We already have many of the tools we need to fight corruption using open data and the open Web. Let’s use this moment to put them to work.
With the release of the Panama Papers — a cache of 11.5 million records detailing the offshore links of some of the globe’s most prominent figures — corruption has once again been thrust into the spotlight. While offshore activity can have a legitimate purpose, what the Panama Papers show is just how often offshore structures are used to hide corrupt activity that enriches already wealthy individuals, at the cost of ordinary citizens in poorer countries.
Stories from the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR)— supported by the Web Foundation through the OD4D network— show the impact across Africa. Offshore structures are being used to cheat African citizens out of tax revenues that should rightfully be used to improve their daily lives.
While the depth of the rot revealed by the Panama Papers is shocking, the scourge of corruption is nothing new. As a result, we already have many of the tools we need to start fighting back — based on a combination of open data and the open Web. Here are three actions leaders can take immediately:
1) Commit to transparency at the highest level by opening up government data
According to last year’s Open Data Barometer, a mere 3% of governments shared open data on company ownership. Just 6% published open data on government contracts, and 8% on public spending. If governments lift the veil of secrecy by publishing this data for public scrutiny, it makes it harder for corrupt officials and connected businessmen to siphon off public funds for personal benefit. Committing to the six key principles in the international Open Data Charter is a good first step to demonstrating a commitment to fight corruption through transparency.
2) Open up government contracting
Governments around the world spend an estimated US $9.5 trillion each year contracting with companies to deliver goods and services. It’s estimated that up to $2.3 trillion of this is wasted through corruption — money that could be put to work creating jobs, delivering education and fighting disease. Opening up these contracts to public scrutiny would help to stamp this out, and there’s already an accepted way to do so: the Open Contracting Data Standard. Developed by the Web Foundation in 2014 through the Open Contracting Partnership, the Open Contracting Data Standard is already being used to reduce corruption and waste in public procurement in more than 12 countries and cities. It’s time for more to join this movement.
3) Create a global beneficial ownership registry
A key problem with offshore structures is that they are often used to hide who really owns and benefits from a company — so-called beneficial ownership. It’s also easy for individual countries to throw their hands up in despair in trying to unravel the complexity of ownership structures. Determined to tackle this, we’re proud to be a member of a new partnership announced today, led by Open Corporates, that has set out to create a Global Beneficial Ownership Registry. Countries serious about stamping out corruption should support this effort with cash, cooperation, or both.
Conventional wisdom tells us we should never waste a good crisis. Let’s use the heat and light created by the Panama Papers to press for real change that stamps out secrecy and corruption to create a fair, thriving digital society.
African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR)’s work on the Panama Papers was supported by the World Wide Web Foundation as part of the Open Data for Development (OD4D) network and carried out with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. The views expressed in their work are those of the creators and do not necessarily represent those of the Web Foundation, the UK Government’s Department for International Development and the International Development Research Centre, Canada, or its Board of Governors.