Should We Lament Trump’s Nixing Greater Transparency in Oil and Gas?

President Trump’s February 14 approval of the Joint Resolution repealing the rule that American companies disclose publicly all payments to governments for extracting oil and gas from their lands has provoked much lamenting.  The lamenters see it as a major setback to the fight against corruption, taking it as a given that greater transparency in the oil and gas industry leads to less corruption.

Rather than assuming that this is true, I decided to look at the evidence. The best place I could find to look was the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.  The 49 governments who along with their civil society groups and private sectors have committed to EITI regularly publish two things: 1) all significant (“material”) oil, gas, and mining payments made by companies, whether state-owned or privately-held, to the government and 2) all material revenues the government receives from these companies.  EITI requires that this information be widely distributed in an accessible, comprehensive and understandable manner, and indeed EITI requires more than simple transparency.  The total amount companies report paying and the total government says it receives must be reconciled annually by an independent administrator which must then report any discrepancies.  No better a formula for ensuring that transparency leads to less corruption would seem on offer.

So what effect has EITI had in the decade plus it has been in operation?  Does the transparency engendered by the EITI actually result in better governance and development outcomes in EITI compliant countries? How well do EITI countries perform, or improve over time, compared to other countries on selected political and economic indicators?

As luck would have it, these are precisely the questions Professors Benjamin Sovacool, Götz Walter, Thijs Van De Graaf, and Nathan Andrews address in a 2016 article in World Development.  Their answers should bring cheer to those lamenting repeal of the U.S. rule.  Continue reading

State-Level Responses to Trump’s Business Conflicts: A More Promising Line of Attack?

It is genuinely alarming how much Donald Trump seems intent—in true kleptocratic/crony capitalist style—on using his position as President to advance the commercial and financial interests of himself, his immediate family members, and their various business enterprises. As I’ve written before, this approach to governance (if you can call it that) has plenty of precedents elsewhere in the world, but it’s a new experience for Americans. One hopes the U.S. electorate will come to its senses and throw the bum out in four years, but that’s a long way away. In the meantime, the hope that the President might be impeached over his possibly unconstitutional conflicts of interest seems profoundly unrealistic: Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and most Republicans actually seem quite happy to accommodate themselves to a Trump Administration if it enables them to advance their policy goals. Even those Republicans who find Trump’s conduct inexcusable are far more worried about a primary challenge supported by Trump’s rabid supporters than they are about the general electorate. For the same reason, proposals for new federal legislation that would strengthen ethical restraints on the President, whatever their symbolic value, are likely dead-on-arrival as practical proposals. Perhaps understandably, some anticorruption advocates have placed their hopes in the federal courts, most notably through lawsuits alleging that the Trump Organization’s business dealings with foreign governments violate the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, though for reasons I have explained in previous posts (see here and here), I’m doubtful that such lawsuits have much chance of success.

This is all very depressing, and I acknowledge that in the short term there’s relatively little that can be done; the ultimate remedy will have to be through the electoral process. Nonetheless, I do think that the ideas of enacting new legislation and pursuing certain forms of litigation do hold some promise as means to impose significant constraints on Trumpian corruption. The problem with the proposals I noted above is that they involve proposed responses at the federal level, and for the most part they target the President himself. There’s an alternative, though: Litigation and legislation at the state level, targeting Trump’s business interests and their potential commercial partners. Though hardly a complete solution, there may be a number of things to do at the state level to constrain at least some of the abuses associated with politically-connected business interests that seek to leverage those political connections for commercial advantage, or to facilitate corrupt or otherwise unlawful conduct. To illustrate, let me note a couple of ideas that other experts have floated about how aggressive state attorneys general (or perhaps private litigants) might make use of existing state laws to target Trumpian corruption: Continue reading

Trump Official: Fighting Foreign Bribery “Solemn Duty” of Justice Department “Regardless of Party Affiliation”

The Trump Administration official with immediate responsibility for overseeing enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act suggested yesterday there would be little change in the act’s enforcement under the new administration.  Trevor N. McFadden, newly-installed as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, told a Washington audience that while it would be “hard to predict exactly” how enforcement will evolve, “some common themes are clear.”  The three he identified:

1)  FCPA enforcement will continue to be a priority.  “The FCPA has been and remains an important tool in this country’s fight against corruption.”  McFadden underlined that at his confirmation hearing incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions “explicitly noted his commitment to enforcing the FCPA, and to prosecuting fraud and corruption more generally.”  McFadden went on to stress that “The fight against official corruption is a solemn duty of the Justice Department, emphasizing that “each generation of Department leaders and line prosecutors takes up this mantel from their predecessors, regardless of party affiliation.”

