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Don't give up the fight

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The battle to remove corruption from construction will not, by any stretch of the imagination, be won overnight.

The current spat between the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) and the World Bank over its 'heavy handed' policy of naming and shaming rms involved in corruption shows that consensus is tricky, even between those supposedly pulling in the same direction.

There is broad acceptance that - for the good of the public, individual states and business - corruption must be eradicated.

But the spectre of self-interest constantly looms. To be frank, corruption will never be eradicated if major rms continue to blame the corrupt environment in certain countries for their own failings. Major western European construction rms need to confront corruption to beat it. Walking away is not the long term solution.

he European Union's decision this week to accept Bulgaria and Romania as full members from January 2007 offers engineers an opportunity but, realistically, will add to the challenge.

A quick dip into the European Union (EU) report on the two countries makes interesting reading when it comes to corruption.

While the report points out that the legislative frameworks in both countries have improved significantly of late, it highlights that in both countries corruption remains a problem in central and local government.

In Bulgaria, it points out that 'there have been few concrete examples of investigation or prosecution or charges of high level corruption'. The public administration, it adds 'remains particularly vulnerable'.

And in Romania, it highlights that while the number of investigations into high level corruption has increased, 'there needs to be a clear political will' to demonstrate progress is being made, adding that Parliament had seen 'substantial efforts to reduce the effectiveness of such efforts'.

Economic and social development in Bulgaria and Romania should not be held back because they have not thoroughly got to grips with the problem. Accession to the EU will, after all, serve as catalyst for all manner of reforms and social development.

But for the construction industry, which remains squarely on the corruption front line, we must take the issues raised by the EU report seriously.

And it is not just corruption that nations like Romania and Bulgaria are wrestling with as they are thrust shoulder-toshoulder with the rich western European capitalist community.

There is a whole raft of very serious economic and social issues including legal and nancial reform, human trafcking, child protection, equality and detention conditions.

None of this should be threatening to us. The social and business dif ulties presented by the removal of European trade barriers are easily outweighed by the over-riding opportunities and benets.

While the headlines will no doubt continue to focus on mass migration from Europe's two newest states, the reality is that there should be a massive amount of opportunity for western European rms and individuals as millions of Euros are pumped into the development of infrastructure.

Provided, of course that this cash is properly spent. Only a concerted and sustained ght against corruption by totally engaged western professionals will ensure this happens.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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