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Helping Countries Combat Corruption: The Role of the World Bank

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8. International Efforts

Corruption is an international problem that requires international solutions. Much corruption occurs in international business, including international government procurement, where the Bank has a special interest. To be successful, efforts to reduce this kind of corruption must deal with it at its source in capital-exporting countries as well as in developing countries. Work along these lines is being carried out by international organizations, particularly regional organizations, and by international business groups. Acts of internal corruption often have international ramifications, as is the case when their authors flee to another country to avoid detection or prosecution or try to launder the proceeds abroad. Bank secrecy laws in some countries may hinder efforts of national investigators to trace the proceeds of bribery or other corrupt actions. Efforts are under way to improve international cooperation in the detection and prosecution of corruption and money laundering. Governments that are starting to deal with corruption have much to learn from those that have already mounted successful campaigns against it. Here too international organizations have started to collect the experiences of their members and to organize training and other programs aimed at sharing these experiences and developing the skills of the officials charged with dealing with corruption in their member countries.

Most of the efforts of international organizations are directed at the criminalization of corruption. Only to the extent that bribery is punished as a crime can the full government machinery, including police and the judiciary, be mobilized to fight it. Most common forms of corruption, such as bribery of public officials, are a criminal offense in most countries. Only the United States has enacted a statute specifically to criminalize international bribery. Regional international organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the Council of Europe, are drafting international conventions to establish minimum standards in defining corruption as a criminal offense. In addition, the OECD is drafting an international convention whose signatories would criminalize international bribery of foreign public officials.

As has been explained in the preceding chapters, the Bank's efforts to help its member countries combat corruption will focus on economic and policy reform and institutional strengthening. These efforts will complement those of other international organizations and business groups. The Bank's borrowers can benefit from the mutually reinforcing combination of the assistance the Bank is offering on economic and sector reform and institutional strengthening and the assistance the other organizations are offering on detecting and prosecuting corruption and related matters.

Current international initiatives

Although corruption of national officials is a criminal offense in most countries, transnational bribery generally is not. Making international corruption a crime will require changing laws or adopting new ones, as well as mechanisms to enforce them. Both will require parliamentary support and enforcement machinery. Except for the United States, which adopted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977, countries have been reluctant to act unilaterally for fear of jeopardizing the business interests of their nationals by subjecting them to more stringent standards of behavior than their foreign competitors. International organizations provide a forum in which to agree on common definitions and standards and to coordinate actions. Regional organizations have sponsored international conventions making bribery (including international bribery) a crime.The Bank will lend its voice in support of these efforts.

The Organization of American States' Convention.  The most advanced effort so far is the Organization of American States' (OAS) Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, adopted in Caracas, Venezuela, March 29, 1996. Twenty-three of the OAS' thirty-five members have signed the convention. The convention is now in force between the countries that have ratified it: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. The convention is open to ratification by all OAS member states, and any other state may accede to it.

Building on the convention, the OAS General Assembly adopted a comprehensive Plan Against Corruption at its meeting in Lima, Peru, in June 1997. Under this plan the OAS will provide support to its member countries and cooperate with local populations and other international organizations—including the Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (which is also preparing a plan of action), and the OECD—in preventing and controlling corruption.

OECD Working Group on Bribery.   The OECD initiative, begun in 1994, encourages member states to end the tax deductibility of bribes and criminalize the bribing of foreign officials. In 1996 the OECD Council adopted a recommendation on ending tax deductibility for foreign bribery, and member states, within the framework of their laws, are now amending legislation to reflect this recommendation. At its ministerial-level meeting in May 1997, the OECD Council endorsed the Revised Recommendation on Combating Bribery in International Business Transactions, prepared by the OECD Working Group on Corruption (in which the Bank participates as an observer). In particular, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to criminalizing bribery of foreign public officials in an effective and coordinated manner. They recommended that member countries submit criminalization proposals to their legislative bodies by April 1, 1998, and seek their enactment by the end of 1998. They also decided to open negotiations on a convention to be completed by the end of 1997 with a view to its entry into force as soon as possible in 1998. Ministers also urged the prompt implementation of the 1996 recommendation on ending tax deductibility for foreign bribery.

In related work, at the May 1996 High Level Meeting the OECD's Development Assistance Committee recommended that members "introduce or require anticorruption provisions governing bilateral aid-funded procurement." Many countries have followed the same path as the Bank in making more explicit the action that will be taken if bribery is found.

The European Union.   On May 21, 1997, the European Commission (EC) adopted a Communication to the Council and the European Parliament on a Union Policy against Corruption. This communication sets out the EC's comprehensive policy on corruption inside the EU as well as in its relations with nonmember countries. The communication deals with a wide range of actions, including the ratification of conventions criminalizing the corruption of EC officials and officials of member countries, eliminating the tax deductibility of bribes, reforming public procurement, accounting, and auditing systems, and so on. In the case of nonmember countries, the communication proposes to "establish a coherent anticorruption strategy in the area of its cooperation with third countries which benefit from EC assistance or have concluded cooperation or assistance agreements with the EC," and to establish special anticorruption programs, particularly in the applicant countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Council of Europe.   The Council of Europe Programme of Action Against Corruption, prepared by the Multidisciplinary Group on Corruption and adopted by the Committee of Ministers in November 1996, serves as the basis for the preparation of a convention on corruption under which parties would agree to legislate (if necessary) to criminalize certain corrupt behavior. In addition, the Multidisciplinary Group on Corruption has undertaken work on the administrative and civil law aspects of corruption. The Council of Europe also provides technical assistance to its Eastern European member countries, and the Bank will participate in some of its activities.

