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Speeches & Transcripts

Speech by World Bank Group Vice President for Integrity, Leonard McCarthy at the 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference

December 1, 2016

Leonard McCarthy, Vice President for Integrity, The World Bank Group Panama City, Panama

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, everyone.  Your Excellency (Mr. Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez), thank you for hosting us here in Panama. 

I am grateful to speak on behalf of the World Bank Group at this 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference.  This gathering also enjoys the support of the World Bank President because the themes of justice, equity, security and trust resonate with our mission.  I believe in TI, because they speak truth to power and have had a powerful impact in the fight against corruption.  The work they do, the influence they wield, the courage they have—it is the organization that keeps us all on our toes.  They are the organization that helps bridge the gap between analysis and action.

Looking back into history, just over 100 years ago Panama’s famous canal changed the world and made it more connected.  Hopefully this meeting will lead to a similar phenomenon.  The world today feels increasingly divided, and if there is one common goal that can unite us, that can bring greater economic and social equality to citizens everywhere, that can therefore spread peace and a sense of security, it is to stop corruption. 

We live in an unpredictable world.  Many countries get it:  we can say we are against corruption!  However, a number of states are attempting to deceive the rest of the world by trumpeting good governance publicly and perpetuating grand larceny in secrecy.  Thanks to a concurrent trend toward greater transparency, it’s becoming harder for their hypocrisy to go unnoticed.  And we, as corruption hunters, can’t let that gap between analysis and action widen; we can call that gap impunity. 

Recently, a little known clause in the US Constitution has been the topic of news stories. The Emoluments clause dictates that any officer of trust shall not receive any present from any king, prince or foreign state.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of what many of us take for granted as obvious, because therein lies another gap between analysis and action.  We should remember that in many countries the notion of laws to criminalize foreign bribery is regarded as a conspiracy by enemies of the state.

Against this backdrop, the World Bank Group has, over the last 20 years, made anti-corruption a centerpiece of international development.  We have tried to be innovative in the face of a fast-moving target and sought to understand the power of collaboration.  Concepts such as pre-cautions, cross-debarment, settlements, conditional debarment, integrity compliance, radical transparency, institution-building and rule of law have now become part of our daily lexicon.  In large part, this is thanks to the staff working in the Integrity Vice Presidency and the many champions in other parts of the Bank.  I want to make sure that they receive the credit they deserve here on this international stage.

What I have seen in my more than eight years at the World Bank Group is that a deep understanding of the drivers of corruption, a concerted action to prevent its onset, prosecute and sanction its occurrence, and exercising uncompromised leadership, can set the tone for a different world. 

There are a finite number of lessons to be learned, and we have to keep teaching them in different ways. 

We can’t blog our way out of corruption. Social media has revolutionized how corruption is uncovered.  Technology has galvanized and empowered citizens.  In essence though, corruption remains a human transaction, and if we are committed to stopping it, we have to confront it face to face.  People take action and believe us when they look us in the eye; there is no substitute.  I guess most of us have seen this in big decisions, major interventions and events that cause things to shift.  

Gatekeepers of the law; and lions at the gate. We have to do more to empower the prosecutors who deal with misconduct by high-level public officials, to ensure they get things right.  As the US Supreme Court recently remarked:  “Our concern is not with the tawdry tales of Ferrari’s, Rolexes and ball gowns; but with the boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.

The unquestioned competence of judges is equally important.  In October last year, J.S Khehar, on behalf of the Supreme Court of India, struck down a new law on judicial appointments, saying “the judiciary cannot risk being caught in a web of indebtedness towards government”. This conference should be crystal clear about the need to keep the judiciaries of the world absolutely insulated.

Similarly, we need to protect those people who face danger standing up to corruption.  I would like to tell you about Mr. Ambrosio Soto.  He was a courageous mayor from Guerrero State in Mexico who refused to appoint a treasurer with ties to a drug cartel. In July this year when he met with World Bank investigators he showed them the threatening text messages he had received.  Ten days later he was shot dead on a highway near Michoacan.  Those of our staff exposed to this case were shaken by it.  We can’t afford to lose more people like Mr. Soto.  I hope this is an urgent priority for the delegates assembled this week here in Panama City.

We need to go beyond borders to fully tackle the transnational nature of corruption, and not be shackled by territory and jurisdiction. In May this year the Supreme Court in Canada ruled in Wallace vs the World Bank that when international financial organizations such as the World Bank Group share information gathered from informants across the world with the law enforcement agencies of member states, “they help achieve what neither can do on their own”. This unequivocal statement in the name of collaboration should be our mantra.

We should always learn from and support the success of others; and celebrate it!  One of the biggest success stories in law enforcement in the last 20 years comes from Brazil.  In the Carwash investigation, the Caritiba task force under the auspices of the Prosecutor-General of Brazil generated 1,237 ongoing proceedings, 108 requests for international cooperation, demands of US$37 billion in compensation, 105 criminal convictions, 42 indictments and 52 plea agreements.  Numbers can speak volumes.  No doubt, we can all learn a lot from Brazil and emulate their strategy and approach.

So, how do we avoid corruption?  In my view, the best prevention is effective deterrence. In the last 7 years, the World Bank has produced hundreds of investigations, sanctions, debarments and referrals. When major corporations are involved in misconduct on World Bank Group-financed projects, the sanctions they face resonate throughout their industry.  While companies who don’t operate above-board may try their luck somewhere else, our job, collectively, is to make sure there is nowhere else to hide.

In light of what I have just said, we can’t forget the critical role of the private sector as our partner.  At the World Bank, we have also learned that many of the contestations we have with private entities can be settled in an equitable way, while still adhering to the principle that crime does not pay. Since we started this process we have engaged in 59 negotiated resolutions. Chief amongst these was the settlement with Siemens AG, which resulted in an Integrity Initiative funded to the tune of US$100 million. Our procedures allow for restitution, and we have used restitution to support emergency efforts by the international community to stop Ebola in Sierra Leone; and to reduce Zambia’s debt to the World Bank.  The private sector should be the future game-changer that can positively influence both the business and political landscape.  An activist investment community, multinationals that say no to corruption, and intermediaries that play an honest agency role, can help prevent major lapses like the Panama Papers.

Corruption often grows in the shadows of society and is nurtured in secrecy, which is why it’s so important we are all here today.  With topics such as organized crime, security, illicit finance, grand corruption and equality dissected by the more than 1200 brilliant minds gathered here today, we can only emerge stronger and better than what we were yesterday.

Thank you, all, and thank you to my fellow speakers this morning, Yury Fedotov, Akere Muna, and Jose Ugaz.  I wish you the best of luck in your deliberations and I hope each one of you leaves a lasting legacy.