Bribery in international business

Opening Remarks by the Secretary-General at the Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General
Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions
Paris, Tuesday 16 January 2007

I am happy to be here with you this morning.  I am trying to get to know as many of the working groups and committees as I can.  But I confess that your subject - anti-corruption - has a special significance for me.  It is of crucial importance and an area where the OECD can and must provide real leadership.

This group has already shown great leadership:  when you negotiated the Convention in 1997; and when you agreed to a "gold standard" of monitoring to ensure its effective implementation.  And your work has had results.   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 do business.

You have put the finger on the damaging issue of foreign bribery.  Today governments, business and the public begin to understand the great harm that results from this practice. Making it a criminal offence in signatory countries is a big step forward from the past, when some countries considered it a crime and some others allowed it to be tax deductible.

But perhaps even more importantly:  you have raised expectations.  Other institutions are joining the anti-bribery fight.  The UN Convention has come into force.  The World Bank is strengthening its work against corruption.  Aid donors are making better governance a key issue in development assistance.  Groups like Transparency International are mobilising public opinion.  And grassroots organisations world-wide and many leaders are struggling to get a grip on this problem.

All these actors are looking to the OECD Convention to reduce the supply side of bribery.   Many believe that our success is vital to their success.  But certainly this is not an easy task. Enforcement is far more complicated not only because it requires high technical capacity and co-operation, but also because we are fighting very powerful interests.

I know that this is a crucial moment in your work.  Implementation of the Convention is delivering some outcomes.  Every year there are more and more investigations of foreign bribery.  And the number of convictions is increasing.  Yet the number of countries that can show results - among those represented in this room - is still far too low, and some others are stepping back. 

Over the coming year I know that you will take decisions on several important aspects of your future work. I would like to mention four:

  •  First, you will decide the new procedures to monitor implementation of the Convention.  The rigor of the monitoring known as "Phases 1 and 2" is recognised by anti-bribery campaigners everywhere.  It is a pledge of our determination to have a real impact on bribery.   Now you are faced with designing the next phase.  The business community and civil society are asking us to sustain and enhance our rigorous evaluation process.  I share this view.  Your monitoring has been a catalyst for action.  I was pleased to learn that your meetings in October suggested that this sentiment is widely shared among Parties to the Convention. 
  • Second, you will be examining the OECD anti-bribery instruments themselves.   These instruments - the Convention and the related recommendations - are the foundation of your work.  You are right to subject them to a critical review.  And I understand that there is a prospect that you will clarify and even reinforce some of the commitments they contain.    It is important that our tools and methods reflect the highest standards - and again, you have my full support.
  • Third, you also have new opportunities to exercise global leadership.  Co-operation with the United Nations regarding their Convention will be needed.  And you must foster stronger co-operation with other major trading and investing countries.  Indeed, I am very pleased on behalf of the Secretariat to welcome colleagues from China to this meeting.  I am sure that the information they provide on their policies and experiences in fighting corruption will be of immense interest to us all.
  • Fourth I know that at each meeting, this Group is conducting very interesting reviews of current anti-bribery allegations, and anti-bribery cases.  I understand that this part of the session is getting longer each time.  More cases are being uncovered, and they are being researched and being investigated.  On your session on cases, I understand you will take a particular look at issues that have arisen with respect to a case concerning the U.K., which is a source of concern regarding the application of the Convention provisions.    It is also a case that has received considerable press attention.  I have asked the Chair, and I have asked the Secretariat, to keep me informed about your procedures concerning this particular case.

When asked about the issue - and let me confirm that we have received many requests for interviews and comments- we have been extremely sober and mentioned rightly that you are the Group leading the way. I replied that you were going to start meeting today, that the issue was going to be addressed and that the Chairman has already engaged the parties concerned asking for the relevant information. I also said that in this meeting today, there would probably be a formal request for further information on the issue, so that eventually the Group can take a position. Certainly, the necessary time will be provided for the country involved in order to comment and produce the appropriate answers to your questions. 

There is a double edge here.  First of all, I am gratified that the OECD provides a forum, where we can have a full and frank exchange of views on these relevant and timely issues. On the other hand, there is an expectation that we can make sure that the integrity of the Convention is maintained by the Group. The perception is that these are cases in which the Convention itself is put to the test.  Clearly the political will of our members, collectively and individually, is of very critical importance, in order to make sure that the Convention is alive and well, and continues to rule the conduct of both companies and officials in governments on this matter.   

However, in general, I would say that there are certain cases, certain milestones that remind us of what is at stake. While some take the position that cases like this one diminish the relevance of the Convention, I would like to suggest the opposite. The real question is what would we be discussing if the Convention did not exist.  How would we focus on these issues, or on which precepts, on which principles, on which undertakings, on which chapters, on which paragraphs, on which formula would we be focussing on, had we no Convention to refer to;  had we no Convention to make for a more level playing field. Remember that we are coming from a time when it was a crime in some places, and deductible in some others.  It is not a question of asking whether the Convention is relevant or not.  The Convention is relevant; the Convention is alive and well.  The Convention is what keeps us around this table again and again, looking not only at the principles and the practices in different countries but also at individual cases which are the ones who make for the specifics, and therefore can better illustrate our goals. 

I am not overly concerned about the fact that we have a case or two that has become very newsworthy, and which casts doubts on whether the Convention is effective or not. 

I am actually more concerned that we don't have more of such cases and that some countries consider it is not their duty to actively pursue, actively investigate and actively prosecute more cases.  I can only leave you with the idea that each one of you should go out there and become a crusader in your own countries, with your own institutions.  I don't think we need to be told each time by Transparency International that we are not doing so well in terms of the application worldwide, or that the number of cases is still very small, or that in many countries there has not been a single case that has been prosecuted.  I can understand that some countries are particularly virtuous on the matter, but I don't think so many countries are so virtuous that they haven't even identified a single case.

So, if anything, the test is, to the contrary. It is not because we are dealing with famous cases, that we are not relevant enough, or that the Convention is not strong enough. The question is rather why we don't have more cases. We can do more, and we can do better. 

Finally, I realise that you hold only partial responsibility for success.  Of course you manage many technical issues and questions of initiative and active pursuit of corruption.  But an issue like anti-corruption also contains a strong political element.  It is political leaders who must put a high priority on fighting corruption and provide the resources and backing to this effort.  That is why I raise this issue whenever I visit leaders or participate in meetings with them. I will continue to support your work, and spread this message.


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