Webinar highlights an industry united against corruption

09 Dec 2020

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FIDIC hosted a special event to mark the UN’s International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December 2020. More than 250 people attended the webinar, entitled “Recovery with integrity”, discussed how the global construction and infrastructure industry can work together and unite to combat corruption, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

Introducing the event, FIDIC president Bill Howard from the USA said that he was delighted to see FIDIC reaching out once again with its online webinars. He highlighted the global cost of corruption – up to $4 trillion a year – which he said was a massive amount and something that FIDIC condemned totally. “Corruption leads to a lack of trust and failed projects and this damages the industry as a whole,” said Howard. Reflecting on the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that he hoped that the construction sector would be able to unite in a similar fashion against the scourge of corruption on a global basis.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, the speakers at the webinar included FIDIC board member James Mwangi from Kenya, Hamid Sharif, managing director at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in China, Julianna Fox, chief ethics and compliance officer at WSP Global Inc in Canada and Petter Matthews, executive director of CoST, the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative from the UK.

First speaker, FIDIC board member James Mwangi from Kenya highlighted the tools available from FIDIC to combat corruption. He said that FIDIC had been very active in working with many international agencies to tackle the ‘supply side’ of corruption and standards and guidelines were being rolled out to improve the integrity of procurement. “Anti-corruption should be a lifestyle,” said Mwangi who said that it was crucial to align anti-corruption initiatives to ensure a united approach. “We also need to use and embrace technology to enhance transparency, raise awareness and share trends and experiences,” he said. “The current pandemic has shown the value of technology and I’m sure that FIDIC will continue to use virtual events like this to keep the fight against corruption high on its agenda for action,” Mwangi said.

Julianna Fox, chief ethics and compliance officer at WSP Global, (pictured above) said it was extremely important at the present time to talk about recovery with integrity. “Recovery is not going to look the same across the globe so it’s really important to reinforce the controls that we have across the world and adapt a governance and ethics programme to deal with the different levels of risk we see internationally,” she said. Risks could be heightened as government try to speed up construction and some anti-corruption methods could be less high profile. This made it more important than ever for an ethical approach to be adopted by global construction businesses, said Fox.

Hamid Sharif, managing director at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in China, said that the bank was totally committed to rooting out corruption and had stepped up its activities during the current pandemic. He highlighted that the lack of site visits for oversight had raised the importance of using technology to monitor corruption. The industry was on a learning curve in this respect, he said and the multinational banks were working together and learning lessons from each other. Sharif also made the point that compliance programmes were not a panacea against corruption. “At the end of the day it is going to come down to the ethics of each consulting firm and their relationship with the multinational banks and other statutory bodies,” he said. 

Petter Matthews, executive director of CoST, the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative from the UK, said that his organisation was pleased to be working closely with FIDIC on the global fight against corruption and he was delighted to be speaking at the webinar. “Experience shows that where you increase the scrutiny of decision makers then you increase transparency, reduce corruption and get better projects,” he said. “We need to get serious about the governance of infrastructure and the coronavirus has exposed the weakness of the governance process in some countries,” Matthews said. National government policy had a role to play in this and Matthews made an appeal for investment in good governance. “Recognising the importance of something – transparency - and then investing in it was important,” he said. Transparency needed to be understood as a core value by governments and it should be part of the ‘social contract’ between a government and their citizens, said Matthews. It was also crucial to incorporate anti-corruption into ‘infra-tech’ and the collection and use of data by the construction sector, he said, and digital tools would play a key role in the fight to combat corruption.

The discussion raised many issues and many of the questions from attendees focused on the role of government and what they needed to be doing concretely to address corruption. ‘Corrupt countries’ were identified by some attendees as a particular issue, especially where the government was a major funder of infrastructure. Many attendees said that the way to combat this was to call out such institutional corruption where it occurred but also to work to improve transparency and ethical standards in those countries.

The discussion also highlighted that whilst most organisations in the infrastructure sector have governance processes designed to combat fraud and corruption, the perception amongst most engineers is that the responsibility for that function lies with accountants, auditors or the risk teams within the organisation, or worse still whistleblowers. This was far too late and every employee should be told that “everyone can and should be a fraud detective”. In the same way as the industry monitors health and safety, sustainability and quality in its project control plans, fraud and corruption monitoring should be added as the norm.

Summing up the event, FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin said that FIDIC would continue to use its global reach to send out a positive signal to all those concerned about improving the governance of infrastructure investments. “Our values of Quality, Integrity and Sustainability are sacrosanct and we will work together with all those in our industry and beyond it who want to increase the transparency of infrastructure delivery,” he said.

“Having a UN Anti-Corruption Day is a great initiative, but we also need to be ever vigilant and work tirelessly all year round to raise awareness of the scourge of corruption. Corruption has no place in the infrastructure sector or anywhere else and FIDIC is proud to be playing its part in rooting it out,” Ogunshakin said.

FIDIC is hosting a 2021 series of free live webinars. All FIDIC’s committees are organising the webinars throughout the year on issues of topical interest. Click here to see the list of webinars and to book your free place at these FIDIC webinars.

A recording of the webinar "Recovery with Integrity" is available below. 

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