November has been a month of transitions : in Peru, for example, where the rejection of corruption has led to the President’s impeachment by Parliament; and in Guatemala, where there have been angry protests. In the United States, the political transition is seeing the return to the scene of lobbyists familiar to Joe Biden.
At the same time, recent scandals seem to be prompting reconsideration in Australia of political advisors’ transfers on leaving their post, while in Canada, the focus is on the criteria for registering lobbying, which has risen sharply amid the pandemic. In the UK, cases bringing ethics under scrutiny are building up in Boris Johnson’s government.
Meanwhile, the reform of the European Union’s transparency register seems to be progressing, and is likely to change the way the future Presidencies of the Council of the European Union are run. The European Ombudsman nevertheless lays bare the inadequate regulation of contractors hired by the European Commission, which is grappling with conflicts of interest.
Vigilance continues to be of the essence, since, as Transparency International points out, public perception of corruption has increased in Asia.
On 25 November the European Ombudsman declared that there was a potential conflict of interest in the European Commission’s decision to hire BlackRock to advise on sustainable financing, citing the asset manager’s significant investments in fossil fuels. Emily O’Reilly has asked the European Commission to draw up clearer internal guidelines in order to ascertain whether or not there is a conflict of interest. (The Guardian, 25 November 2020, Le Monde, 25 November 2020)
When France holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU (January to June 2022), the list of meetings between France’s permanent representative and lobbyists will be public. What is more, only organisations listed on the EU’s transparency register may secure a meeting. In that respect, France will follow an informal practice developed by several Member States over the past two years, and which may therefore end up in the agreement, currently being negotiated, on the reform of the EU’s transparency register. (Contexte, 25 November 2020)
The proposed partnership between FAO and the pesticides lobby has sparked concern among scientists and NGOs. The UN agency has signed a Letter of Intent setting out a strategic partnership agreement with CropLife, the association which represents the world’s leading pesticide manufacturers. Several hundred NGOs and scientists have signed open letters urging FAO not to go ahead with this partnership, which is perceived as undermining the policy to reduce global pesticide use and as a conflict of interest with FAO’s mandate to protect biodiversity. (Le Monde, 20 November 2020, Newsclick, 25 November 2020)
The Financial Times has revealed a copy of a UNDP internal audit describing financial misstatements worth several million dollars in environmental programmes. The fraud reportedly bears on the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the organisation which manages the funding of environmental protection initiatives amounting to several billion dollars. The UNDP report particularly mentions fraudulent activities at two country offices and the collusion of various project managers. The scale of the fraud could jeopardise achievement of the GEF’s objectives. (Financial Times, 30 November 2020)
World Rugby has confirmed that the hosts of future Rugby World Cups will be selected through an open electronic vote, which marks a major step forward in terms of transparency. The sport’s global body said that a risk-based technical evaluation would be performed prior to the open voting process. (Japan Times, 25 November 2020, L’équipe, 24 November 2020)
Transparency International has published a study on asset and interest disclosure, political financing and lobbying across eight European countries, using open-source data. According to Transparency International, none of them has adequate measures in place to prevent undue influence on public decisions. (Transparency International, 25 November 2020)
On Friday 27 November, the Council of Europe maintained that Greece must take tougher anti-corruption measures, in light of the finding that Athens had not implemented its previous recommendations. It has particularly asked Greece to punish passive bribery of public officials too. (Le Figaro, 27 November 2020, New Europe, 27 November 2020)
The Council of Europe finds that action against corruption in Hungary is not going far enough. In the same way as last year, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) does not consider there to have been satisfactory progress in the country’s implementation of the recommendations aimed at combating corruption within legislative and judicial systems. (Euractiv, 18 November 2020, Hungary Today, 18 November 2020)
Mairead Farrell, Sinn Fein Spokesperson for Public Expenditure and Reform, has pledged to improve regulation of revolving door moves. The Irish MP wants to avoid situations where politicians leave office to become lobbyists. Currently, lobbying law varies depending on the public office held: a public official may not, for example, accept an appointment that could give rise to a conflict of interest without securing the agreement of his/her line management, within the first 12 months following his/her departure from public office. The MP particularly rebukes the role the revolving door has played in the lax regulation of banks in Ireland in the past. (Irish Mirror, 23 November 2020)
Former CEO of the Malta Financial Services Authority, Joseph Cuschieri, does not see any conflict of interest in the context of the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Previously lead regulator of the Malta Gaming Authority, Cuschieri was offered a free trip to Las Vegas by the Maltese casino magnate Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the journalist’s murder. (Times of Malta, 27 November 2020)
The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is facing frank questions over his omission to declare his wife’s assets in the official register of ministers’ interests. An investigation by the Guardian has revealed that his wife, Akshata Murty, whose father co-founded the IT multinational Infosys, has an asset portfolio worth an estimated several million GBP, making her one of the richest women in the UK. (The Guardian, 27 November 2020)
