Tuesday, March 21, 2023
(As prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank CGS and the Center for International Private Enterprises for hosting this event.
On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I take it as a serious responsibility to participate in this forum on such a critical topic.
Corruption exists, to one degree or another, in every corner of the globe, and we are all too familiar with what it looks like. It’s trying to get a driver’s license and having to pay “speed money.” It’s knowing that if you want a passport appointment, it’s going to cost you extra. It’s needing to bribe the right official to register a plot of land you just purchased.
It’s countless other examples of graft and dishonesty, many of which I am sure you have experienced.
Corruption is a parasite that feeds on the resources of a society and drains it of its strength. It can devastate every level of business and government.
Sadly, some notorious scandals have occurred in my own country.
Yet, exposing corruption and holding perpetrators accountable have catalyzed economic growth in the United States and elsewhere.
When societies exert such efforts, they prosper. I am confident this can be the case here in Bangladesh, as well, and the United States is eager to help.
Under President Biden, the U.S. government has established the fight against corruption as a core national security interest of the United States.
It was one of the main themes of the first Summit for Democracy in 2021 and remains a focus of the U.S. government today.
We support initiatives that help Bangladeshi businesses meet international standards and regulations, making them more competitive in the global market.
By promoting ethical business practices, we can create a more level playing field for businesses of all sizes and encourage more foreign investment.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, has partnered with Bangladesh’s Registrar of Joint Stock Companies to launch an online registration process for new businesses. This makes registering new businesses more transparent, faster, and more affordable.
USAID has also worked with the Bangladesh National Board of Revenue to establish Authorized Economic Operators. This endeavor empowers the private sector, instead of the government, to release shipments at ports.
As a result, the process has become more transparent and raised the level of trust between the private sector and the government.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) works with the Private Public Partnership Authority Bangladesh to conduct workshops to improve the legal and business environment of Bangladesh.
The CLDP also works with Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) to improve municipal governance by improving fiscal transparency. Under this program, the CLDP brought a DNCC delegation, including the mayor, to Miami in January.
The U.S. Department of Justice trains investigators and attorneys in the Anti-Corruption Commission on such topics as how to investigate and prosecute money laundering, how to use electronic evidence, and how to investigate financial crimes.
It has also fostered a relationship between Bangladesh’s Financial Intelligence Unit and the International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre.
The United States is committed to holding corrupt officials accountable for their actions. This can take various forms.
For example, working with international investigators, we may uncover corrupt practices, such as money laundering, and share information to hold corrupt actors accountable.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits U.S. businesses from paying bribes, at risk of serious penalties—even if bribery is accepted as “normal” in the countries in which they operate.
And just as U.S. laws hold U.S. citizens and businesses accountable for corrupt practices, there are U.S. laws and penalties that apply to non-U.S. citizens who use corrupt practices in violation of U.S. laws.
What can the Bangladeshi government do to reduce corruption? It could think about ways to empower institutions to tackle corruption and promote transparency and accountability in governance and business.
One idea is to reduce the amount of cash that officials handle by replacing cash-based financial transactions with the government with online transactions.
Citizens could pay bills, fines, and taxes electronically. Such a process would minimize the opportunity for bureaucrats to overcharge or misplace public funds into their own pockets.
Let me also recognize here the important role a vibrant civil society and free media play in investigating and exposing instances of corruption.
Bangladesh has many advantages that potential investors would find attractive. But as American business leaders tell me: multi-national firms have options on where they invest.
And they will choose whichever country has the lowest levels of corruption, the fewest bureaucratic obstacles, the greatest respect for rule of law, and the best logistics infrastructure for their business.
If Bangladesh can assure citizens and investors that corruption is less prevalent here than in other markets, it will attract more investment and help the country continue the path of economic growth.
The United States is committed to working with Bangladesh to eliminate corruption, thereby enabling Bangladeshi citizens to enjoy lives of dignity and inviting more international trade and foreign investment.