Whilst the world deals with the challenge of COVID-19, an equally concerning issue is the manner in which this pandemic threatens anti-corruption and anti-bribery efforts for organisations. Appropriate measures must be put in place to mitigate corruption and bribery risks.
Experience has shown that when there is a global health state of emergency, such as Ebola or the swine flu, corruption increases. Some of the issues faced relate to mismanagement of funds, improper reporting on salaries that were paid, misinformation related to payments for goods and services, facilitation payments and bribery of officials.
These risks are not only limited to the use of state funds, but also apply to funds raised from public donations such as the South African Solidarity Fund.
A fundamental consequence of COVID-19 is that it has led to the shutting down of all non-essential businesses and services as we have seen in South Africa. Consequently, many organisations are forced to rely on remote working. This creates an environment where there are delays or a complete halt in conducting the necessary due diligences, investigations or screening of new business partners or clients. Whilst restrictions such as lock downs are necessary, with less oversight in place, this could negatively impact on identification and mitigation of corruption risk.
Unprecedented epidemics such as COVID-19 create unfavourable and uncertain economic conditions for many organisations and therefore increases the risk of corruption.
Organisations should employ new and flexible measures to strengthen anti-corruption and anti-bribery efforts whilst also ensuring compliance with anti-corruption laws. Some of the steps that organisations could take include the following:
- Minimise on-boarding new partners. Consider whether already existing partners are able to provide the required goods or services.
- To the extent that it is necessary to on-board new partners, proper vetting must take place. Organisations may be forced to fast-track screening, but quality must not be compromised.
- Increase technological capacity to verify information from a potential partner. There are various portals and products in the market that can assist in screening and vetting.
- Continue engaging employees and external partners about anti-corruption. This must be done through appropriate communication aimed at different target groups. A blanket policy position may not be effective in delivering the message especially in the context of a pandemic. For example, communication to a procurement officer will be different from that which is sent to a new partner or a secretary in your organisation.
- Review and strengthen anti-corruption and anti-bribery clauses in any agreement concluded with a new partner. For example, this can be achieved through increasing the obligations on the partner.
- Ensure that compliance teams are well resourced and capacitated at all times. Corruption and bribery needs to be monitored closely now more than ever.
- When making a donation to government, consider the intention behind the donation and whether the donation creates or leads to a reciprocal obligation on the part of the government (quid pro quo). This may require that any donation is framed appropriately to comply with anti-corruption laws and to avoid reputational risks formed by public opinion.
The obligation to ensure ABC compliance ought to be approached in a flexible and pragmatic manner.