January 21, 2009
The reviewing stands are still being dismantled along Pennsylvania Avenue and the new President and First Lady have just finished up their rounds of inaugural balls, but one could hear in the sharp cadence of his inaugural speech that Barack Obama is eager to get into the Oval Office and get to work.
He obviously cares about corruption. Read the speech he gave during his 2006 visit to Kenya (posted below) and his words from yesterday.
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
What should his opening agenda include? We asked two prominent members of the anti-bribery community to send along their “wish lists” for the new U.S. administration.
Nicola Bonucci is the Director of Legal Affairs at the OECD, where he has served since 1993, -- before the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention had entered into force. He has been a member of the examining teams that visit member countries, including those considered to be the most controversial. Bonucci wants America to back the OECD convention and to continue to insist on its enforcement, both by the US and by other countries:
"In the aftermath of the financial crisis the fight against transnational corruption is both a moral imperative and an economic priority in terms of fair competition. The new administration should strengthen the US support of effective implementation of the OECD Convention against Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. It is also vital that companies from new economic powers like China, India and Russia be held accountable to the same legal standards as the Parties to Convention.”
The uneven implementation of the convention has left the companies of some countries looking over their shoulders at every turn, while others could proceed with confidence that their governments - most notoriously Japan and the United Kingdom - would do little or nothing. Worse still, of course, are companies based in countries like China and Russia, which seem to see western preoccupation with anti-bribery compliance as a competitive advantage.
Next, we asked François Vincke, Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission of the International Chamber of Commerce. Vincke wants to see the US work to put teeth into the UN Anti-Corruption Convention.
"The first and foremost priority would be that a genuine, effective and continuous monitoring system be installed for the UN anti-corruption convention. Only when such a system is in place, may one hope for a corruption- free market."
While a useful grand statement of principle, the UN Convention has none of the monitoring capability of the OECD Convention.
Our own thoughts? In keeping with the optimism of the day, we'd like to see it become much more difficult for corrupt officials to benefit from their crimes. Anti-bribery efforts won't succeed until those who demand bribes fear the consequences of exposure in the same way that those who pay them have begun to. There's hope on this front. With efforts like StAR, (the Stolen Asset Recovery initiative, the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are working, with the support of INTERPOL to reduce the likelihood that corrupt officials will be able to enjoy the money they skim or loot. If kleptocrats can't keep or spend their ill-gotten gains, perhaps the obscene pace of looting will slow a bit.
Two final wishes from us on behalf of compliance professionals everywhere: we'd like to see more clarity and greater benefits for the companies that are working to get this issue right. Companies continue to question the benefit of voluntary disclosure. They're assured that the benefit is considerable, but the decision is often a tough sell to management and "considerable" isn't always enough to take back to the Board when the stakes are so high. (And wasn't Siemens applauded for its cooperation? What were the initial penalties if full cooperation reduced them to $1.6 billion?!) And we'll keep asking - without much optimism in this case - for safe harbors on gifts and hospitality. Companies could redirect increasingly scarce compliance resources to fighting the big battles if they weren't, as so many are, vetting $40 logo'd giveaways and $50 lunches.
Tomorrow, we'll post the first of our series of compliance dilemmas, together with proposed solutions.