Last week I wrote about the gap between prosecutions for transnational bribe paying and transnational bribe taking. Even after a bribe payer in one state has been convicted or pled guilty, most countries where the bribe was paid have shown little interest in investigating who took the bribe – an often easy inquiry given the evidence unearthed in the bribe payer case. I also noted that in almost every instance the bribe was paid by a firm in an OECD country to a government official in a developing state.
If the demand for bribes is not curbed while the risk of prosecution for paying them remains, OECD-based firms are likely to become more and more reluctant to do business in developing states, a trend already evident in their declining share of World Bank financed contracts. The winners: corrupt officials in developing countries and firms in nations that condone corruption. The losers: honest firms and the citizens of poor nations, the former shut out of promising markets and the latter denied the products and services these companies offer. How to reverse the drift toward this unhappy state of affairs?
The first step is publicity. Some bribe takers may be powerful enough to quietly kill any effort to prosecute them but not strong enough to do so under the klieg lights of public scrutiny. Publicity will also prompt opposition parties, civil society groups, and the media to ask uncomfortable questions. Why hasn’t an investigation been opened after a foreign company admitted bribing a local official? Or why has an investigation languished for so long with no apparent progress? Outlaw states like North Koreas may be immune to such pressures, but more democratic states are not. Outside pressure can also help those in anticorruption agencies and prosecution services counter directions to refrain from opening cases.
In every bribe-paying case in an OECD country that ends in a conviction or admission of guilt the public record will show where the bribe was paid and in some instances provide sufficient detail to identify if not who took the bribe at least where he or she worked. A local anticorruption NGO could summarize what each case reveals, and investigative reporters would have a field day trying to find out who took how much and why action has been delayed or blocked. Civil society could regularly report the progress or lack thereof in prosecuting bribe takers.
The interests of OECD businesses and anticorruption activists are in full accord here, the businesses want a level playing field in developing country markets, the activists less corruption. An alliance seems obvious: the businesses provide financing and some data, the activists fill in the rest of the data and the public pressure. What is the delay?