The United Nations.  In December 1996 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a Declaration against Corruption and Bribery in International Commercial Transactions, as recommended by the UN Economic and Social Council. Although not legally binding, the declaration's wording on criminalizing foreign bribery and ending its tax deductibility signifies broad political agreement in the international community on this matter. In February 1996 the UN General Assembly recommended that the Economic and Social Council take steps to prevent illicit payments.

Financial Action Task Force.   The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering has been active in addressing money laundering and expanding the list of offenses, including corruption, that constitute money laundering. The task force's forty recommendations include nondrug predicate offenses and require the criminalization of money laundering based on "serious offenses." This recognizes that it is practically impossible to distinguish between drug trafficking proceeds and their laundering and any other type of dirty money. Each jurisdiction is responsible for determining which crimes should be designated as money laundering offenses. This opens the way for countries to include corruption as an offense. Originally targeted at OECD countries, the forty recommendations are now also being addressed to middle-income countries in the hope that governments adopt them and cooperate with other authorities in international efforts to control money laundering. In this way national efforts can be supported by international action and vice versa.

International Business Initiatives.   In March 1996 the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) issued revised Rules of Conduct to Combat Extortion and Bribery in International Business Transactions. The rules prohibit extortion and bribery for any purpose. They also recommend implementation of the 1994 OECD recommendation on curbing bribery in international business. The rules are not binding on ICC members, but corporations may endorse them voluntarily. To promote the new rules, the ICC has set up a standing committee of business executives, lawyers, and academics. ICC national committees mobilize support for the rules in their countries.

Nongovernmental organizations.  NGOs around the world are participating in the efforts of local governments and other entities to curb corruption. Among the international NGOs, Transparency International (TI), based in Berlin, Germany, aims to curb corruption through international and national coalitions encouraging governments to establish and implement effective laws, policies, and anticorruption programs; build public support for anticorruption programs and enhance public transparency and accountability in international business transactions and public procurement; and encourage all parties to international business transactions to operate at the highest levels of integrity, guided by TI's Standards of Conduct. Transparency International has more than seventy national chapters that fight corruption at the national level, has contributed significantly to making corruption a public issue in the press and elsewhere, and is cooperating with international organizations (including the Bank) in actions against corruption.

Bank actions at the international level

The Bank's efforts to fight international corruption will focus on ensuring that its member countries derive the greatest benefit from the synergy between its activities and those of other international actors. To this end the Bank will work closely with other development finance institutions and the IMF and bring its experience to bear in deliberations with other organizations active in the fight against corruption. The Bank will:

  • Cooperate with the other multilateral development banks and with bilateral donors by informing them of how it plans to help its member countries in this area, and undertaking joint or coordinated activities as appropriate.
  • Cooperate closely with the IMF, recognizing the complementary roles of the Bank and the Fund, with each institution focusing on its area of expertise. Especially important is the IMF's work with member countries to establish sound macroeconomic policies and strengthen government budgeting and financial management. Support for central bank supervision of the banking system is another vital area, which complements the Bank's work on financial policy.
  • Continue to contribute to the work of the regional organizations engaged in the fight against corruption, including the OECD, the Council of Europe, and the OAS, and participate in technical assistance and other activities as appropriate.
  • Develop and maintain contacts with other agencies active in this area, such as the UN Development Programme, the UN Drug Control Program, the UN Center for Crime Prevention and Control, the World Customs Organization, the World Trade Organization, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and professional bodies such as the International Commission of Jurists, the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, the International Bar Association and the International Federation of Accountants, and the Financial Action Task Force, which coordinates international efforts against money laundering.
  • Consult with the business community to better understand its perspective on corruption. For many firms bribery is a reality of the business environment. How firms cope with corruption, the influence it has on business decisions, and the measures they believe will be effective in controlling it are of considerable interest to the Bank and its borrowers.
  • Consult with NGOs to gain their insights and exchange views on the Bank's approach. The World Bank/NGO Committee can organize such consultations.
  • Explain in the country dialogue how international efforts complement domestic action. Borrowers embarking on domestic programs should know they are not acting alone but are supported by international efforts to control transnational bribery and money laundering. They will also be interested in the experiences of other countries combating corruption.
  • Use conferences and the media to explain the need to control fraud and corruption and to maintain international public awareness of the Bank's contribution to this effort. The Bank can explain the costs of corruption and actions countries can take to address its causes. In particular, the Bank is well placed to demonstrate how economic policy reform can reduce rents and thus contribute significantly to the control of corruption.
  • Research transnational aspects of bribery. There is scope for empirical research on the effects of corruption on foreign direct investment, trading patterns, and the prices countries pay for imported goods.

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