2)  Prosecution of individuals remains a priority.  In a September 2015 Memo to Justice Department prosecutors, “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing,” then Obama Administration Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates stressed the importance of prosecuting individual corporate executives and employees for corporate crimes. In his remarks McFadden not only seconded this effort but suggested that the growing cooperation between the Department and foreign law enforcement authorities would lead to its expansion. “The Criminal Division will continue to prioritize prosecutions of individuals who have willfully and corruptly violated the FCPA. … Indeed, our partnerships with foreign authorities are increasingly allowing us to ensure that even individuals living abroad are held accountable for their actions.”

3) Cooperating defendants will be rewarded.  Seconding a long-standing DoJ policy, the newly appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General said a corporation’s voluntary disclosure of violations coupled with its cooperation and remedial efforts will remain an important factor when making charging decisions.  “These principles continue to guide our prosecutorial discretion determinations, and they further our ultimate goal of compliance with the law.”

McFadden spoke to a group of lawyers, accountants, and others involved in counseling corporations on FCPA issues at a conference organized by Global Investigations Review, perhaps the leading global news service on the enforcement of corporate criminal law.  Previously a partner at a major American law firm, McFadden brings a background both in public service, as an aide to the Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush Administration, and in private practice where he specialized in FCPA compliance work.  From all accounts a mainstream Republican who could well have been appointed to the same position by any Republican president, McFadden’s remarks strongly suggest that whatever changes the Trump Administration may have in store elsewhere, it will not back off vigorous enforcement of the FCPA. The full text of his remarks are here.

Civil Society on Returning Stolen Assets to Highly Corrupt Governments

 

The return of the proceeds of corruption to the victim country is a “fundamental principle” of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  How that return is to be realized, however, remains subject to dispute, particularly when the victim country’s government is highly corrupt.  Should governments where the stolen assets are discovered send them back no matter how corrupt the victim country’s government is?  Wouldn’t the return to a highly corrupt government frustrate the Convention’s most basic purpose — the prevention of corruption.

How to resolve this tension has been the subject of vigorous debate on this blog (hereherehereherehere and here).  Now some 50 members of the UNCAC Coalition’s Civil Society Working Group on Accountable Asset Return, from both countries where stolen assets have been found and those where return has been requested or realized, have weighed in.  In a February 14 letter to an UNCAC conference on asset recovery (addis-ababa-conf-agenda-february-2017-updated-02-02-2017), they write that where the victim country’s government is highly corrupt, it should be bypassed: “returning and receiving countries should in consultation with a broad spectrum of relevant experts and non-state actors find alternative means of managing the stolen assets” (emphasis in original).  The letter offers powerful arguments in support of its position.  The full text and the list of signers follows.  Continue reading

After the Repeal of the U.S. Publish-What-You-Pay Rule, What Happens Next?

As most readers of this blog are likely aware, despite the valiant lobbying efforts of a broad and bipartisan swath of the anticorruption community (as well as a last-minute plug from GAB), the United States House and Senate recently passed a joint resolution, pursuant to a statute called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to repeal the “Publish What You Pay” (PWYP) rules for the extractive sector (oil, gas, mining) that the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) had promulgated pursuant to a statutory mandate contained in Section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Once President Trump signs the CRA joint resolution disapproving the PWYP rule, it is wiped off the books. Professor Bonnie Palifka’s post last week explained some of the reasons why PWYP rules are so important to fighting corruption in the extractive sector, and why this repeal is the first sign that the new administration, and the Republican-controlled Congress, threaten to undermine U.S. anticorruption efforts and leadership. (For another very good analysis along similar lines, see here.) What I want to do in this post is to consider a somewhat more specific question: What are the implications of the CRA repeal of the SEC rule for the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act’s PWYP mandate going forward?

