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World: U.S. Official Assesses Global Anti-Corruption Efforts

Today marks one year since the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD's) anti-bribery convention came into force. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports the undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural Affairs (Alan Larson) yesterday briefed reporters at the State Department on the convention's progress and what still remains to be done.

Washington, 15 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- In December of 1997, 29 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed the convention on combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. Five non-OECD countries also signed -- Argentina, Chile, Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. But it was not until one year ago today, that the convention officially entered into force for the United States and 11 other countries that had by then officially ratified it.

Since that time, Undersecretary Alan Larson says nine other countries have ratified the convention, bringing the total number of signatories to 21.

Larson says it marks the first time in history that there are 21 countries that have laws that make it a crime for their citizens to bribe a foreign government official to obtain or retain international business. He said there also is a rigorous monitoring mechanism, which he characterized as key to effective enforcement.

In opening his remarks, Larson noted that the United States has taken a leading position in fighting overseas commercial bribery, citing it as a "high priority" for U.S. foreign policy:

"We believe that corruption undermines democratic accountability and can be a particularly pernicious phenomenon in developing or transition states that have weak institutions. We think corruption can distort and undercut development, and it, thirdly, can erode confidence in the international trading system."

While the anti-bribery convention is still in its earliest of days, Larson said that overall progress in fighting international corruption has been achieved -- a tribute he credited to the strong bipartisan support for the effort in the United States and also what he called "the steadfast backing" by the U.S. business community. But Larson says there is a flip side to the success:

"Despite this gratifying progress, we are concerned, as Secretary (of State Madeleine) Albright stressed in her recent speech (at the World Economic Forum) in Davos, about lagging implementation. Thirteen signatory states still have not ratified the convention, and they include Argentina, Brazil and Chile, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland."

Furthermore, Larson said some countries that have ratified the convention do not yet appear to have the domestic legislation in place that would be adequate to meet their obligations under its terms. He also expressed concern that some signatory states may still well allow tax deductions for bribes paid to foreign governments or officials. He characterized the tax issue as a particularly "objectionable practice" that entangles the government's own Administration, as well as their taxpayers, into bribery.

Larson noted that the United States in particular is fighting corruption on several other fronts, including through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Still, Larson said more remains to be done:

"This global fight against corruption which is going on in all parts of the world will only succeed if we can cut off the source of the bribes. The developed countries, therefore, do have to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. So we'd encourage all the signatories to the OECD convention that have not already done so to use the next six months to ratify the convention -- to enact effective domestic implementing legislation -- and to end the practice of granting tax deductions for overseas commercial bribes."

Larson estimated that corruption costs the global community tens of billions of dollars a year. But he said the real costs are borne out in terms of the trouble posed to the development and strengthening of democratic institutions, particularly in transition countries like Ukraine, Russia and Southeastern Europe.

Larson said it is in these transition countries that the real test of the convention will lie -- most notably in the extent to which they impose the internal discipline required by the convention. If that happens, he said the bulk of international anti-corruption efforts will be met.