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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

10th December 2013

The Cancer of Corruption


It is right to call corruption a cancer.

When it grows in the body politic, sometimes imperceptibly, it has the ability rapidly and insidiously to infiltrate and destroy the organs of the state.

Once embedded, it is very difficult to cut out. Metastasis across society is common. It prevents countries from developing and reaching their full potential, and destroys the ethical and moral foundation of a state. And as the UK International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, said in a joint statement with Foreign Secretary William Hague and UK International Anti-Corruption Champion Ken Clarke to mark Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December:

“When corruption happens in developing countries, it is the very poorest people who foot the bill. It deters investment, cheats citizens out of the services and support they need to develop their economies and end aid dependency”.

No country is immune. While the British government was pleased to see the UK rise from 17th to 14th place worldwide in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index , there is clearly plenty to do. “All power corrupts”, said Action, and sadly our inability as humans to resist the insidious temptations of corruption is frequently demonstrated, on a large scale and small.

Good governance is a central plank in Britain’s work on the UN’s post-2015 International Sustainable Development Agenda. And it is clear that it is also a priority for Pope Francis. The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium focuses on the issue of corruption as a critical symptom of the lack of ethical approaches to economics and governance in developed and developing countries.

The Pope identifies “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions”. He identifies the negative impacts on the poor and marginalised of “deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders”. And he reminds us of the “corruption and criminality” in urban centres lacking a strong sense of community and togetherness.

William Hague said on 9 December that “Reducing corruption and increasing transparency is at the heart of the Government’s agenda”, from the G8 to the UN.

It needs to be at the heart of the agenda of all governments. A collective commitment to practical action to root out corruption and thereby strengthen good governance would be a decisive feature of an effective post-2015 sustainable development package. A strong Holy See voice in favour would be an important element in achieving this.

All countries would benefit. And, as Pope Francis reminds us, the poorest in our society would benefit most of all.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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