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How to prevent a suspension and debarment disaster before it happens

We commonly track the financial penalties levied for foreign bribery violations. But the most devastating loss can be in dollars not yet earned because of suspension and debarment.

On December 16, thought leaders representatives from the U.S. government, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank gathered at the World Bank’s Third Suspension and Debarment Colloquium in Washington, DC to explore the latest developments.

Despite differences in their respective suspension and debarment regimes, the panelists stressed one common theme: Robust compliance programs.

“There has been convergence regarding [the importance of] integrity compliance programs, with due diligence being one element,” Lisa Miller of the World Bank Group’s Integrity Vice Presidency said.

The Bank’s Integrity Compliance Guidelines make establishment or improvement of an integrity compliance program a “principal condition” to ending a debarment or conditional non-debarment.  Similarly, the U.S. government looks to the effectiveness of a contractor’s ethics and compliance program as an important indicator of “present responsibility.”

Lisa Miller continued through a cost-benefit analysis that pointed to the wisdom of implementing a robust compliance program before a company finds itself in suspension and debarment procedures:

A company doing global business should certainly have a compliance program in place . . . The benefit is in having it up front, so you have procedures and you have it as a mitigating factor . . . There is a cost in having it, but there is also a cost in not having it — the benefits outweigh the costs in the end.  Compliance programs can [even] be a business benefit, [as companies] can gain long-term business partners because of it.

Contrary to contractors’ worst fears, panelists repeatedly stressed that suspension and debarment systems are not intended to create difficulty for businesses.  

As World Bank Senior Counsel Giuliana Dunham Irving said, “The purpose is not to be punitive but to help strengthen and improve companies so that they can help in carrying out our mandate.”

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Nadine Tushe is an Anti-Bribery and Anti-Corruption (ABAC) Consultant with STEELE Compliance and Investigation Services.

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