Panama Papers: Labour must pull together to end corruption

As the government launches its anti-corruption summit, Labour should call for justice for the world's poorest

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The Labour Party, whether in government or opposition, has always been an ally to the world’s poorest, pushing for global justice. One of the greatest barriers to achieving this goal is corruption, which continues to hinder progress all over the world.

The Panama Papers have highlighted the scale of the problem and Labour were quick to speak out on the topic – but the party should seize this opportunity to highlight the clear link between tackling corruption and ending extreme poverty.

This Thursday (12 May), international dignitaries will gather in London for the prime minister’s Anti-Corruption Summit. There’s no time like the present to rally the Labour party to take on the corruption that keeps people poor.

A trillion dollars is siphoned out of developing countries every year through corrupt practices. While people may assume that the blame lies with corrupt officials pocketing cash, it’s often a more complicated system that involves anonymous shell companies registered in places like the British Overseas Territories.

A clear way to close this loophole is through a public register of beneficial ownership, which would make information about who really owns and controls companies and trusts available for scrutiny.

While the UK is leading the way on this issue, the Overseas Territories will only deliver a private register. If citizens cannot access this information, they can’t follow the money to see if it’s being taken away from essential public services.

Following the Panama Papers, where half of the companies revealed were registered to the British Virgin Islands, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn rightly put pressure on the Prime Minister. He pointed out that any register must be an ‘absolutely public document and transparent, for all to see who really owns these companies’.

However, Labour must avoid getting caught up in the political point scoring that masks the human cost of corruption. The focus on individual’s tax returns following the Panama Papers distracted from the wider debate on the impact corruption has on the world’s poorest, once again forgotten.

Labour cannot overlook developing countries when making their arguments around transparency. It is the global system that has failed, and it needs a global solution, which Labour must be a crucial part of.   

Advocating for public registers of Beneficial Ownership of companies and trusts in the Overseas Territories is the perfect policy for Labour to rally around. We have already started to see this elsewhere in the Commons.

At International Development Questions on 4 May, Rushanara Ali MP told the House how a trillion dollars is siphoned out developing countries each year and along with Jo Cox MP pushed for public registers. This is a great step, building on Corbyn’s contribution at PMQs, and starts to create a joined up Labour approach, but it needs to keep moving forward.

This is an issue that Labour can campaign on wholly, because no one, irrespective of political leaning, wants corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Summit is the perfect opportunity for Labour to demand action. They must come together as a united party to hold the government to account by urging them to them to do their best to tackle corruption across the globe.

It is a real moment for the opposition to show how things can be different, to encourage the government to act for all and stand for international justice.

While the Panama Papers slide in and out of the news agenda, Labour must keep corruption in the spotlight, even after the Anti-Corruption Summit.

Aside from Beneficial Ownership, there are many policies the party can advocate for both here and in Brussels, including full and public country-by-country reporting of tax payments, which Corbyn and John McDonnell have been vocal on.

All Labour MPs must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting injustice, and work to end extreme poverty and corruption together. This is a crucial moment for Labour to push for real change that can end the Trillion Dollar Scandal.

Saira O’Mallie is the interim UK Director of The ONE Campaign

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