First, it was her comment in a private conversation at Buckingham Palace about the “very rude” Chinese officials who came to London last October in advance of their president’s state visit to Britain.
And then she was recorded on a pooled video feed chatting with Prime Minister David Cameron as he boasted about the “fantastically corrupt” countries — such as Afghanistan and Nigeria — coming to London later in the week for an international “Anti-Corruption Summit.” The Queen listened attentively, but said nothing in reply.
Regarding China, we can only assume that Chinese-British relations will weather the storm. The Queen is a nice lady, after all. But it’s the prime minister’s remarks about the “fantastically corrupt” that provoked more attention.
With a video camera so close, was Cameron aware that his remarks would be made public? Was this his way of attracting attention to his upcoming summit?
Or, as his critics were saying, was he incomplete when he cited only Afghanistan and Nigeria on the list of the “fantastically corrupt?”
Shouldn’t he also have included major powers such as Britain and the United States as part of this rogues’ gallery? It is these countries, after all, that knowingly encourage the phoney shell companies, tax havens, money laundering, secret bank accounts and rampant bribery that ensure a culture of endemic corruption in the developing world.
The answer to this last question is: “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.”
The annual Anti-Corruption Summit, which was held on Thursday, attracted heads of state and government ministers from 40 countries. Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety, represented Canada.
It was ironic that it was held in London, regarded by many as the world’s money-laundering capital, a reputation reinforced by the latest disclosures of the so-called Panama Papers. These documents included 11.5 million internal records disclosing the financial secrets of heads of state, billionaires, drug lords, celebrities and others.
Cameron has been under attack for Britain’s role in fostering global corruption, and he hoped this summit would turn that around. However, the meeting had only mixed results. There were many pious promises but few concrete commitments.
Perhaps the most important achievement, at least in Cameron’s view, was an agreement to publish a register of who really owns what companies. That has been a major goal of global anti-corruption groups. But only six countries at this point have signed on to this agreement: Britain, France, the Netherlands, Kenya, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Canada has not signed on, and it is unclear whether the agreement will apply to Britain’s overseas territories.
One of those territories is the British Virgin Islands. According to the Panama Papers, it is one of the most popular tax havens in the world, with a population of 28,000 and more than one million registered companies. But its officials have indicated they have no intention of taking part in any British-sponsored public register of who own what.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari attended the summit and he was asked whether his country was “fantastically corrupt,” as Cameron had claimed. Buhari replied “yes,” but said he wasn’t asking for an apology: “What I am demanding is the return of assets” corruptly taken from Nigeria and now held in Britain: “What would I do with an apology?”
Before Thursday’s summit, more than 300 economists, including several Nobel Prize winners, signed a letter to world leaders stressing there is no economic benefit to tax havens. They demanded that the secrecy that surrounds them end.
One of the signatories was Jeffrey Sachs, an adviser to the UN’s secretary general. In a commentary in The Guardian newspaper, Sachs wrote that Cameron’s job at the summit “is not to whisper about the corruption of Nigeria and Afghanistan but to end the deep and historic role of the United Kingdom in this sordid mess. Ditto for the U.S. and other major parties to the abuse.”
Sadly, as we look at the meagre results of the summit, it is clear that Sachs did not get his wish.
Author: Tony Burman