Thank you, Patrick, for the kind introduction. Around the world, corruption threatens security and stability, hinders economic growth, undermines democracy and human rights, destroys trust in public institutions, facilitates transnational crime, and siphons away public and private resources. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, corruption has had a significant human cost with tragic impact. Corrupt actors have used this crisis to siphon off funds from much-needed emergency relief packages. In exchange for kickbacks, public officials have inappropriately awarded contracts to unqualified bidders for personal protective equipment and medical supplies, putting the lives of patients and frontline workers at risk. Governments have prioritized vaccines to “VIPs” and family members, at the expense of vulnerable populations. Increasing transparency and accountability by strengthening procurement processes and mechanisms for whistleblower protection, and helping build capacity to investigate and prosecute these crimes, has been a top priority for INL and our partners over the last year.
In response to this challenge, over the past year OECD and INL have worked through regional Law Enforcement Networks to provide a platform for law enforcement practitioners to share their experiences and best practices with corruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Network members have come together during this difficult time to share their challenges and successes in investigating and prosecuting corruption. This has led to a better understanding of what works, and what doesn’t, when rapidly deploying resources during a crisis. They have also been able to build and strengthen relationships that facilitate information-sharing related to corruption cases and tactics for preventing and investigating corruption.
Not only has this exchange proven useful in the context of COVID-19, but the practices shared throughout this project will provide an important input into strengthening countries’ frameworks for tackling corruption in times of crisis. Corruption risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are not unique to the current situation. We saw similar risks play out during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Ebola outbreak in 2014, and other past crises. Unfortunately, the fact is there will be crises in the future that corrupt actors will use as an opportunity for personal enrichment. By having a better understanding of how corruption has played a role in past crises and in the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be better prepared to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute corruption in the future. We can use this time as an opportunity to ensure that anticorruption efforts in crises pave the way for establishing far-reaching strategies to strengthen anticorruption infrastructures.
I want to thank our colleagues at OECD for their hard work on this project as well as Law Enforcement Network members for their dedication to preventing and investigating corruption. I look forward to hearing from our panelists, who have been directly involved in these peer exchanges, about what we have learned so far.