This turns out to be a tricky legal question, involving some unexplored and untested issues concerning the relationship between the Dodd-Frank Act, the implementing regulations, and the CRA. Let me start with a quick summary of the key legal provisions, keeping this as non-technical as possible: Continue reading

The 2016 CPI and the Value of Corruption Perceptions

Last month, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). As usual, the release of the CPI has generated widespread discussion and analysis. Previous GAB posts have discussed many of the benefits and challenges of the CPI, with particular attention to the validity of the measurement and the flagrant misreporting of its results. The release of this year’s CPI, and all the media attention it has received, provides an occasion to revisit important questions about how the CPI should and should not be used by researchers, policymakers, and others.

As past posts have discussed, it’s a mistake to focus on the change in each country’s CPI score from the previous year. These changes are often due to changes in the sources used to calculate the score, and most of these changes are not statistically meaningful. As a quick check, I compared the confidence intervals for the 2015 and 2016 CPIs and found that, for each country included in both years, the confidence intervals overlap. (While this doesn’t rule out the possibility of statistically significant changes for some countries, it suggests that a more rigorous statistical test is required to see if the changes are meaningful.) Moreover, even though a few changes each year usually pass the conventional thresholds for statistical significance, with 176 countries in the data, we should expect some of them to exhibit statistical significance, even if in fact all changes are driven by random error. Nevertheless, international newspapers have already begun analyses that compare annual rankings, with headlines such as “Pakistan’s score improves on Corruption Perception Index 2016” from The News International, and “Demonetisation effect? Corruption index ranking improves but a long way to go” from the Hidustan Times. Alas, Transparency International sometimes seems to encourage this style of reporting, both by showing the CPI annual results in a table, and with language such as “more countries declined than improved in this year’s results.” After all, “no change” is no headline.

Although certain uses of the CPI are inappropriate, such as comparing each country’s movement from one year to the next, this does not mean that the CPI is not useful. Indeed, some critics have the unfortunate tendency to dismiss the CPI out of hand, often emphasizing that corruption perceptions are not the same as corruption reality. That is certainly true—TI goes out of its way to emphasize this point with each release of a new CPI— but there are at least two reasons why measuring corruption perceptions is valuable: Continue reading

Good News in the Anticorruption War

I had planned to write a reply, and partial rebuttal, to last week’s posts by Matthew and Travis on ethics, corruption, and Donald Trump.  The more I tried to come up with something to say, however, the more depressed I grew.  Instead, as a tonic — for this writer and perhaps others born or living in Trumplandia — what follows is instead good news on the global anticorruption front –

Laos: Shedding Fancy Government Vehicles that Smack of Corruption.  A December decree orders all government officials to trade their government-bought Mercedes, BMWs, Lexus, and other high-end vehicles for more modest means of transport.  Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and President Bounnhang Vorachit have both returned their BMW 7 Series and now drive Toyota Camry 2.5 cars instead. Other ministry and party officials must follow suit. (Details here.)

The Netherlands: Civil Society Attacks Money Launderers.  SMX Collective, a grassroots organization of Dutch and Mexican activists, academics, artists, journalists, curators and researchers concerned about the extreme impunity and violence suffered by Mexican people, has filed a complaint with the Dutch Public Prosecutor demanding the Dutch Bank Rabobank be charged with money laundering for its role in aiding Mexican drug cartels.  Vigorous pursuit of banks and other intermediaries for facilitating corrupt activities is urgently required, and Dutch civil society’s complaint is a welcome sign and an example others should copy.  For an English language summary of the complaint, click on “Continue Reading” at the bottom of the page.

France & Peru: Former Heads of State in Anticorruption Dock.  Prosecutors are pursuing charges against former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for campaign finance violations (NYT account here; Le Monde here) and former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo for accepting a bribe (AP/NYT here; El Comercio here).  Neither case seems political.  Both have been brought by career law enforcement authorities who have no apparent ax, political or otherwise to grind.  The two may ultimately be found innocent by their nations’ courts, but the fact that high office in the two countries does not automatically carry with it immunity from prosecution for corruption crimes has to be considered very good news.

All three stories lifted my spirits.  I trust it will help other readers recognize that despite the fact President Trump is unlikely to fall over corruption claims (nicely explained by New Yorker writer James Surowieki here), the war against corruption is proceeding apace.

Summary in English of SMX complaint:  Continue reading