Ambassador Karen L. Williams’s speech on business transparency

Remarks as prepared for Business Transparency Seminar hosted by the U.S. Embassy on November 7, 2019

Thank you all for joining us tonight for, what I am sure, will be an interesting discussion about the importance of fighting corruption.

Partnering with Suriname to fight corruption and ensure a level playing field for all investors is one of the U.S. Embassy’s top priorities. And the reason, I believe, is clear. We understand there is a mutual benefit to encouraging a prosperous Suriname. A thriving Suriname can increase trade links between our nations, helping support U.S. exports and job creation. It can lessen the attraction of illicit trade and the black market deals in which dangers of drugs and terrorism thrive. It can promote regional stability and ensure the continued protection of civil rights. In short, a prosperous and growing Surinamese economy is good for the citizens of Suriname and the U.S.

But corruption, as we know, can cast a dark shadow over economic opportunity. This is not a problem unique to Suriname; indeed there is corruption everywhere, including in the U.S. The question is how does a government, how does a community, how does an individual deal with it? Do entrepreneurs accept corruption as the price of doing business? Does someone encourage it because they’re in a power position and it is filling their pocketbooks with extra cash? Do citizens factor in the cost of a bribe in obtaining services or purchasing goods? We know that corruption exists. The challenge is how we respond to it.

As you will hear from our guest speaker, the U.S. takes serious, hard-hitting legal action against corruption, even fighting corruption oversees to ensure no U.S. business profits from corruption which can harm residents in another nation. Not every nation takes such a hard line against corruption fueled by their businesses. Some know their companies pay bribes, and they have no problem with that. For countries interested in foreign business and investment, it may seem a small price to pay a bribe in order to secure that business or investment. The reality is different. Working with unethical businesses or investors from nations that encourage corruption can be a ticket to disaster with hidden costs that harm society and destroy economic freedom. Some people may reap profits by paying a bribe, but in the end, the rest of the country pays dearly for the corruption this fuels.

And that’s why nations should fight corruption. Even if you disregard the ethics of wanting to do the right thing, nations and their citizens should fight corruption long-term financial gains. One bad deal can ruin a country’s reputation. Reliable, well-known international investors look for stability, for markets without surprises. Corruption corrodes that sense of stability. Corporations look to do business with trustworthy partners, avoiding those with lax ethical practices and policies. Corruption also eats away at prosperity by diminishing the available resources — financial, material, personal.

And this is why the U.S. Embassy sought to bring to Suriname an expert like Haydee Ortiz Olinger. She comes from the private sector, a little company you may have heard of: McDonalds. She has been involved in major business decisions about where to invest, about how to operate – decisions shaped by concerns of corruption, money laundering, unethical behavior. So we hope her discussion with you tonight is enlightening, is useful, and provides you with knowledge to continue partnering with us to combat corruption and to help develop a more prosperous Suriname and even deeper U.S.-Surinamese economic ties.

I look forward to her remarks and the ensuing discussion with you all. Thank you.