WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The world’s richest nations can strengthen their efforts to combat international bribery and financial crime by pooling their resources and cooperating more closely, a top anti-bribery cop said on Thursday.
Drago Kos, the new head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Group on Bribery, said the Group of 20 leading industrial nations and the OECD’s taxation, financial crime and good governance arms could have greater success by working together on anti-corruption.
“If the Working Group could serve as a facilitator of enhanced cooperation and synergies, I would be very glad to assist in these efforts,” Kos said in a telephone interview. “I cannot see any reasonable objection to this. It does not cost anything. It just means using what is already there.”
Kos takes over the leadership of the Working Group on Bribery this month at a challenging time. The Anti-Bribery Convention, which the working group implements, was a breakthrough agreement in setting global standards to prevent bribery in international business transactions when it was adopted 15 years ago.
But today its 40 signatory countries represent a shrinking share of the world’s trading nations, and it needs to recruit more of the emerging economic powers if it is to retain its importance as the global standard setter for addressing business graft.
Attracting the superpower China to join its ranks, however, is proving tough – a task that the G20 could assist in, said Kos.
“It will be difficult because for the time being China does not see any benefits from joining the Working Group and submitting to monitoring,” he said. “So we will have to prove that these standards are enhancing international business relationships and are not hurting them.”
To join the Anti-Bribery Convention, a country first must criminalise bribing public officials to win international business contracts. The Working Group then has a three-step monitoring process, where member countries evaluate how effectively each country implements and enforces the anti-graft measures, and then it issues progress reports on each country’s performance.
While China under President Xi Jinping the past year has been cracking down on domestic bribery, it has shown little appetite for halting what reportedly is the widespread practice of Chinese companies bribing foreign officials to win international business.
Kos said the G20, which discusses anti-corruption issues and has China as a member, could help by applying political pressure on China to adopt the international standards.
“It is much easier for them (the G20) to influence each other and bring countries along,” he said.
Kos also would like to see India and Indonesia join. But expanding the membership comes at a cost. Too many countries raise capacity concerns for the Working Group. Members fear it will become unwieldy and water down the quality and effectiveness of their peer-review mechanism and compliance reports.
Its work depends upon countries sending public officials to the week-long quarterly meetings in Paris, participating in country visits and agreeing on reports. Kos said member countries have made clear they have no additional resources to offer.
However, by cooperating with other G20 and OECD groups in the finance arena such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Working Group on Bribery could focus on key target areas and use their resources more efficiently, Kos said. For example, he is considering the following reforms:
- Tightly focused country reviews: Conduct a cross-country analysis to identify the most frequent arenas for spotting foreign bribery. If for instance taxation and auditing were identified as key areas, monitoring could be targeted here. The information also could be shared with the taxation group at the OECD.
- Central registry of mutual assistance requests: Investigators would send requests to other countries for help in probing foreign bribery. Enforcement of anti-bribery laws is a major problem with only one-quarter of members pursuing cases. Failure of other countries to cooperate is frequently cited as a stumbling block. Kos suggested setting deadlines for responding to requests and a registry to monitor responses.
- Publicity: Kos said country reports could be better used as a campaigning tool to pressure political leaders to enforce their anti-bribery laws.
Kos, a native of Slovenia, is no stranger to anti-corruption efforts. A criminal lawyer, he earned a reputation for integrity and political toughness as head of the organised crime unit in his native Slovenia and as chair of the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). He also chairs the Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Group combating fraud, bribery and corruption in Afghanistan.