Pauline Latham is the Member of Parliament for Mid Derbyshire and is an Officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption. Follow Pauline on Twitter.
In the last couple of weeks, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has hit the headlines as internal conflict has escalated, causing thousands of people to flee their homes in fear of violence.
It was only a few weeks ago that I led a Westminster Hall debate on DRC, a country in which the life expectancy of a man is 47 and a woman, 50. Despite being a country that is one of the world’s richest in natural resources (such as the coltan integral to our mobile phones and laptops) its people and government are amongst the poorest in the world. DRC ranks 187th out of 187 countries in the UN Human Development Index.
Exports of minerals from Africa are worth around $333 billion a year, nearly seven times the value of international aid. I am rightly proud that it is a Conservative Government that will finally meet Britain’s historic pledges on aid. But imagine what could be achieved by countries like the DRC if the revenues raised from their resources were also targeted to benefit the poorest communities. If the UK has a problem getting some companies to pay their way, imagine the difficulties much less well equipped and well funded governments have.
There is currently a window to make a real difference. The US, in its landmark Dodd-Frank Act, has taken serious measures to shine the light on payments by extractive industries in countries where they are operating. Similar legislation (the Accounting and Transparency Directives) is currently going through the EU (incidentally – this is the EU for once doing what it should be restricted to – setting up fair and level playing fields for the international market). If EU legislation matches the American act, the framework will cover two thirds of the world’s listed extractive companies. Companies will have to publish what they pay to developing countries for their natural resources. Furthermore, the US and EU legislation will cover many of the biggest Chinese firms such as SINOPEC, CNOC and PetroChina, and could add pressure on Shanghai to look at similar legislation.
By making sure that there are no exemptions for any company under any circumstance, that there is a minimum payment threshold for each mining project and that these projects are defined in a robust and meaningful way, developed countries can ensure an equal market, and that the poorest people receive a fair deal.
Corruption has a global impact. It puts the brakes on development and stops wealth being shared fairly. It holds back the global economy that we desperately need to be exporting to. It is a root cause of conflict, violence and extreme poverty, giving rise to insecurity which hits our streets at home and our interests abroad. Well functioning economies share the proceeds of growth. Faced with the human tragedy of humanitarian disasters and persistent poverty, it is morally right to continue our aid spend. But it is through trade that developing countries will get the sustainable resources to provide the services we take for granted – health, education, infrastructure, security.
Today (9 December) is International Anti-Corruption Day. David Cameron is rightly putting transparency at the heart of the G8. Let’s make sure that at home, in Europe and across the world British business, the British people and the British Government are leading the way in tackling the root causes of corruption. And through that, let’s give the world’s poorest people, in the DRC and beyond, the best chance they can have to prosper.