All governments face hard choices. Transparency International's new 'Anti-Corruption Scorecard' suggests that this Government has some particularly important choices to make on its approach to corruption. The subject features nowhere on the agenda at this week's Conservative Party Conference. But as the country moves towards a general election and politicians start to think of their legacy, they should reflect on the fact that any legacy on business, foreign affairs, international development, policing, welfare, local government and a host of other areas, will be lost if corruption is allowed to gain a foothold.
It is always a difficult judgment as to when Transparency International starts to sound an alarm bell about corruption in any given country. We are starting to sound that alarm bell in the UK, as there is now sufficient evidence to suggest that corruption needs to be addressed in the UK in a more coordinated and substantial manner. A lesson that Transparency International has learnt across the world is that it is better to take notice of emerging risks and to act early, because once corruption takes root it can be very hard to eradicate.
The 'Anti-Corruption Scorecard' - an assessment of the Government's record on tackling corruption - has found that there is significant room for improvement regarding the UK's fight against corruption. The absence of a national anti-corruption strategy is an overarching concern. Transparency International also anticipates that the Government's - presumably unintentional -dismantling of key institutional defences against corruption will leave certain bodies more vulnerable to corruption. The abolition of the Audit Commission, for example, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the level and nature of corruption risk in local government which could have disturbing consequences.
Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the steady flow of scandals over the past few years, the worst scoring category of the Scorecard is 'Parliamentary Ethics and Conduct' - 50% red warnings, the other 50% amber. The revolving door between government and business is notable here, as there is still no oversight body with sufficient power and resources to regulate conflicts of interest. Parties of all colour should also be wary of the risk of corruption in political party funding - another category which gets a red warning. Current funding rules lead to a lack of public trust in political parties, and this could in part be combatted by the introduction of an annual cap of £10,000 on donations to political parties.
The Government should be commended for scoring mostly green lights in its approach to international anti-corruption initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals post-2015 and Extractive Industries' Transparency.
However, UK activities to combat money laundering and procedures on looted assets both receive a red warning. After the UK's G8 Presidency gave the issues of corruption, transparency and good governance a more prominent place on the international agenda, it now needs to deliver on areas such as a public register of beneficial ownership. This would play an important role in putting a stop to the (estimated) billions of pounds of dirty money being laundered into and through the UK each year, a shameful trade whose impact is felt most strongly in developing countries.
Transparency International believes that the UK Government now has clear choices to make about tackling corruption. These decisions could help reverse the UK's decline in international corruption rankings; or alternatively they could plot a course of complacency and inaction that would allow corruption to rise in the public and private sectors.
Which path will the Government choose?