Corruption in region angers managers

MANY managers of large corporations in Asia-Pacific region are fed up with the impoverishment of their families and nations because of corruption, says the president of a US research and consulting group on business ethics.

Gary Edwards, president of the Ethics Resource Centre, said: ''They are furious not only with their governments but also with their own companies, whom they blame for perpetuating corruption.'' Many of them, he said, blamed Western corporations for initiating corruption years ago.

''They realise the cost of bribery and corruption is the development of their countries,'' said Mr Edwards, who is in Hong Kong to attend a conference tomorrow.

The conference, which is aiming to establish a code of business ethics in Hong Kong, is jointly organised by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and six major chambers of commerce. It will also see the participation of the mainland-funddued group, the Hong Kong Chinese Enterprises Association.

Mr Edwards said educated people, in the managerial and professional class, did not want their children to grow up in poverty while a handful of families became incredibly wealthy.

These Asian managers were caught between the knowledge that corruption was destroying their economy and the fact that their own livelihood was dependent on multi-national corporations which perpetuated the problem, he added.

Mr Edwards has spoken to employees, managers and executives of top corporations throughout Asia-Pacific region on the issues of business and ethics.

While Asians blame Western corporations, Mr Edwards said expatriate executives maintained that corruption had always been, and would remain a feature of doing business in Asia.

''I think that very soon, and I pray it is very, very soon, we will see Western executives in Asian jails caught corrupting government officials,'' he said.

''Until we see senior vice-presidents of US and other major Western corporations in prison for bribery, companies and the executives in them will continue to be of the opinion that that's just how it is in those countries.'' Sound ethics were becoming increasing important to operations of large companies, he said.

Meanwhile, experts believe suggestions to be made at the ethics conference could influence Chinese companies in their efforts to modernise and expand internationally.

China adviser and business tycoon Hari Harilela said the mainland was extremely interested in gaining investor confidence in business opportunities and might consider putting guidelines suggested at the conference into practice.

''I feel the Chinese are trying to get more of a taste of Hong Kong's business and are extremely eager to stamp out corruption on the mainland to boost investor confidence.

''I believe the Chinese want to develop more Western business methods, but I think they'll want to use them with their own.'' Professor Raymond Wacks, head of the law department at Hong Kong University, agreed the conference could influence China's business strategies.

''I feel this may be a small seed that could certainly grow into a large business tree for China.

''Hong Kong is not squeaky clean in terms of corruption but the idea of the conference is to provide a context in which the ICAC can offer particular codes of ethics - and I certainly hope this will help mainland business development.''