For the sixth year running the Organization for Economic and Cooperation is hosting a two-day conference on ethics and corruption. This year’s theme is how corruption has eroded trust in government and is helping advance what Secretary General Gurria termed in his opening remarks the three destructive “isms” haunting the world today: populism, nationalism, and protectionism.
The organization’s members are 35 of the world’ s richest nations (all save Russia and the PRC), and despite extraordinary levels of wealth by any historical measure, and recent upbeat economic news, citizens across the 35 have soured on their governments. Trust in government across the 35 is at a record low while cynicism and distrust in elected leaders is at an all-time high, and though the Secretary General put much of the blame for the current funk on the 2008 economic crisis and the still uneven and unbalanced recovery, corruption, he stressed, has done its part. Revelations of wrong-doing at the highest levels of government coupled with the petty corruption that frustrates the delivery of basic government services has only deepened citizens’ suspicions in their government. If OECD member states are to win back citizens’ confidence, and avoid those destructive “isms,” they cannot, he argued, ignore the corruption question.
For those unable to fund a trip to Paris or with a sponsor or client willing to foot the bill, the conference home page with the agenda is here. Four things I found useful on day one:
First is the strong statements about the harm corruption does and the absolute necessity of combatting it from the Prime Ministers of Iceland and Norway and the Vice Presidents of Argentina and the European Commission at the opening session. It is one thing when academics and commentators say such things on a place like GAB. It is an altogether separate matter, and one that provides more powerful and useful quotes, when it is said by world leaders. The video of their remarks (all well-reasoned and of reasonable length to boot!) can be accessed from here. (I trust the OECD will post the text of the remarks shortly.)
Second, if there is any doubt the OECD is the “go to” place for material on government ethics and integrity, simply page through the links on the conference home page. The OECD’s mission is to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world” through providing a forum where governments “share experiences and seek solutions to common problems.” When it comes to ethics and integrity issues, this translates into bringing the heads of ethics and anticorruption agencies from member and non-member states together to compare notes, discuss issues, and explain how each deals with the problems all countries confront when policing ethics and promoting integrity. No other organization has such convening power and there is thus no other place where one can find so much material on ethics and integrity. See as just one example the several volume study on how countries regulate lobbying, an issue now at the top of the agenda in many member and non-member states.
Third, and worth a post of its own later, as part of this year’s conference the organization released an analysis of where and how the learning from behavioural economics can inform ethics law. One example. Behavioral Insights for Public Integrity suggests how to subtly reinforce ethical conduct among government personnel. Ethics officers might on a large project where there are integrity concerns request a conflict of interest declaration from members of the project team at the beginning, both to remind each one of their obligation and to let each one know the other has also been reminded. When circulating a notice to government staff about filing their financial disclosure, the ethics office should say something like “most colleagues have already submitted their asset declarations.” This will help boost compliance through creating a sense of “join the crowd.”
Finally, a session at day one featured a useful exchange on a topic discussed on this blog at length (here, here, here, and here for example). Corporate settlements of bribery cases. At a noon panel, the settlement process in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States was discussed along with what lessons their experiences might hold, either for other countries or for the promulgation of OECD guidelines. A further discussion will be had tomorrow. Stay tuned for a report.