Given that leaders are given the power by the people they lead, to set the vision, values and ethics of their country, organisation or team, responsibility for policing those ethics and delivering any change must also ultimately lie with the leadership.


Cleaning up corruption in a small unit run by a few people  is one thing. Doing it for an endemically corrupt state is quite another.    


David Cameron recently told the Queen that the leaders of some of the most "fantastically corrupt countries" were coming to the Anti-Corrpution Summit in London. Apart from his unfortunate over-emphasis of the word "fantastically" which left listeners wondering if he actually admired them, it highlights the question of whether such a summit is just hot air, highlighting the issues, here today and gone tomorrow... or whether anything meaningful and lasting can come from it.


Russia is an interesting case in point. According to Transparency International, 52% of Russians feel that their government's efforts to fight corruption is ineffective.53% feel that corruption is increasing. On their Corruption Perceptions Index, the country scores 29/100 - where 100 is "very clean" and the lower the score, the more corrupt the country appears to be.   https://www.transparency.org/country/#RUS_PublicOpinion


Which gives Mr Putin a problem. As the person with the highest level of power in the country, he and his executive team are ultimately responsible for writing and enforcing the laws to fight corruption. As much of the public's experience of corruption appears to be with public officials and civil servants changing the culture and enforcing the rules needs to start there...            


With sanctions biting, the value of oil falling the economy is getting into serious trouble. The sinking value of the Russian ruble should help exports - except sanctions limit those and so the benefits can't be taken.  Imported goods are rising in price and with disposable incomes being hit, the Russian car market has fallen to levels, last seen ten years ago. But why does this matter to countries outside Russia? 


The answer lies in leadership style. In the West, we are in the 'post heroic' age of leadership. We like authentic leaders - who can empathise with us and the issues we face. To do so they must be open and expose their minor flaws - so we think that if they are like us and our neighbours, they will take the 'right decisions at the right time and look after us as they are (broadly) one of 'us' and speak and think like us. There is a real backlash against those who set themselves apart or appear to one of the 'elite'.


Russia is a very different country and culture in a different stage of its development. It is vast. It has a broad spread of different cultures. Historically, it has had an heroic style of leadership that has demonstrated strength of purpose and adaptability in the face of hardship. One could argue that many such disparate countries need such a strong figurehead.


So will Mr Cameron's plea for greater transparency to fight corruption actually have an impact on a country like Russia - or indeed anywhere else?  Currently the answer is probably not... but there is a real opportunity to have an impact.


The issue with strong leadership and focus of power is it can be tainted by human temptation for personal gain - and dependence on others in the system to support the focus of power on the leader. In such circumstances corruption can and often does creep in. Like cancer, it is often unseen and spreads quickly. It is hard to eliminate and can taint even healthy parts of the body.


Anti-corruption summits are one thing - but using the power of leadership to clean up a corrupt system is what is actually needed. The more focused the power, the more quickly it can act to change laws, remove those who are corrupt and put in place system of transparency that shine a light onto the darker side of organisations whose gains are effectively stolen from their fellow citizens.


The leak from Mossack Fonseca in Panama is only one symptom of the cancer that goes beyond the law enforcement powers of national boundaries. It links governments, criminals, corporations, traffickers and international leaders. It's too big for any single country to tackle - as the perpetrators slide their assets to other jurisdictions and play off one leader against another. If DC clamps down on the BVI in the Caribbean, the assets will go anywhere else that is happy to hold the money and not think about the ethics and the impact.


If ethics and morals really matter to David Cameron and if he wants credibility for his campaign to clean up corruption across the world, he needs to show some leadership and impose a clean open culture onto any of the British overseas territories that have secretive accounting regimes – and he can do so as the British government still has ultimate power over them.  


At MTM, our consultants help clients manage their reputation, but we have an ethical code that states that we will never hide corruption or criminal activity if we come across it. Our own personal motivation is to help others - not our personal gain. If Mr Cameron want to leave office with a reputation for leading change and a legacy of tackling corruption and crime, perhaps he should put the interests of those who are damaged by the corruption, tax avoidance and gains from international criminal activities before the interests of those who warn him from interfering in the legislative powers of secretive UK dependencies.   


He should also demand inter-governmental coordinated action to set up an international team to investigate and expose corruption and international crime with the power to prosecute and hold to account those found guilty, in a similar way to how the International Court for Human Rights operates.