Just days before a much-awaited donor conference, the influential International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended to place all funds pledged to Macedonia under the oversight of a "corruption advisor" appointed by the European Commission. The donors ignored this and other recommendations. To appease the critics, the affable Attorney General of Macedonia charged a former Minister of Defense with abuse of duty for allegedly having channeled millions of DM to his relatives during the recent civil war. Macedonia has belatedly passed an anti-money laundering law recently - but failed, yet again, to adopt strict anti-corruption legislation.
In Albania, the Chairman of the Albanian Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, was accused by Albanian media of laundering $1 billion through the Albanian government. Pavel Borodin, the former chief of Kremlin Property, decided not appeal his money laundering conviction in a Swiss court. The Slovak daily "Sme" described in scathing detail the newly acquired wealth and lavish lifestyles of formerly impoverished HZDS politicians. Some of them now reside in refurbished castles. Others have swimming pools replete with wine bars.
Pavlo Lazarenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister, is detained in San Francisco on money laundering charges. His defense team accuses the US authorities of "selective prosecution".
They are quoted by Radio Free Europe as saying:
"The impetus for this prosecution comes from allegations made by the Kuchma regime, which itself is corrupt and dedicated to using undemocratic and repressive methods to stifle political opposition ... (other Ukrainian officials) including Kuchma himself and his closest associates, have committed conduct similar to that with which Lazarenko is charged but have not been prosecuted by the U.S. government".
The UNDP estimated, in 1997, that, even in rich, industrialized, countries, 15% of all firms had to pay bribes. The figure rises to 40% in Asia and 60% in Russia.
Corruption is rife and all pervasive, though many allegations are nothing but political mud-slinging. Luckily, in countries like Macedonia, it is confined to its rapacious elites: its politicians, managers, university professors, medical doctors, judges, journalists, and top bureaucrats. The police and customs are hopelessly compromised. Yet, one rarely comes across graft and venality in daily life. There are no false detentions (as in Russia), spurious traffic tickets (as in Latin America), or widespread stealthy payments for public goods and services (as in Africa).
It is widely accepted that corruption retards growth by deterring foreign investment and encouraging brain drain. It leads to the misallocation of economic resources and distorts competition. It depletes the affected country's endowments - both natural and acquired. It demolishes the tenuous trust between citizen and state. It casts civil and government institutions in doubt, tarnishes the entire political class, and, thus, endangers the democratic system and the rule of law, property rights included.
This is why both governments and business show a growing commitment to tackling it. According to Transparency International's "Global Corruption Report 2001", corruption has been successfully contained in private banking and the diamond trade, for instance.
Hence also the involvement of the World Bank and the IMF in fighting corruption. Both institutions are increasingly concerned with poverty reduction through economic growth and development. The World Bank estimates that corruption reduces the growth rate of an affected country by 0.5 to 1 percent annually. Graft amounts to an increase in the marginal tax rate and has pernicious effects on inward investment as well.
The World Bank has appointed last year a Director of Institutional Integrity - a new department that combines the Anti-Corruption and Fraud Investigations Unit and the Office of Business Ethics and Integrity. The Bank helps countries to fight corruption by providing them with technical assistance, educational programs, and lending.
Anti-corruption projects are an integral part of every Country Assistance Strategy (CAS). The Bank also supports international efforts to reduce corruption by sponsoring conferences and the exchange of information. It collaborates closely with Transparency International, for instance.
At the request of member-governments (such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Romania) it has prepared detailed country corruption surveys covering both the public and the private sectors. Together with the EBRD, it publishes a corruption survey of 3000 firms in 22 transition countries (BEEPS - Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Survey). It has even set up a multilingual hotline for whistleblowers.
The IMF made corruption an integral part of its country evaluation process. It suspended arrangements with endemically corrupt recipients of IMF financing. Since 1997, it has introduced policies regarding misreporting, abuse of IMF funds, monitoring the use of debt relief for poverty reduction, data dissemination, legal and judicial reform, fiscal and monetary transparency, and even internal governance (e.g., financial disclosure by staff members).
Yet, no one seems to agree on a universal definition of corruption. What amounts to venality in one culture (Sweden) is considered no more than hospitality, or an expression of gratitude, in another (France, or Italy). Corruption is discussed freely and forgivingly in one place - but concealed shamefully in another. Corruption, like other crimes, is probably seriously under-reported and under-penalized.
Moreover, bribing officials is often the unstated policy of multinationals, foreign investors, and expatriates. Many of them believe that it is inevitable if one is to expedite matters or secure a beneficial outcome. Rich world governments turn a blind eye, even where laws against such practices are extant and strict.
In his address to the Inter-American Development Bank on March 14, President Bush promised to "reward nations that root out corruption" within the framework of the Millennium Challenge Account initiative. The USA has pioneered global anti-corruption campaigns and is a signatory to the 1996 IAS Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, and the OECD's 1997 anti-bribery convention. The USA has had a comprehensive "Foreign Corrupt Practices Act" since 1977.
The Act applies to all American firms, to all firms - including foreign ones - traded in an American stock exchange, and to bribery on American territory by foreign and American firms alike. It outlaws the payment of bribes to foreign officials, political parties, party officials, and political candidates in foreign countries. A similar law has now been adopted by Britain.
Yet, "The Economist" reports that the American SEC has brought only three cases against listed companies until 1997. The US Department of Justice brought another 30 cases. Britain has persecuted successfully only one of its officials for overseas bribery since 1889. In the Netherlands bribery is tax deductible. Transparency International now publishes a name and shame Bribery Payers Index to complement its 91-country strong Corruption Perceptions Index.
Many rich world corporations and wealthy individuals make use of off-shore havens or "special purpose entities" to launder money, make illicit payments, avoid or evade taxes, and conceal assets or liabilities. According to Swiss authorities, more than $40 billion are held by Russians in its banking system alone. The figure may be 5 to 10 times higher in the tax havens of the United Kingdom.
In a survey it conducted last month of 82 companies in which it invests, "Friends, Ivory, and Sime" found that only a quarter had clear anti-corruption management and accountability systems in place.
Tellingly only 35 countries signed the 1997 OECD "Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions" - including four non-OECD members: Chile, Argentina, Bulgaria, and Brazil. The convention has been in force since February 1999 and is only one of many OECD anti-corruption drives, among which are SIGMA (Support for Improvement in Governance and Management in Central and Eastern European countries), ACN (Anti-Corruption Network for Transition Economies in Europe), and FATF (the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering).
Moreover, The moral authority of those who preach against corruption in poor countries - the officials of the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, the OECD - is strained by their ostentatious lifestyle, conspicuous consumption, and "pragmatic" morality.