Bribes to political parties an increasing threat to democracy

TI urges OECD countries to ban bribe payments to political parties abroad

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat

Bribe payments to political parties are increasingly used to corrupt the political process, warns Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation. This constitutes a dangerous trend undermining democratic institutions. "The current wave of corruption scandals we are witnessing across Europe is not about personal enrichment - it's about the purchase of access to policy-makers, and political parties are the prime target in this game," TI Chairman Dr Peter Eigen said.

"There is clear evidence that high-level political corruption is leading to growing disillusionment with the democratic process," Eigen warned. "In many young democracies it is even threatening the viability of democracy itself. We need to stop this development." In light of the evidence, Transparency International stated that reform of political party funding will in the future be a central focus of its work.

As a concrete step, TI urges OECD member states to prohibit bribe payments to foreign political parties. The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions does not fully prohibit bribe payments made to foreign political parties and their officials. "Payments to political parties may be used to circumvent the intended impact of the Convention and it is urgent that action be taken to prevent this," TI's chairman Prof. Dr. Peter Eigen stated today.

Strong support for this approach was voiced at an international meeting of prominent personalities that was held in Florence and co-chaired by Dr. Eigen and Mr. John Brademas, Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy and a member of TI's Advisory Council. Participants included representatives from the public and the private sector as well as civil society activists and researchers from 18 countries.

TI will move forward to seek action within the OECD on the basis of a set of actions recommended by the international experts at the Florence meeting. These actions included:

The landmark OECD Anti-Corruption Convention has now been ratified by 24 countries, who account for the bulk of global exports. A major priority for TI is to underpin the OECD Convention by advocating new measures, such as the ones proposed today, in addition to pressing for full monitoring and enforcement of the Convention and by campaigning for more countries to ratify the Convention.

La Pietra Recommendations

A group of 28 individuals from nine countries from the private sector, public institutions and civil society met at the invitation of Transparency International (TI) at the Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy, from 12-14 October 2000. The purpose of the meeting was to review issues relating to corruption and political party financing, particularly in the context of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

The participants are convinced that political party corruption is a major problem in most countries around the world - in industrialised countries as well as in developing countries and countries in transition. Bribe payments to party officials have played an important role in major bribery scandals around the world.

In the established democracies, political corruption contributes to a growing disillusionment with democratic processes, evidenced by declining levels of voter participation. In the emerging democracies and countries in transition, political corruption, often fed by corruption in international business transactions, poses an even greater threat to the sustainability of democratic institutions.

Participants agree that the present process of expansion of international business must be accompanied by the development of effective international standards of conducts. This is increasingly recognised in the fields of corporate governance, competition policy and rules for accounting and audit. Participants believe that expanding international trade must also be accompanied by effective measures against corruption, and they commended the OECD for its leadership role in the adoption of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Concerns were expressed that the Convention's prohibition of bribe payments to foreign public officials does not fully prohibit bribe payments made to foreign political party officials. Participants recognise that payments to political parties may be used to circumvent the intended impact of the Convention.

Participants are also concerned to ensure that, with increasing privatisation of traditional government functions, the issue of bribery within the private sector requires attention.

Against this background the participants recommend the following actions to the OECD:

The participants agreed that their proposals should be submitted formally to the OECD Working Group on Bribery. They also agreed to function as a continuing advisory group to assist Transparency International (TI) in promoting reform of political financing, at the OECD and in other national and international fora.

The participants requested their Co-Chairmen, Prof. Dr. Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International, and the Hon. John Brademas, a member of the TI International Advisory Council, to issue a press statement on behalf of the meeting.

La Pietra, Italy
14 October 2000

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