Organisation - November 8, 2018

Anti-corruption code: Did we need it?

Albert Sikkema

Wageningen researchers must not accept bribes or expensive gifts, says the new WUR anti-corruption code. And they should be wary of countries that are on international blacklists because of cybercrime or the funding of terrorism. Is the code a blessing or a handicap?

text Albert Sikkema  illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek


Roel Bosma
Project manager at Aquaculture and Fisheries

‘The code is a check to ensure that before you start a project you assess whether you should enter into a collaboration with that party in that country. A lot of donors require this, so the WUR institutes that work internationally do need some kind of code. Moreover, there are potential partners in our field that are corrupt. Rumour has it that there is corruption in many an FAO office in Africa. They say you don’t get a contract there without paying somebody, but it is difficult to prove it. So you have to weigh things up: am I going to do business with them or shall I look for other partners? I have never encountered bribery myself. But there were times in the period when I worked as a consultant that I didn’t apply for assignments because I knew I would only get them if I offer a backhander. So this kind of code helps you be selective and that is very good.’

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Irene Koomen
Project leader at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (C

‘I lead long-term projects in developing countries and I can’t guarantee that our local project staff don’t take bribes. We have all kinds of checks and balances within WUR, with which we try to exclude corruption. For the larger projects we first make a risk analysis and draw up clear guidelines and agreements. But you do hear things sometimes. Apparently in Ethiopia there is a 10 per cent arrangement: if you get someone work that earns them 1000 euros, you get 100 euros in return. I can’t prove it – you know but you don’t know. What I can do is check project spending and have it monitored. I have never come across fraud in our projects. But cars intended for the project team were nabbed by managers for their own private use. That is called misuse of resources. Our project partner intervened in that case and cleaned up their act. I don’t know whether a course for WUR staff on dealing with fraud would help. In my opinion it is much more important to work closely with the Dutch embassy. They can make a good risk analysis because their staff get everywhere and know the country inside-out, and they can advise you on what action to take. You should use this knowledge when assessing your partners.’

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Nico Heerink
Associate professor of Development Econo

‘I’ve been working on research projects in China for a long time. The rule in the code that you are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than 50 euros is tricky in the Chinese context. My research partners regularly give me good wine, special teas and handwritten calligraphy. How much are they worth? I know for sure that if I turned them down, the giver would be sorely offended. I accept the gifts because they are not meant as bribes but as tokens of appreciation for the ongoing collaboration. I did once have the experience of being bought off when I was working in Beijing for the IFPRI research institute. The World Bank had financed an extremely over-ambitious project at a Chinese research institute and I had to evaluate whether the project should be extended after three years. I was invited on an outing. My boss tried to ring me to tell me not to go, but it was too late. They made a big fuss of me all weekend and in the end I couldn’t say no. That shouldn’t be possible anymore because China now has a strict anti-corruption policy. Offering trips is not allowed anymore and there are strict limits on spending on meals. I approve of the passage in the code about international sanctions, but it is open to different interpretations. China has been on the EU sanctions list since 1989. Point three of the EU sanction says: suspension of high-level contacts. How does that tally with all the Dutch trade missions to China since 1989?’

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Jouke Campen
Project manager at Wageningen Plant Research

‘It’s fine by me that we’ve got an anti-corruption code. I work a lot in the Middle East, where we sell expertise about horticultural systems. I have never come across bribery; there is no corruption among my clients. But I do hear stories about corruption related to the building of airports, where there is more competition. Our clients want Wageningen expertise and we don’t have much competition so there is not much temptation to bribe. And besides, we are not selling weapons in the Middle East, we are improving food production. I don’t think there can ever be any harm in that, even in countries that do not comply with UN resolutions. Precisely by being in those countries and talking about tricky subjects, you can open up a discussion about their perspective, which is often formed by local media. So it’s not always a bad thing to work in a dictatorship.’

It is not always a bad thing to work in a dictatorship

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Frans Pingen
WUR legal expert

‘The anti-corruption code does not lay down the law in the sense of forbidding us to do business in certain countries. The code indicates: if you do research in that country, this is what you should bear in mind. If staff go to a country that is high on the corruption index, they are expected to take a course so they can handle it. We provide staff with support and information. The same goes for the funding of research. If the US blacklists Iran, Dutch banks have to abide by US regulations because otherwise their branches in the US will be penalized. That complicates the financing of projects in certain countries. Then we have to find out whether we can still do business with the partners we would like to work with in those countries. The code is intended to ensure that we constantly ask ourselves in which countries we can carry on working without any risk or with special measures in place.’