Transparency with a Punch

8 November 2012, by Eric Gutierrez.

No less than the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, opened the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference to a packed hall of over 1500 participants. In her speech, Rousseff exuded pride, not only because her country has passed what is perhaps the most progressive free access to information legislation in the world, or because Brazil is a leader of the global Open Government Partnership. We’ve done this, she said, despite being a country with centuries of inequalities.

Rousseff’s statement is remarkable because she has just added an important component to the agenda. It is not just about making states transparent and accountable, it is about resolving problems of inequality as well. Rousseff beamed with pride as she declared that since recovering from dictatorship, and as it pursued greater transparency and accountability, Brazil lifted 40 million of its citizens out of poverty and into the middle class.

Rousseff went on to say that it is better to have the noise of a free press than the silence in dictatorships. The complexity of the corruption problem, she said, required innovative tools, as well as new forms of partnership and collaboration. But anti-corruption efforts, she warned, should not be mixed with anti-politics rhetoric. She emphasized the important role of the state, and reaffirmed that the state should remain the primary target of transparency and accountability reforms.

But what really packed a punch in her speech was her statement that the state should not be the only target of transparency and accountability reforms. She singled out the financial services sector, “which affects all countries in the world”. She explained that since the 2008 global financial crisis, there have been increasing outcries, including from the G20, for greater transparency and proper regulation of international financial flows, “which runs into trillions and trillions of dollars”. Without proper regulation and control of this sector, she declared, “we are all subject to manipulation and exposed to vulnerabilities in creating jobs, stabilising prices and making economies beneficial to all.”

Indeed, there are trillions and trillions in untaxed private wealth sloshing through the global financial system. A report published in June 2012 by the Tax Justice Network estimated this wealth to be anywhere from £13tn to £21 trillion. These sums are staggering. If £20tn is deposited in banks, it would earn interest of £1 trillion each year (at a 5% rate). If governments could tax just this interest income alone at 25%, it would raise revenues of £250 billion a year – enough to wipe out budget deficits, pay for the MDGs, stabilise food prices, and make this a better world in which to live.

Hopefully, more Rousseffs will emerge from the G20 as well as the 57 countries signed up to the Open Government Partnership.

About Eric Gutierrez

Eric Gutierrez is Christian Aid’s Senior Adviser on Accountable Governance, based in London. A Philippine national, he has lived and worked in Malawi, South Africa and Germany. He has published reports and authored books on corruption and conflict.