifa, extractives industries, and electoral systems. Transparency doesn't work on its own however - individual citizens, businesses and local authorities need to use the data too.
We know that offshore companies can be used to hide corrupt funds through highly complex and opaque structures. So it is very important for the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies take steps to ensure the offshore companies they register cannot be used to hide the proceeds of corruption from law enforcement agencies. This should not be seen as a competition issue - it is a simple question of good administration and preventing abuse. It may not be a perfect solution either, but we have to start somewhere if we are eventually to clean up the whole system.
In May 2016 the UK will host a major anti-corruption summit in London. Governments, international organisations, civil society and businesses have worked hard over the past twenty year to stop corruption, but it is still a huge problem. We must press on together and build on the growing momentum - through concerted, international efforts and strong political leadership - to expose and confront corruption wherever it occurs.
Eric Pickles is the Conservative MP for Brentwood & Ongar and the Government Anti-Corruption Champion