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Seeing the light

Viewpoint - Engineering and construction firms are increasingly turning against corruption on projects.

Bribery in infrastructure projects used to be considered a 'necessary part of doing business' in many countries. During the last 10 years there has been a welcome transformation in thinking and practice.

While corruption is still prevalent, an increasing number of construction and engineering companies and professionals are speaking out against corruption, and are refusing to be involved in it.

There are many reasons for this change. The first is the realisation that corruption kills.

Money that should be spent on hospitals and food is siphoned off into offshore bank accounts leaving those in need without medical treatment or food.

Corruption too often results in expensive, unviable and dangerous projects.

Another reason is that anticorruption conventions have been signed. The most signicant from the UK's perspective are the UN and OECD Conventions. These require the implementation of effective and co-ordinated anti-corruption policies. Legislation passed by all OECD countries has made it a crime in the home country for their companies and nationals to pay a bribe overseas.

Anti-money laundering regulations have been tightened, and bank secrecy laws have been relaxed. There is an increased likelihood that the payers and recipients of corrupt payments will be identified.

Debarment is becoming more widely used. Companies that are found guilty of corruption are prevented from participating in projects owned or funded by the debarring organisation.

If corruption is to be prevented, co-operation is essential.

The UK Anti-Corruption Forum is an alliance of UK business and professional associations and companies with interests in the infrastructure sector.

The Forum's objective is to create a business environment free from corruption. Its AntiCorruption Action Statement specifies the actions that need to be taken by governments, project owners, funders, contractors, consultants, and business and professional associations.

The Forum is working closely with the UK Government, and has formed several working groups to develop anti-corruption actions. (www. anticorruptionforum. org. uk).

Firms can implement corporate and project anti-corruption systems. Transparency International's Business Principles for Countering Bribery assists companies in this purpose.

Project anti-corruption systems are essential to prevent bribery and fraud by the project owner, contractors, consultants and government of ls during procurement and execution of infrastructure projects. (www. transparency.org/tools/contracting/construction_projects).

It is essential that the industry continues to lead change, and to put pressure on governments, funders and other participants to play their part to achieve a level playing field where business can be undertaken in an honest, transparent and fair manner. And to ensure that corruption does not kill.

Neill Stansbury is project director for construction & engineering at Transparency International

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