In times of crisis, and there is no doubt that this Covid-19 pandemic certainly constitutes one, solidarity and empathy fortunately emerge, leading us to want to help our neighbor in an immediate way. That need drives us to make decisions and put them into practice rapidly, not respecting, in many cases, the care and controls that we adhere to in normal times.
For instance, in this type of situation, States (and public entities) usually adopt decisions aimed at speeding up their own internal processes, by making purchase and contract requirements more flexible, while increasing their willingness to receiving donations. Companies, in turn, quickly redefine their strategies in the area of corporate social responsibility (if these already existed) and decide to make donations, of money as well as in kind, to help alleviate the needs generated by these scenarios.
The downside of this situation is that crisis periods also create opportunities for those who only seek to maximize their benefits, appealing to different types of irregular maneuvers.
In this context, in order to mitigate risks when making decisions, it seems convenient to remember one of Napoleon Bonaparte's best-known phrases: "Dress me slowly, I'm in a hurry".
This phrase shows us that no matter our hurry, certain steps must be taken if we want things to go well. In this specific scenario, this will mean the donation arrives properly and in due time to its destination, that an appropriate and efficient use is made of the donated resources, and that no negative consequences are created for us (whether due to involvement in an act of corruption or money laundering, or as victims of fraud).
In achieving these objectives, Compliance Programs play a strategic role. It is worth remembering that these programs include actions, mechanisms and internal procedures designed to promote integrity, supervision and control, and are aimed at preventing, detecting and correcting irregularities and illegal acts; they are effective only when they have been specifically developed to fit the needs of the organization –considering size, economic capacity and exposure to risks-, and are dependent on the explicit support from the top management, with an internal leader, and the capacity to be embraced by the culture of the organization.
This way, if an organization has a Program, it will most likely have procedures for making a donation (such as verifying that it is included in the annual donation plan, that the recipient meets specific requirements and submits required documentation, that it possesses prior approval from certain areas and authorities), and which exceptions can be made in cases of urgencies and/or emergencies. On the other hand, if the company does not have a Program or procedures, it will be required to exercise extreme care before taking any actions. But whatever the scenario, in order to mitigate integrity risks associated with donations, here are some good practices to follow:
These ideas, far from trying to dissuade donating, are intended to provide a few guidelines so that donations are carried out in a safer way.
Paula Honisch is a lawyer, Master in criminal law, specialist in anti-corruption and criminal compliance. Executive Director of Honisch & Asociados. She designs and implements compliance programs, integrity policies, and prevention of violence and harassment in public and private sector organizations. @PaulaHonisch
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