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June 21, 2006 - ASCE Statement - Support of U.S. Ratitication of the United Nations Convention against Corruption

Statement of
The American Society of Civil Engineers
Before the
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
on the United Nations Convention Against Corruption

June 21, 2006

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)∗ is pleased to offer this statement to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate in support of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. We urge the Committee to report the agreement to the Senate with a favorable recommendation, and we hope that the Senate will act expeditiously to ratify the Convention.

ASCE POLICY

ASCE supports a zero tolerance policy toward bribery, fraud, and corruption in design and construction. ASCE further actively supports the global effort to stem corruption in the procurement and execution of design services and construction projects. ASCE openly seeks cooperation with others in a domestic and international effort to empower individual engineers in the fight against corruption through education, awareness and the adoption and enforcement of Principles and Guidelines for Professional Conduct.

BACKGROUND

In 2004, it was estimated that the annual expenditure worldwide on construction was $3.9 trillion in U.S. dollars. Some experts have said that as much as 10 percent of that sum is lost through bribery, fraud and corruption resulting in about $390 billion diverted annually from projects that provide water, pollution control, electricity, roads, housing, and other basic human needs. Fighting corruption can alleviate poverty, disease, and famine and can assist in building a fair and civil society. 

ASCE TOOLS FOR FIGHTING CORRUPTION

The ASCE Board Task Committee on Global Principles for Professional Conduct was created in mid-2004. Working in collaboration with others—Transparency International, World Federation of Engineering Organizations, International Federation of Consulting Engineers, Pan American Academy of Engineers, World Bank, InterAmerican Development Bank, and others—it has produced a set of principles and other key documents aimed at putting a dent in the worldwide loss of construction funding to bribery and corruption. Because the Task Committee has an international membership—
and because it has strived for transparency in its work—its activities and products are receiving attention among cooperating societies around the world.

Chief among the Task Committee's products is the Engineer's Charter delivered in 2005. This potentially historic document is a pledge to be signed by individuals and particularly leaders of engineering and industry groups who will adopt and enforce its stated principles. The Charter is already before the 80 member societies of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, and was the subject of discussion at the fullday forum held at ASCE’s Annual Conference in Los Angeles in 2005.

A second product approved by the ASCE Board in October 2005 is a new ASCE Policy stating zero tolerance for corruption in engineering and construction.

A third product of the Task Committee received in April 2006 by the ASCE Board of Direction is an amendment to the Society's Code of Ethics.

New guidelines have been drafted to ease enforcement of Canon 6 of the Code as a deterrent to corrupt practices. The Task Committee has continued its work throughout 2006 with emphasis and emphasis on seeking support for an educational video communicating the importance of the corruption problem and ways to fight it. The Task Committee is considering an ASCE hotline specifically for anonymous reporting of ethical lapses in engineering and construction. In the meantime, it has established a link to the hotline maintained by the World Bank for reporting corrupt practices.

THE CONVENTION

In December 2000, the UN General Assembly recognized that an effective international legal instrument against corruption, independent of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, was needed. The General Assembly established an ad hoc committee to negotiate a pact. The text of the United Nations Convention against Corruption was negotiated by the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of the Convention against Corruption between January 2002 and October 2003.

The United States and 139 other nations have signed the Convention since December 2003. To date, 55 nations have ratified, approved, accepted, or acceded to the Convention, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The Convention went into force in 2005, after Panama became the 30th nation to ratify it.

The Convention will employ the crime prevention and criminal justice systems of all countries. The treaty recognizes that the problem of corruption goes beyond crime. Corruption impoverishes countries and deprives their citizens of good governance. It destabilizes economic systems, even of whole regions.

Organized crime, terrorism, and other illegal activities continue to flourish in many parts of the world. In some countries, corruption erodes basic public functions and the quality of life of people. Bribery, for example, is universally regarded as a crime, but it also reflects socio-economic problems that require broad-based preventive measures and the involvement of society at large.

CONVENTION PRINCIPLES

Prevention. Corruption can be prosecuted after the fact, but first and foremost, it requires prevention. A chapter of the Convention is dedicated to prevention, with measures directed at both the public and private sectors. These include model preventive policies, such as the establishment of anticorruption bodies and enhanced transparency in the financing of election campaigns and political parties. States must endeavor to ensure that their public services are subject to safeguards that promote efficiency, transparency and recruitment based on merit.

Once recruited, public servants should be subject to codes of conduct, requirements for financial and other disclosures, and appropriate disciplinary measures. Transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must also be promoted, and specific requirements are established for the prevention of corruption, in the particularly critical areas of the public sector, such as the judiciary and public procurement. The Convention calls on countries to promote actively the involvement of nongovernmental and community-based organizations, as well as other elements of civil society, and to raise public awareness of corruption and what can be done about it.

Criminalization. The Convention requires countries to establish criminal and other offenses to cover a wide range of acts of corruption, if these are not already crimes under domestic law. In some cases, the signatories are legally obliged to establish offences; in other cases, in order to take into account differences in domestic law, they are required to consider doing so.

The Convention goes beyond previous instruments, criminalizing not only basic forms of corruption such as bribery and the embezzlement of public funds, but also the trading in influence and the concealment and "laundering" of the proceeds of corruption. Meanwhile, offenses committed in support of corruption, including money-laundering and obstructing justice, are also dealt with. Convention offences also deal with the problematic areas of private-sector corruption.

International cooperation. Countries agreed to cooperate with one another in every aspect of the fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation, and the prosecution of offenders. Countries are bound by the Convention to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court, to extradite offenders. Countries are also required to undertake measures which will support the tracing, freezing, seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of corruption.

Asset recovery. The signatory countries agreed on asset-recovery, which is "a fundamental principle of the Convention." This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where high-level corruption has plundered the national wealth, and where resources are badly needed for reconstruction and the rehabilitation of societies under new governments.

In the case of embezzlement of public funds, the confiscated property would be returned to the state requesting it; in the case of proceeds of any other offence covered by the Convention, the property would be returned providing the proof of ownership or recognition of the damage caused to a requesting state; in all other cases, priority consideration would be given to the return of confiscated property to the requesting state, to the return of such property to the prior legitimate owners or to compensation of the victims.

Effective asset-recovery provisions will support the efforts of countries to redress the worst effects of corruption while sending at the same time, a message to corrupt officials that there will be no place to hide their illicit assets.

Implementation. The adoption of the Convention by the General Assembly will be followed by a period in which countries will develop legislative and administrative measures, and ratify the Convention. The Convention came into force on , when the 30th nation ratified it. To promote and review implementation, a Conference of the States Parties is established. The Conference will meet regularly and serve as a forum for reviewing the implementation of the Convention.

CONCLUSION

Based on the principles enunciated in the Convention, ASCE is pleased to offer its strong endorsement of the document. Our Society is fully committed to the struggle against corruption around the globe in order to provide the world’s nations with the engineering of projects that are essential to reduction of poverty and an increase in international prosperity.