Ethics adviser to Boris Johnson, Alex Allan, has resigned in response to the Prime Minister’s show of support for the Home Secretary Priti Patel. She has been the subject of an administrative inquiry into bullying of other officials. If ministers are found to be in breach of the code of conduct, they are supposed to resign. (The Financial Times, 20 November 2020, Libération, 20 November 2020)
Johannesburg Mayor Geoff Makhubo is under fire for his company having received ZAR 35 million (approx. EUR 1,902,250) through a government contract. Suspicions of conflicts of interest are emerging over the current mayor’s position as Member of the Mayoral Committee for Finance while his company was still receiving the government funds. (Eyewitness News, 28 November 2020)
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on a high-ranking Lebanese politician whom it holds largely responsible for the corruption plaguing the country. The measure targets Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, which is a Christian party allied to the Shia movement Hezbollah. (BBCNews, 6 November 2020, La Croix, 10 November 2020)
Rio de Janeiro’s prosecutors have indicted senator Flavio Bolsonaro, the eldest son of Brazil’s President, particularly on charges of embezzlement of government funds and money laundering. The 39 year-old senator allegedly belongs to a criminal organisation and embezzled government funds when he was regional MP of the State of Rio, from 2003 to 2018. He is reported to have run a « rachadinha » scheme, by which employees are hired, paid by the Legislative Assembly and then funnel part of their wages back to their employer. (Challenges, 4 November 2020, Financial Times, 4 November 2020)
According to Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger, 2020 has been a particularly busy year where lobbying is concerned. Communications registered by lobbyists over the summer were up by 33%, especially on the subject of health. The lobbying watchdog would like to clarify the lobbyist registration rules, not least by scrapping the “significant part” threshold, to ensure that any employee tasked with lobbying would have to register. She does not believe that a distinction should be made between in-house lobbyist and consultant. (National Post, 28 November 2020)
For the first time in its history, the National Assembly of Quebec has reprimanded a minister for showing a lack of ethics. Ethics Commissioner Ariane Mignolet had drawn up an investigations report on the minister Pierre Fitzgibbon because of his friendship and financial dealings with lobbyist Luc Laperrière. (Radio Canada, 12 November 2020)
Several appointments to Joe Biden’s future cabinet have drawn criticism on account of their ties with companies or lobbyists. The wrangling over the composition of his administration is « an early flashpoint » between the different wings of the Democratic Party, who worked together to ensure the Democratic candidate won the presidential election. The progressive wing has thus suggested a list of 400 names of officials qualified for the posts with no links with the private sector. (ABC News, 26 November 2020)
The US influence industry has not waited for the vote-counting to finish before drawing potential clients’ attention to its ties with Joe Biden. Unlike the new lobbyists that emerged on Donald Trump’s election, the connections between Washington’s community of influence and Joe Biden’s circle are already well established. This can be explained by the 36 years he spent representing Delaware and his 8 years as Vice-President. (The New York Times, 17 November 2020, L’Opinion, 17 November 2020)
Alice Huffman has resigned as president of the California State Conference of the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the main civil rights advocacy group. Her resignation comes in the wake of criticism over the acceptance of millions of dollars from corporate-backed interests, when the NAACP supported these businesses in terms of the legislative measures to adopt. (Capradio, 23 November 2020)
Hundreds of Guatemalans once again took to the streets on Sunday 23 November demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammatei. They accuse him of not taking action to tackle poverty and inequality, in a country where corruption is rife (La Croix, 21 November 2020, Aljazeera, 28 November 2020)
Two months after the first attempt, Peru’s Parliament voted on Monday 9 November to impeach the President of the Republic Martin Vizcarra over allegations that he accepted bribes while governor in 2014. This impeachment further exacerbates the instability gripping the country, which has had three presidents since 2016. (Le Monde, 10 November 2020, BBCNews, 10 November 2020)
Casey’s former mayor, Sam Aziz, has acknowledged having undeclared conflicts of interest with a real estate developer, with whom he was secretly negotiating the sale of his home. John Woodman, the developer in question, is embroiled in a corruption scandal in which he stands accused of donations and bribes for ensuring political backing for his property projects in this city of the State of Victoria. (The Age, 19 November 2020)
Queensland’s Integrity Commissioner would like to see a reassessment of the lobbying rules. The government of this Australian State is reported to have granted weekly meetings to various lobbyists, meetings thought to have been facilitated by the connections of a former member of the majority’s campaign team, who had transferred into lobbying. (ABC News, 28 November 2020)
An anti-graft group accuses Malaysia’s Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa of conflicts of interest. Heading up the land prospecting company YWP, the minister risks being in a situation of abuse of power, since he is able to overrule local urban developments. The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism is calling on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to launch an investigation. (Free Malaysia Today, 20 November 2020)
Transparency International highlights the systemic nature of corruption across Nepal. According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer – (Asia), 38% of Asians think corruption increased during the previous 12 months. This opinion is held by 58% of Nepalese respondents, which is the highest figure of the 17 countries involved in the survey. (Transparency International, 24 November 2020)