September 19, 2002
The dam has broken wide open for a Canadian company doing business in Lesotho. Acres International was convicted of bribery in connection to a hydro dam they were building. Patricia Adams is the executive director for Probe International, an NGO following the case. She’s in Toronto.
That World Bank was a major financial backer in Acres’ projects in Lesotho and other places in Africa. The bank conducted its own investigation, but found no wrongdoing. Caroline Anstey is the chief spokesperson for the World Bank. She’s in Washington.
Below are a number of excerpted quotes from an interview of WB spokesperson Caroline Anstey on the Acres verdict.
ANSTEY: We didn’t find sufficient evidence to debar Acres. But I think it’s important to point out that our investigation is not a criminal investigation. We do not have subpoena power, which means we really can look at any documents we have, we can ask companies for documents, they don’t necessarily give us what we ask for. And so when we said we were not debarring Acres, we made it very clear that if new evidence came to light in the Lesotho prosecution where they do have subpoena power, we would take another look. . . . And we are now asking to see the trial transcript and the final judgment, and we would like to take a look at those. And I think that there is a very large likelihood that the bank will reopen the debarment investigation.
INTERVIEWER: Businessmen have said in the past, this is the way you do business in the real world. Everybody turns a blind eye because they all do it. Is that changing, do you think, or was that never true in the first place?
ANSTEY: I’ve heard that argument. I really think that’s a bit of a copout because I think if we’re going to get change we have to draw the line somewhere. I’ve no doubt that there is a great deal of bribery that goes on. The point is that in many cases, people have focused on who’s been bribed and not on the briber. And I think it takes two to tango, and I think it’s absolutely right that large companies are held to account on this issue. And some countries, as you know, bribing has been even tax deductible. Now there are efforts to get an international convention against bribery and get it ratified through some national parliaments in Europe, but we have to keep the pressure up. It is not acceptable to say that the only way you’ll get the contract is by bribing and then have a race to the bottom. So I think that we applaud the authorities in Lesotho for having taken on this case and pressed it to its conclusion. They have a number of other companies that they’re now looking at.
INTERVIEWER: So if this judgment is fair, if the judgment holds then you’re delighted that somebody is being held up as an example.
ANSTEY: We’re delighted that Lesotho is taking action on these issues. We’re not delighted with the thought that companies are bribing. I think it’s a sad day for society as a whole. . . I think it’s a crying shame.
INTERVIEWER: And is this a fairly rare occurrence that a western company actually is nailed for bribery?
ANSTEY: Well, the bank has debarred more than 60 both companies and individuals. Sometimes for life from doing business with the banks, sometimes for a period of years during which time we’ve said that they must clean up their act and show a different form of transparency, or accounting, or behavior. I think more and more around the world this will begin to happen. I think it’s pretty unusual.
INTERVIEWER: Again, if the judgment is sound, will Acres be debarred, and then what happens to those other projects?
ANSTEY: Well, we have to take that one step at a time. But that would mean, clearly that they could not be involved in any bank financed projects. If they were debarred for life it would depend on the terms of the debarment.
INTERVIEWER: And projects that are already underway? What would happen to them?
ANSTEY: That would include those, yes.
INTERVIEWER: They would have to pullout?
ANSTEY: I think that that would be the case, but that’s all premature because they’re not at that stage yet.
INTERVIEWER: How long do you think it will take you to come to a determination?
ANSTEY: I think it will take the next couple of months to get hold and pore through and look at the testimony of the whole trial. It’s been a long trial, but I think everybody is wanting to get to this issue.