Collaboration is key to combat construction corruption

23 Mar 2021

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A large attendance of construction professionals turned up to attend a webinar organised by FIDIC’s integrity management committee to look at the global fight against corruption in the engineering and construction sector, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

The fourth event in the FIDIC committee webinar series on 23 March 2021, “Combating corruption in the engineering and construction sector”, was attended by 815 people and moderated by Richard Stump, chair of the FIDIC integrity management committee. The panellists included John Ritchie, a consultant at John Ritchie Consulting, Lyndon White, ADR practitioner at Dial Before You Dispute, Ahmed Stifi, lean specialist and compliance officer at Ingerop, Aisha Nadar, management board member at FIDIC Credentialing, Tshaka Dennis, deputy CEO at Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia and James Pierre, general counsel at Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia. They were joined at the event by FIDIC president Bill Howard and chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin.

The webinar session saw the panellists discuss how organisations and companies are working together to prevent corruption in the engineering and construction industry. Building on a successful FIDIC webinar held on this issue at the end of 2020, the event highlighted internationally recognised standards and guidelines that contribute to improved transparency and integrity in infrastructure project delivery and looked at the concrete steps that companies working in the infrastructure sector can take to combat the threat of corruption.

Introducing the webinar, Richard Stump, chair of the FIDIC integrity management committee, highlighted the key importance of the issue of corruption to the sector and said that it was clear that there was high interest in the topic as was shown by the high numbers who had registered for the webinar. Stump said that FIDIC’s key principles of quality, integrity and sustainability were crucial in combatting the scourge of corruption in the construction sector and that more progress needed to be made in this global fight.

Lyndon White, ADR practitioner at Dial Before You Dispute, looked at dealing with corrupt conduct in engineering and infrastructure projects and highlighted that “corrupt conduct causes corruption”.  White said that many engineering and infrastructure project participants may observe corrupt conduct, although they may not be in a position to identify it, record it or report it, due to an absence of policies, procedures and systems. “Project personnel should never feel disempowered or discouraged from reporting corrupt conduct or corruption as the ‘smaller fish’ are often greater in number than the ‘bigger fish’ like in the Panama Papers and the Enron collapse,” he said. White also highlighted the importance of the FIDIC Integrity Management System (FIMS) which he said “provides a good basis for systemically providing anti-corruption procedures”.

Ahmed Stifi, lean specialist and compliance officer at Ingerop, spoke about the importance of sustainability being an underlying philosophy which should lead stakeholders to meet wider societal objectives. A key barrier to sustainable development in all countries, said Stifi, is corruption. “We need to look at the impact of corruption on sustainability,” he said. Stifi highlighted the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the fact that many of them were dependent on the work of the construction industry. “It is no exaggeration to say that our sector will be crucial in delivering the SDGs and therefore the threat of corruption must be recognised and overcome to ensure that we meet those sustainable goals and targets,” he said. White also explained how the concept of ‘lean construction’ could help in combating corruption in the engineering and construction sector and tackling its negative impact on sustainability.

Aisha Nadar, management board member at FIDIC Credentialing, presented a business case for the fight against corruption. “Fighting corruption is a collective effort and it is particularly important today as we try and build back better after the Covid pandemic,” said Nadar. “The results of a connected approach and collective action can help ensure that all players in the industry understand the importance of fighting corruption and crucially have access to tools to enable them to do it. This will help to create a level playing field across the industry and enable organisations and individuals to make the right choices,” she said. Collaboration was crucial in this effort, as was rewarding good behaviour, Nadar said.

Tshaka Dennis, deputy CEO and James Pierre, general counsel, at Millennium Challenge Account-Liberia, spoke about the work of the challenge, which executes projects funded by a $257m grant from the US government to the government of Liberia. MCA-Liberia has developed an anti-fraud and corruption action (AFC) plan that was tailored specifically to its various projects. The implementation of the plan was prioritised by an internal AFC team and senior management. Both Dennis and Pierre highlighted the importance of key players on any project establishing anti-corruption policies and plans that are tailored to that specific project, with the execution of that plan being tracked just as the construction aspect of a project is tracked. They talked about how they had used the FIDIC Yellow Book contract on a pipeline project and how their AFC plan had identified and addressed any corruption threats.

John Ritchie, a consultant at John Ritchie Consulting, looked at the importance of collective action to combat corruption and whether, and how, the engineering industry could do more. Ritchie highlighted the role of the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), which he said provided a useful example of a key anti-corruption initiative in another industry. The MACN, a cooperative network that incorporates most of the world’s major shipping lines, works in partnership with local authorities to develop solutions to specific problems that work with stakeholders and are realistic to implement. “Is it time for the engineering and construction industry to develop a similar approach to that adopted by the MACN and could it work in our industry?” Ritchie asked.

The panellists certainly stimulated a great discussion, with tons of questions in the chat from attendees highlighting many of the issues raised and asking practical questions about how to deal with corrupt practices and how to seek help and assistance. It’s clear that the issue of corruption is one that benefits from being talked about in forums like this and the FIDIC integrity management committee has done a service to the industry by discussing the issue in a global forum. Corruption has no place in the infrastructure sector or anywhere else and the work of the committee will play a key role in rooting it out.

As Aisha Nadar eloquently said, speaking at the end of the webinar, "Above all we have to take good aspirations and turn these into obligations, ensure that people are listened to and that we have a system that backs people up in this fight. Systems help tackle corruption," she said.

The next FIDIC webinar is To Dispute or not to dispute? which takes place on Tuesday 30 March 2021 at 12 noon CET. Please register your place as soon as possible to secure your place at this free event.

Click here to book your free place at the FIDIC webinar, “To Dispute or not to dispute?”.

Also taking place next week is the launch webinar for FIDIC’s second State of the World report, Establishing the Value of Water. Click here to book a place at this event.

Click below to view the webinar recording for Combating corruption in the engineering and construction sector.

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