April 18, 2009
Four of the nine commissioners from Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission spent this week in Washington describing their anti-corruption efforts and learning more about the American model. I had the opportunity to meet with them informally earlier today. They are a committed and forward-leaning team. They maintained a rigorous schedule all week in order to make the most of their time in Washington.
By the time we met, they were conversant in the language of FCPA enforcement, but they hadn’t heard of facilitating payments. When I asked their opinion of this exception under the FCPA, they first looked a little embarrassed for me, -- as if I couldn’t possible have it right. When I insisted, they looked startled. In a lively exchange, we discussed the exception under the FCPA using, for example, US companies making payments to Thai customs officials to expedite routine, non-discretionary tasks. When they finally concluded that the confusion couldn’t be chalked up to a linguistic problem, they looked quite horrified. “We would consider that a bribe. We would prosecute that.” And, finally: “If that is in your law, please fix it.”
We complain about the constant harassment abroad for petty pay-offs and the failure on the part of foreign enforcement agencies to deter bribe-demands by their government officials. It’s worth considering the message we send when we explain to these officials that, when it comes to facilitating payments at least, they’re on their own.