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Sarah Dickson

Ambassador to Guatemala (June 2012 - June 2015)

Part of UK in Guatemala

21st January 2015

Opening up to economic development

The UK’s 2010 Bribery Act is in some ways a daunting piece of legislation. It obliges us all to think about how we operate. It set a legal framework in which we make those judgements. It goes to the heart of ethical and responsible practices. So spending 5 days talking about it with experts in Guatemala and Honduras has been a time to reflect on why anti-corruption laws matter.

I heard many comments about the context or the culture. Many people thought corruption often reflected accepted practices on how things were done. At the same time all agreed that where corrupt practices existed they needed to change.  We discussed how it the government could change the ethical standards of its people through properly implemented legislation which encouraged a top down approach to preventing bribery. We agreed that it need to include all sectors of society government; private sector; civil society  and the general public in order to make a real impact. We talked about how difficult this could be at first and what the grey areas might be and how to define them.

In separate events we also went beyond anti-bribery to talk about other forms of financial crime such as smuggling, contraband and counterfeiting. These crimes can be incredibly hard to prevent as organised crime is often involved and use their vast resources to carry out sophisticated operations. Once they are solved they help governments increase tax intake, protect consumers from low quality, unregulated products and allow companies to operate more effectively.

Transparency more generally was also on our agenda. The OECD supported us in delivering seminars about the Open Government Partnership.  All governments approach access to information in slightly different ways, but the OGP has shown that working together we can learn a lot from each and from civil society groups  on how to improve the transparency of government processes, decisions and expenditure. During the OGP seminar it has been said quite often that sometimes we adopt and implement open government practices without even knowing (or labelling them as) open government. Therefore a continuous and honest dialogue amongst all is vital to not only promote a transparency agenda, but to improve what we do and to learn from each other.

I would sum up that the conclusion of the past few days was a simple one:  Economic growth depends on transparency. It practice clear processes need to be fairly applied and open to all. Everyone can play their part in making that happen. We need to talk more about transparency and the work that we do to foster it. Working together and learning from each other is key for success when promoting a transparency agenda in countries such as Guatemala and Honduras.


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