Transparency International, a global coalition of organizations committed to fighting corruption, recently issued its annual report on how well the countries that signed on to the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention are enforcing its provisions. The results for Canada are a “good news – bad news” story: Canada is commended for having “moved up to the moderate enforcement category.” But whether intended or not, this is damning with faint praise, as our previous level of enforcement was virtually nil.
Credit should be given where credit is due, and making progress is always a good thing. But we need to do better because corruption in the public sector undermines the achievement of every single purpose that governments exist to serve.
In countries with highly corrupt governments, funds allocated for precious public services such as health care, education and transportation regularly make their way into the pockets or Swiss bank accounts of officials who enjoy a lifestyle most of their fellow citizens can’t even imagine.
When the Calgary-based oil and gas company Niko Resources bribed a Bangladeshi cabinet minister – an offence to which Niko pleaded guilty last year and for which it was assessed a fine of nearly $10-million – it was helping to perpetuate the corruption that keeps Bangladeshis overwhelmingly poor and powerless.
Canadians are not responsible for creating the massive corruption that exists in countries such as Russia, India or Nigeria. But those of us fortunate to live in better ordered societies should do everything we can to prevent exacerbation of the injustices caused by corruption. Further, we are legally bound by the OECD Convention and other international agreements, such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption, not to make matters worse.
In 2008, the federal government established a unit within the RCMP to specialize in enforcing Canada’s statute against the corruption of foreign public officials. The enforcement improvements documented in the recently released Transparency International report – Exporting Corruption? Country Enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, Progress Report 2012 – are due to the work of these investigators and the prosecutors assigned to handle these cases.
But Canadians should not be content with “moderate enforcement.” As a wealthy democracy with a strong commitment to the rule of law for ourselves, we should be leading in the global fight against the devastation caused by corruption. This will only happen if the RCMP and the associated prosecutors are given the resources they need to do the job as well as they would like to.
Janet Keeping is chair and president of Transparency International Canada and holds a fellowship in the rule of law at the Calgary-based Sheldon M. Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.