Transparency International's Annual Members Meeting in Panama City December 2016

Presentations at the opening of Transparency International's Annual Members Meeting in Panama City December 2016

A Time for Truth

Transparency International Annual Members Meeting and the 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Panama

Cab driver paying bribe to police while taking paying passengers to Anti-corruption conference

Cab driver paying bribe to police while taking paying passengers to Anti-corruption conference.

It raised a few eyebrows telling people three of us—TINZ Chair Suzanne Snively, CEO Janine McGruddy and Director, Josephine Serrallach—were off to Panama for an anti-corruption conference. As the New York Times reported in August of 2015, “Panama sought to shed its image as a magnet for shady deals and narco traffickers by hosting the world’s largest anti-corruption conference”. At the time, it probably seemed like good idea. Eight months after agreeing to host the conference, the nation was deeply embarrassed when the records widely known as the “Panama Papers,” were released.

It was poignant as a host country. Nothing brings home the value of living in a relatively corruption free country like New Zealand than having your taxi pulled over by the police and witnessing bribes being paid.

So as an example of how corruption can effect a country’s reputation, Panama was a very fitting host for both events.

TI Annual Members Meeting

The Transparency International (TI) 2016 Annual Members Meeting (AMM), which included representatives from more than 90 Transparency International chapters and up to 28 individual members, adopted a resolution calling for an end to the secrecy around the registration of financial ownership. This secrecy enables corruption and contributes to inequality worldwide.

Illicit financial flows have been estimated to exceed an annual US$1 trillion. “Secrecy fuels corruption and leads to inequality and poverty,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International. “We met in Panama to send one message to all governments, business, and civil society: together we can request the end of secrecy and stop the shady deals that create social damage”.

José has committed to visiting New Zealand in July 2017 when TINZ members and their networks will have a chance to hear from him in person.

Transparency International’s chapters and members also called on all governments to publish timelines for establishing public registries containing beneficial ownership information, and on all businesses to disclose proactively their beneficial ownership information in open data format.

Overall, the AMM was an amazing experience and spending time developing TINZ’s global TI networks was well worth the time, effort and money to attend.

International Anti-Corruption Conference

The AMM was followed by the much larger 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) held bi-annually.

Themed a “Time for Justice, Equity, Security, Trust”, the IACC was held in Panama City from 1st – 4th of December. More than 1600 attendees attended a mixture of plenary’s, panels, workshops and an Anti-Corruption film festival that ran throughout the conference.

It was great to hear first-hand from Frederik Obermaier, (Steve see attached photo Frederik Obermaier) the German journalist that decided to share the Panama Papers data released to him by John Doe with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Frederik Obermaier presenting at the 2016 IACC

During the Panama Papers presentation, NZ appeared on a map of the world as a tax haven and in a list of countries with illicit financial flows.

The presenter indicated that the then New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, had dismissed the whole investigation and was not prepared to review the New Zealand legislation on “Trusts”, which although some are perfectly legal and honest, others are currently used for money laundering. TINZ Director Josephine Serrallach intervened explaining that the local Chapter TINZ had participated in an immediate campaign for a review of the law. As a result there had been a New Zealand enquiry with submissions from several organisations including TINZ, providing recommendations to New Zealand Government. As a result, Phase 2 of the Anti-money laundering bill is now making solid progress.

While the presenter was uninformed of recent progress in New Zealand following the Shewan Inquiry, it reinforced to us the damage of the Panama Papers to our reputation and the imperative to demonstrate to the world that we are not a tax haven or conduit for the flow of ill-gotten funds.

It became very clear over the course of the IACC that transparency is the answer to many of the problems we face globally. The myriad of ways to achieve transparency include:

The Panama Declaration is read out by two of the IACC Young Journalists

The Panama Declaration is read out by two of the IACC Young Journalists. “The time for Justice, Equity, Security and Trust is now”.

  • Beneficial ownership reporting
  • Country to country reporting on multinationals activities
  • Exchange of information between governments
  • Reforming institutional architecture
  • Educating and supporting “Gatekeepers”: Lawyers, Accountants and Bankers
  • Open Data – Financial data made public

The outcome of the IACC was the Panama Declaration which was read out to the final Plenary by two young journalists. It stated that: “The time for Justice, Equity, Security and Trust is now”. The full transcript of the Panama Declaration can be found here: https://iaccseries.org/blog/the-panama-declaration-time-for-justice-equity-security-trust/

Being a part of this experience was very beneficial to the NZ contingent, not only for the networking and spreading of ideas and corruption-fighting tactics, but also as a reminder that each of us working together can make a powerful difference to our world.

Transparency International New Zealand intends to bid to host the 2020 International Anti-Corruption Conference.

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