Winning the fight against corruption

Secretary-General of the OECD

©OECD Observer

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is ten years old this year. In that short time it has established itself as the first truly effective global instrument to fight corruption in cross-border business deals. But despite enormous advances, the fight against bribery must continue. And the key to further progress depends on the resolve and willpower of OECD member countries.
Since we enacted the Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997, OECD and six other partner countries have made it a criminal offence for their companies to bribe foreign officials in commercial transactions anywhere in the world. The Convention is changing the way we do business.Governments have passed new anti-bribery laws; they have set up special investigators and prosecutors. And many multinational companies have made important changes in how they conduct business, too. The Convention is reinforced by rigorous monitoring of its implementation–called the “gold standard” of monitoring by Transparency International–and by the organisation’s robust anti-bribery tools and expertise in areas such as taxation, export credits, development aid, and corporate and public sector governance. Indeed, the days when some OECD countries allowed bribes to be deducted from taxes are over!The OECD has raised awareness among governments, business and the public around the world of the harm bribery can do. Put bluntly, corruption is a cancer that corrodes value, trust and public welfare. It destroys competitive markets, leading to unfinished roads, crumbling schools and crippled health systems. Democracy is weakened and millions of people are kept in poverty.The OECD takes its lead role in that fight very seriously. Companies based in our countries supply much of the world’s business activity, from public procurement to financial services. It is in our interest to ensure that bidders from OECD countries operate fairly in those markets. That means continuing to help countries on every continent to put an end to bribery. And we must continue to work with the UN to help it implement its own Convention and assist aid donors with their development programmes.The good news is that our efforts are paying off! Every year there are more and more investigations of foreign bribery. The number of convictions is increasing. Over 100 cases are being investigated, and some have been successfully prosecuted. Convictions in Korea and Sweden and a trial of a major engineering firm in Germany owe much to new OECD-inspired laws. Influential media now report on the OECD Convention as a serious arbiter of good government performance. This is progress indeed.Take also the much-reported case involving UK defence contracts with Saudi Arabia. A decision to further the investigation of the effectiveness of the UK’s bribery laws has been made by the other Parties to the Convention; these are the UK’s own peers. Similar supplementary reviews have or will be done for Japan and Ireland. Others may follow. All reviews will be handled firmly and in the co-operative, constructive spirit that our members expect.A key test is how our assessments are picked up by our members and how the authorities respond, for that is where the real responsibility lies. Encouragingly, both Ireland and the UK have said they will be updating their bribery laws. Substantive progress is needed on this, but it is proof of how effective pressure among peers can be.The trouble is that the number of prosecutions in the OECD should be far higher. In too many countries, not a single case has been prosecuted! We need more cases to confirm the value of the Convention as a tool for rooting out bribery and improving the competitive conditions of the global market. They are milestones to remind us of what is at stake. Without the Convention, much OECD-generated bribery would simply go unreported. But the real success of the OECD Convention in tackling the supply side of bribery depends on the actions of our members. No country should fall behind in its obligations as this undermines the collective efforts of their partners and gives bribery the upper hand. Winning the fight against bribery requires constant effort. It demands resources and political backing. It requires high technical capacity and a united resolve among partners to overcome very powerful interests.The OECD is constantly updating its efforts. New procedures for a future phase of monitoring the Convention’s implementation are being devised and our anti-bribery instruments are being reinforced to reflect the very highest standards. Co-operation with other bodies and major economies is being enhanced.But no matter how much we strengthen our efforts, our effectiveness will depend on the willpower of our political leaders to enforce anti-bribery laws. Inevitably, cases of bribery will hit the news and cause unease along the way, but it is only by dealing seriously with such cases that we will all improve the score.That is what the OECD is about: advanced democracies cooperating with each other to make the global economy work better. The fight against bribery is very much part of that job, and it is a fight the OECD is determined to win. ©OECD Observer No. 260 March 2007

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