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TRACE’s Regional SEA Anti-Corruption Workshop

(Article published in the May 12, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)   

          Very soon, the election fever currently raging in our veins will subside, and it will be time to resume our lives.  The Chinese saying is supposed to go, “After the crisis, the laundry.”  And as we return to the daily task of earning a living, we confront once more the reality of the big “C”, not the physical ailment, but the social cancer, “Corruption”.  Hence, this piece on the TRACE International, Inc.’s Southeast Asia Regional Workshop.

TRACE International, Inc. (TRACE) describes itself as “a non-profit membership association that pools resources to provide practical and cost-effective anti-bribery compliance solutions for multinational companies and their commercial intermediaries (sales agents and representatives, consultants, distributors, suppliers, etc.).”  Founded in 2001 by private sector anti-bribery practitioners, it has its base in 51 West Street, Suite 300, Annapolis, Maryland, USA. It is not affiliated with the US government and does not accept government aid; it is funded by membership fees.

In line with its corporate purpose to promote transparency and anti-bribery compliance in international business transactions, TRACE provides its members with several core services and products, such as, due diligence reports on commercial intermediaries; model compliance policies; an online Resource Center with foreign local law summaries, including guidelines on gifts and hospitality; in-person and online anti-bribery training; and research on corporate best practices.


Members are of two kinds, namely, the "member company", meaning  a large business enterprise - a multinational corporation - that has operations in countries throughout the world  and  “member intermediary” who are the commercial intermediaries,  also often referred to as "agents", "sales representatives", "consultants", or "dealers", who help the members promote or sell their products in markets where they have little or no presence or knowledge of the local business environment.

Acting as a resource to TRACE, is a list of law firms, one law firm per country, with experience in and knowledge of anti-bribery issues and related compliance matters. This provides a valuable reference source for TRACE member companies and member intermediaries.  The law firms provide TRACE with information, pro bono, about the jurisdictions in which they practice; the Romulo law office where I work is the firm for the Philippines.  Hence, my participation in the Southeast Asia Regional Workshop.

I was given the assignment of providing the perspective from the Philippines; a daunting task I must say, given among other limitations the time allotment of one hour.  How in heaven’s name could I have given justice (no pun intented) all in just 60 minutes to the complicated issues in, among others, the Estrada plunder case, the ZTE aborted contract, the Radstock deal?  I tried anyway, and in a later piece will return to those subjects.

Other speakers from the region, giving their country’s own perspectives, were Chia Chor Leong, director of Citilegal LLC of Singapore, the host country, Richard W. Cornwallis, foreign consultant connected with Makarim & Taira S of Indonesia,  and Clemence M. Gautier, consultant at Tilleke & Gibbins International Ltd of Bangkok.

Vision broadening were the presentations by TRACE’s own Anne Richardson who spoke on “The International Context: Network of International Conventions.”  Anne also spoke on “Recent Cases: Anti-Bribery Enforcement Around the World.”  Capping the workshop were case studies on Anti-Bribery Compliance in Action.

Despite the often hopeless attitude we often hear on the state of corruption, particularly in our country, I continue to hold the view that it can be minimized.  My hope springs from the data I recently gathered from the Sandiganbayan.  In the ten years, from 2000 to 2009, the anti-graft court’s work load went down from 4,322 cases to about a half, at 2,419.  The number of cases filed every year is erratic and shows no pattern.  But, what is consistent, is that the number of cases disposed of has been always less than the cases filed. This is not to say that the court had gone into a “hanging” spree just to dispose of cases.  The ratio of the accused who were acquitted to those who were not is about one to four.

All these tell me that our anti-graft and corruption framework somehow works.  Like the mills of the gods, the wheels of justice do grind slowly.  And our Sandiganbayan justices are, albeit silently and without much fanfare, doing their work and are relentlessly eating up into the backlog and ridding the country of corruption.