Webinar highlights collective global effort to root out corruption

07 Dec 2023

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Corruption was put under the spotlight at the latest webinar in FIDIC’s 2023 series of events, which saw the FIDIC integrity management committee and Ernst & Young (EY) join forces to demonstrate the importance of a collective approach to fighting corruption.

The webinar, Taking a collaborative approach to tackling corruption, which took place on 7 December 2023, was organised to coincide with the UN’s International Anti-Corruption Day which takes place on 9 December. The webinar, sponsored by infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, FIDIC’s 2023 webinar strategic partner, is the first in a series of three events where FIDIC and EY will demonstrate the importance of anti-corruption activities at all levels, from the individual to the nation state and how people can play their part in advocating for integrity.

Speakers at the webinar, which was chaired by Richard Stump, vice president of leading US architecture, engineering and consulting firm RS&H and chair of FIDIC’s integrity management committee, included EY partners Sharon van Rooyen (South Africa), Cecilia Melzi (Peru), Chandan Sarkar (United States), Lyndon White, senior adviser at Lawbrook Project Advisory and vice-chair of the FIDIC integrity management committee (Australia) and Graham Pontin, director of policy, external affairs and communications at FIDIC (United Kingdom).

Introducing the webinar, James Mwangi, FIDIC vice president and CEO of Kurrent Technologies, said: “The issue of integrity is a very important one for FIDIC and alongside Quality and Sustainability it has been one of FIDIC’s core values for many years. Corruption has negative impacts on every aspect of society and is profoundly intertwined with conflict and instability, jeopardising social and economic development and undermining democratic institutions and the rule of law.

“Therefore, the importance of collective action against corruption has never been greater and I am delighted that FIDIC’s integrity management committee and EY have joined forces to demonstrate the importance and responsibility of a collective approach to fighting the scourge of corruption in this webinar today.”

FIDIC integrity management committee chair Richard Stump said that there was a lot of anti-corruption activity taking place around the UN’s International Anti-Corruption Day and also an important event taking place next week with a meeting of the United Nations Convention against Corruption at which he was proud to be representing FIDIC.

The first speaker, EY partner Sharon van Rooyen highlighted some of the anti-corruption challenges in the construction sector in the continent of Africa. “Businesses are often seen as the enablers of corruption, as the bribe payers, so it’s not only governments that need to step up, companies also need to examine their business practices too,” she said. Van Rooyen also talked about the concept of ‘engineering justice’ and developing a supportive environment where whistleblowers felt safe to speak out. This was crucial in the fight against corruption, she said.

It was also important to protect whistleblowers, said van Rooyen, as this would encourage others to come forward. “We need to reframe whistleblowing as an act of patriotism and not betrayal,” she said.

Cecilia Melzi from EY in Peru highlighted that some progress had been made around anti-corruption in Latin America in recent years, with new crimes added to the statute book, but much more needed to be done. Melzi also raised the issue of ‘anti-trust’ in the construction sector - agreements or practices that restrict free trading and competition between business. “It wasn’t enough to have measures in place to combat anti-trust – they need to be measures that actually work,” she said. Due diligence was crucial in this process as was proper measurement of KPIs and project deliverables and this needed to be presented as a positive measure to encourage compliance, Melzi said.

EY partner Chandan Sarkar from the United States restated what bribery and corruption is and means in reality. While the definitions were clear, dealing with the problem is less straightforward, he said. “Unfortunately, the construction sector has found itself at the centre of many ‘kick-back’ and bribery scandals, so this is a reputational issue for this sector,” Sarkar said. On the positive side, he highlighted that there had been an increase in the protection given to whistleblowers and signs of better collaboration between organisations to help raise awareness of and root out corruption. This had created “a drive to prevent corruption,” which was encouraging for the future, he said.

Lyndon White from Lawbrook Project Advisory in Australia made the point that a crucial part of addressing corruption was people working together. It cannot be done alone. Collaboration flowed from this and people not feeling isolated when speaking out was key. “In the same way that everyone is responsible for safety in the workplace, everyone is responsible – and should feel safe – in calling out and reporting corrupt practices,” White said. Support was available via professional organisations’ codes of ethics and conduct and these should be used as and where appropriate, he said. FIDIC’s own integrity management tools were very helpful in this area and people should be made aware of them.

FIDIC’s director of policy, external affairs and communications Graham Pontin highlighted FIDIC’s recently published annual 2023 update to its State of the World report, Corruption, it’s effects and the need to take action. Pontin said that hadn’t been much change in the trends around corruption over the past 12 months. However, there were growing signs that the cost of not tackling corruption was increasing and this should act as a wake-up call for the construction sector to ensure that it has measures in place to combat corruption.

The discussion and questions covered a wide range of issues including definitions of cyber-corruption, whistleblowing and the protections available for people who speak out, the need for better legislation and compliance programmes to combat corruption, whether new methods of digital procurement were making it easier or harder for corrupt practices to flourish and whether the practice of using agents in the construction industry was increasing the likelihood of corruption throughout the sector.

Returning to the issue of whistleblowing, EY’s Sharon van Rooyen stressed the importance of not waiting for government legislation. She said that companies had a responsibility to create environments where corruption was seen as unacceptable, making it easier for people to speak out. Other panellists agreed, but also recognised the absolute need to support staff who did speak out and not just pay lip service to anti-corruption.

Summing up the event, FIDIC vice-president James Mwangi said that the webinar had offered attendees much food for thought but also some confidence that the industry will remain vigilant in the fight against global corruption.

“I am particularly pleased that we have been able to organise this webinar to coincide with the UN’s International Anti-Corruption Day which takes place this coming Saturday,” he said. “The theme of the day this year is Engage in Transparency: Advocate for transparency and accountability in government and business practices. Campaigners around the world will highlight the crucial link between anti-corruption and peace, security and development with the central notion that tackling this crime is the right and responsibility of everyone. Only through global cooperation and the involvement of each and every person and institution can the negative impact of this crime be overcome,” said Mwangi.

To mark the UN’s International Anti-Corruption Day, FIDIC has published a 2023 update to its State of the World report, Corruption, it’s effects and the need to take action.

Click here to download the updated report

Click below to view a full recording of the webinar.

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