As countries around the globe push to reopen in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business community is struggling with the decision to relax compliance standards as a means to remain agile and navigate a pressing shortage of goods and services. Yet these times necessitate an even greater commitment to integrity.
B20 Saudi Arabia, the voice of the global business community to the G20, recognizes the ethical challenge posed by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis to both businesses and governments and has committed to addressing the issue of corruption by recognizing Integrity & Compliance as one of its key priority areas.
Corruption remains a significant risk for businesses across the world. The cost of corruption is estimated to be five percent of the annual global GDP, i.e. US$3.6 trillion, a price we cannot afford in these times. We have also seen corruption is a key barrier to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as the elimination of poverty and hunger, promoting a peaceful and inclusive society, improving education, quality of life, and the infrastructure of each state. The B20 Integrity & Compliance Taskforce’s work, therefore, aims to advance the global anti-corruption agenda, touching upon key relevant topics such as responsible business conduct, consumer protection, the fight against corruption, and other efforts at the foundation of a healthy business environment.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mathad Al-ajmi, Vice President and General Counsel at Saudi Telecom Company (stc) and Chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia Integrity & Compliance Taskforce. As a prominent attorney and business leader, Mr. Al-ajmi has been influential to the Pearl Initiative, a global coalition of business leaders from the Gulf Region aimed at fostering a corporate culture of accountability and transparency to ensure all applicable international laws and frameworks are upheld within Saudi Arabia, throughout the Middle East, and across the globe.
During my interview with Mr. Al-ajmi, he reinforced that integrity is not merely anti-bribery, but rather something much broader. He believes that to create an open, transparent and legitimate world economy, the members of the global marketplace must be in alignment with the terms and conditions of participating in that economy, both for developing and developed countries. The goal of the B20 Integrity & Compliance Taskforce is to ensure a robust compliance and controls program that is sustainable, globally successful across languages, and able to be implemented proactively.
Mr. Al-ajmi also spoke about how developing economies and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) will bear the brunt of business loss from the pandemic, making it doubly important they are able to access monetary government support through legitimate channels. The most vulnerable populations, most often coming from developing markets, are those who are disproportionately impacted by corruption – corruption costs developing countries US$1.26 trillion every year and represents a major obstacle to investment, further negatively impacting economic growth and job prospects for these markets in the long term.
MSMEs, Mr. Al-ajmi noted, play a pivotal role in jump-starting the economy in that they account for more than half of most countries’ GDP and are responsible for almost seven in every 10 jobs. Often operating in difficult economic environments, MSMEs are highly vulnerable to corruption, although they may be less likely than large companies to be involved in large-scale influence-peddling scandals, which is why they are one of the B20’s cross-cutting focuses. Simultaneously, MSMEs typically lack the resources, knowledge, and experience to implement effective anti-corruption measures and conduct their business in compliance with international standards and the applicable international laws and frameworks, making their engagement a cornerstone of the B20’s Integrity & Compliance taskforce work.
The B20 will present its policy recommendations to the G20 during the B20 Summit scheduled for October in the form of policy papers to be drafted by each taskforce, including Integrity & Compliance. While the recommendations and priorities in those papers are not yet published, Mr. Al-ajmi outlined a number of key themes in our discussion that he and his task force feel are an integral part of supporting transparency in the global business community:
-Leveraging new technologies with regards to the management of corruption and fraud-related risks.
-Proposing an anti-corruption technology roadmap to both the private and public sector as a strategic vision by adopting technological solutions for identified risk areas.
-Developing digital identities and public national registers to reduce anonymity and increase both transparency and accountability of beneficial owners and third parties. The adoption of these solutions will further enable addressing the challenges of cross-border quality data sharing.
-Ensuring heightened integrity and transparency in public procurement through open bidding processes from multiple vendors, with specific certification criteria to ensure compliance with applicable international laws and frameworks.
-Collectively pursuing and legislating the implementation of responsible business on a global basis in each country, leveraging the applicable international laws and frameworks.
-Supporting code-of-conduct compliance programs to monitor capital spending as emerging market infrastructure projects continue.
-Continuing to align government officials with private industrial programs through compliant lobbying programs and monitoring.
-Protecting whistleblowers by adopting mechanisms and practices in line with leading global practices.
-Strengthening corporate governance in public and private sector companies, such as through yearly certifications for all employees to understand governance regulations.
-Widely and publicly prosecuting bribery to set examples.
-Partnering with and leveraging the expertise of global institutions to improve national anti-corruption plans.
-Actively empowering women across the supply chain by promoting their participation in a wide range of public, economic and political spheres in combating corruption.
As Mr. Al-ajmi reinforced to me, none of these efforts will succeed if we are not operating in a transparent, integrity-driven business environment. Ultimately, this is what the B20 hopes to accomplish through the work of this critical taskforce, ensuring integrity is part of the global business community and society writ large. I am confident the B20 and specifically its Integrity & Compliance Taskforce will have a positive influence on the G20 Summit and look forward to the release of the policy recommendations during the B20 Summit scheduled for October.
Frank and his team at Ation Advisory Group have successfully remediated clients from FCPA and British Anti-Bribery investigations. His team has implemented over 45 global FCPA Certification Programs and Compliance and Controls improvement projects which prevented violations and Improved Goodwill and overall value for a domestic or international organizations seeking to sell, partner with a JV or obtain contracts or new business with government officials and private enterprise.