U.K. Couple's Mission Is Core at Work and at Home
Neill and Catherine Stansbury ramp up their decade-long effort to fight construction corruption around the world
Catherine and Neill Stansbury turned their backs on lucrative careers as international corporate lawyers to concentrate on fighting construction corruption at home in the U.K. and abroad.
Over the last few years, the married couple has crafted, largely with their own funds, a graft-fighting machine that aims to raise corruption awareness and reaction among international construction practitioners. Now, the Stansburys are set to roll out a new product of their effort to tackle corruption on construction work in Africa. Their partner is the U.K. branch of Transparency International, (TI), the independent Berlin-based global watchdog.
The Stansburys’ Project Anti-Corruption System (PACS) is a package for designing and implementing corruption countermeasures on construction projects. It provides standards that owners and funding entities and other players can use to assess existing graft control measures and develop new ones.
The PACS rollout is part of the Stansburys’ strategy to raise awareness of corruption-fighting tools and ensure their application. By travelling and speaking widely, Neill fronts the couple’s work while “Catherine produces a prodigious amount of anti-corruption reports and business tools for the construction sector,” says Bob McKittrick, a former director of Scott Wilson Group plc. and a past president of the U.K. Institution of Structural Engineers. Their documents “explain how corruption takes place and the risks and costs it imposes on various project participants,” says McKittrick.
The Stansburys trace their abhorrence of corruption to their African upbringing. “Growing up in Kenya, I’ve seen the tremendous damage that it does,” says Catherine.
The couple met and married in Hong Kong, while Catherine worked for a commercial litigation firm and Neill was an attorney to a major local contractor. They formed their own firm in 1992 but relocated back to England to raise their daughters.
“We began to wonder that there must be a way to help the industry develop in a way that doesn’t need to be corrupt,” says Neill, noting the need for specific and systematic steps. To develop their ideas, Neill gave up paid work in 2002 and approached TI to help reach into the construction industry. TI agreed, but “we basically got ignored” by the industry, he says. Catherine turned full time to the anti-corruption crusade two years later.
McKittrick joined forces with the duo soon after. He “put his head above the parapet” in an address to the structural engineers group by damning corruption as evil and calling for professional action, Neill remembers. The collaboration, joined by others as well, led to creation of the U.K. Anti-Corruption Forum in 2004. The group, which Neill Stansbury coordinates, includes construction groups and firms. The Forum promotes industry-led actions to eliminate construction corruption at home and abroad. It posts large amounts of information on its Website, holds anti-graft conferences and “has gained respect among many U.K. and international organizations,” says McKittrick, who credits the Stansburys with its formation.
The couple noticed a “step change” in industry acceptance of anti-corruption efforts in 2005 following the release of their Anti-Corruption Code. It caused a stir by listing specific criminal laws that were routinely broken. “A lot of people in the construction industry don’t understand that what they are doing is criminal,” says Catherine. That led to this year’s widely-distributed Anti-Corruption Training manual, which teaches users how to avoid potentially illegal situations.
Since giving up their legal practice, the Stansburys have lived mainly off savings and expenses from TI. They now earn some fees, but “neither of us has a great desire to be immensely wealthy,” says Catherine.Their work is not an altruistic sabbatical but a long-term mission. “Neill and Catherine are totally dedicated to the cause of anti-corruption,” says McKittrick. “They put their heart and soul into all that they do.”
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