Competition is the lifeblood of commerce. Commerce is the lifeblood of economic development. Economic development is the lifeblood of human progress.

Competition is the lifeblood of commerce. Commerce is the lifeblood of economic development. Economic development is the lifeblood of human progress.

When something corrodes competition, the chain breaks.

Corruption has that effect.

During the 1990s, governments in growing numbers began to move against corruption, recognizing that economies rife with illicit, anticompetitive behavior can never flourish.

The US has led the effort. It enacted its own anticorruption law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in 1977.

And it supported the most significant international agreement enacted to date: the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Adopted in December 1997, the agreement took effect in February 1999.

Thirty-four countries signed the OECD Bribery Convention, as it is called. In doing so, they agreed to outlaw the bribery of foreign public officials during international business and related activity.

At the end of June, the US Department of State released its annual report on action taken under the Bribery Convention.

The report analyzes steps by 27 countries that have enacted implementing or other legislation related to the convention, declaring that most of them have taken "effective steps" to make foreign bribery illegal.

"We believe, however, that the laws of some countries fall short of the convention's requirements," the department said in a statement. "We are also disturbed by continuing reports of alleged bribery of foreign public officials by firms based in countries for which the convention is in force."

Joining the 30 members of the OECD in signing the convention were Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, and Chile. As of June 29, only one country that signed the agreement, Ireland, hadn't given the OECD formal notice of ratification. And four countries-Ireland, Brazil, Chile, and Turkey-hadn't enacted implementing legislation.

The OECD convention isn't the only international anticorruption effort. A May 2001 State Department brochure notes these others:

--In February 1999, 11 African countries working through the Global Coalition for Africa adopted 25 anticorruption principles, encouraging adoption of common standards at the national level and international cooperation.

--Working through the Organization of American States, governments of countries in the Western Hemisphere in March 1996 adopted the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption covering corrupt practices at the national and international levels.

--The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is promoting reforms to enhance anticorruption governance and transparency.

--The Council of Europe has adopted several conventions related to corruption, including the Criminal and Civil Law Conventions on Corruption. A body called the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) monitors implementation and compliance with 20 guiding principles adopted by COE's Council of Ministers in 1997.

--Other European anticorruption initiatives are under way through the European Union, Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, and Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe.

--The World Trade Organization applies commitments to ensure transparency and legal process in a range of government activities related to international trade.

--The United Nations completed the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and opened it for signature in December 2000. At the same time, the General Assembly approved a resolution to begin negotiations of a UN global instrument against corruption.

--The First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity, hosted by the US in February 1999, attracted participation by representatives of 90 governments and produced a declaration of intent. A second forum is to be held this year in the Netherlands and a third in 2003 in South Korea.

As the State Department's notes of caution about the OECD Bribery Convention suggest, talking isn't the same as action on corruption. Passing laws isn't the same as enforcing them.

But declarations of intent at the national and international levels amount to a healthy start. They make it more difficult than before for governments to take the sadly traditional wink-and-nod approach that many of them followed-and still do.

Work remains to be done.

The State Department's May brochure notes that from early 1994 through early 2001, the government learned of "significant allegations of bribery by foreign firms in over 400 competitions for international contracts valued at $200 billion."

It says that companies from more than 50 countries have been implicated in offering bribes for contracts in more than 100 "buyer countries" during the same period.

These numbers help explain why economic and development and human progress remain uneven processes throughout the world. The oil and gas industry should support all efforts to improve them.

More in Editor's Perspective