Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, OECD
9 December 2009, Washington, D.C., United States
Broadcast live at the Roundtable on Foreign Bribery: Who Pays the Price? taking place in Paris, France
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Ten years ago, foreign bribery was a crime without a punishment in most countries. While the United States had its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, companies in many other countries regarded paying bribes to win foreign contracts as just part of business as usual.
Today, we celebrate International Anti-Corruption Day and the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention, the first multilateral step towards ending this crime. We are also unveiling a new Anti-Bribery Recommendation that was recently adopted by the countries that have signed the Convention to help us do a better job of fighting foreign bribery.
Thanks to the Convention and to the commitment of the countries that are Parties to it, foreign bribery is now a criminal offense in much of the world. Companies based in the 38 countries that have signed the Convention no longer benefit from tax deductions for bribe payments. Because of this collective crackdown on corruption, some 150 sanctions have been imposed for cases involving foreign bribery. Another 250 cases are under investigation.
I would like to thank the Parties to the Convention for their hard work and commitment over the past ten years. Thanks to you, we have succeeded in putting the bribery of foreign public officials on the global anti-corruption agenda. Your rigorous system for reviewing compliance with the Convention is considered a model throughout the international anti-corruption community. This system ensures that Parties to the Convention must put words into action.
Thanks also go to our partners from civil society and the private sector, especially Transparency International, for their ongoing and invaluable input and support.
Foreign bribery remains a major problem
Despite all these efforts, however, foreign bribery remains a major problem. At the same time as we celebrate our achievements, we need to step up our efforts to remove this major obstacle to a stronger, cleaner and fairer world economy.
Billions of dollars are still wasted every year on bribes. Indeed, surveys show that we have some major communication work to do. Many companies doing business abroad are still not fully aware of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention or its implications for their business. That is why we are launching a drive to raise global awareness, so that companies know that they need to take effective measures to prevent foreign bribery by their employees and agents; and so that law enforcement authorities treat any cases of such bribery as a matter of priority.
Our event today is a part of a broader agenda. In partnership with other international organizations and with NGOs, private-sector organisations and other key stakeholders in the international fight against foreign bribery, the OECD is developing an initiative to highlight the devastating impact of foreign bribery.
The current economic crisis makes this initiative more urgent than ever. With stretched budgets putting governments under pressure to make public expenditure more effective, there is no money to waste. At the same time, there are fears that toughening competition may make companies more open to corruption. Markets for public procurement are particularly vulnerable and call for particular vigilance.
The future of the fight against bribery
The OECD is determined to overcome these challenges. We cannot let our citizens, local businesses and whole nations pay the price of corruption.
The new Anti-Bribery Recommendation adopted by the OECD Council and all Parties to the Convention introduces new provisions for combating small facilitation payments, for protecting whistleblowers, and for improving lines of communication between public officials and law enforcement authorities. This new instrument complements the Convention. It improves our ability to prevent, detect and prosecute foreign bribery as a crime. It will make a real change.
Next year, the Parties to the Convention will start reporting on how they apply the Recommendation. Meanwhile, we are continuing to engage major emerging economies through regional anti-corruption programmes spanning the globe. Already, along with the 30 OECD countries, Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Estonia, Israel, Slovenia and South Africa have signed the Convention. Russia has officially requested to join. We are encouraging other countries to follow suit. The G20 Summit in Pittsburgh gave a big push to the Convention. G20 leaders have called on us to strengthen our efforts to have more countries signing.
Today, on International Anti-Corruption Day, I am encouraged to see so many of us gathered together in Washington and Paris, committed to the fight against foreign bribery. Together, the message we are sending on foreign bribery is clear: The only ones who should pay the price for this crime are its perpetrators.