The World Bank Office of Suspension and Debarment at Six Years

By Pascale Hélène Dubois, Chief Suspension and Debarment Officer at The World Bank, Vice Chairperson of the IBA Anti-Corruption Committee and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center

An Introduction to the World Bank and its Sanctions System
During FY14, the World Bank Group committed $52.6 billion in financing with the objectives of eradicating extreme poverty and creating shared prosperity.  Since fraud and corruption work against these objectives by diverting essential resources from poverty eradication efforts, the World Bank works both on the preventive side and on the enforcement side to combat fraud and corruption in World Bank-financed projects.

On the enforcement side, the World Bank sanctions system is comprised of an investigative unit (the Integrity Vice Presidency) and two tiers of adjudication: 1) the Office of Suspension and Debarment (OSD) determines whether to suspend or debar firms and individuals accused of fraud and corruption in World Bank-financed projects; and 2) the World Bank Group Sanctions Board decides appeals of these OSD decisions.  I am the Chief Suspension and Debarment Officer in OSD. 

Takeaways from OSD’s Six-Year Report
The administrative practice of suspending and debarring companies that have engaged in misconduct is a relatively new response to fraud and corruption, and information on how these administrative systems work is sometimes scarce.  In June 2014, OSD released its first public report.  Entitled “The World Bank Office of Suspension and Debarment: Report on Functions, Data, and Lessons Learned 2007-2013,” this report (available at http://go.worldbank.org/E3OQKOCVP0) covers the period from the inception of OSD in 2007 through June 30, 2013.  It provides case processing and other performance metrics related to 224 sanctions imposed during that time on firms and individuals.

When drafting the report, my colleagues and I were thinking of what lessons we had learned over those six years that could be useful for others.  We wrote the “lessons learned” section of the report to hopefully be of use to national governments and international organizations engaged in setting up, or expanding, their own suspension and debarment processes.  Briefly, the lessons I share with people studying administrative sanctions systems are:

1. Fraud can be as significant to development effectiveness as corruption or collusion, because unqualified consultants and contractors often cannot perform or end up delivering defective goods and services.
2. A suspension and debarment office has an adjudicative function that requires independence.
3. Clear terms of reference are essential.
4. Timeliness should be measured in every aspect of the suspension and debarment process, and should be transparent internally and externally.
5. Efficiency also protects the function’s independence; the SDO cannot be told how to adjudicate individual cases, but can rightly be asked to account for how time and money is spent overall.
6. Effective case management depends on good data collection.
7. Internal processes are important; documenting one’s thinking and thought process on different decisions helps ensure equal treatment of all respondents.
8. All instructions, requests and decisions related to the office’s functioning and decision-making should be in writing, guaranteeing accountability, and adherence to policy and precedent.
9. As may be expected, setting up a suspension and debarment system presents challenges, especially in an organization where the function is new. A “start-up” checklist may be found in the report.
10. Establishing internal administrative policies and procedures will improve quality and, especially in a small operation, maximize the office’s output.
11. Rules and guidance should be public, not just for the sake of transparency, but also to ensure stability.
12. Public reporting is an essential part of transparency.

As mentioned, administrative suspension and debarment systems are relatively new.  They are only one of many possible ways to handle misconduct on the part of contractors; suspension and debarment systems are generally used as supplements to existing criminal and civil law systems designed to fight corruption.  As government procurement worldwide becomes more sophisticated, I expect the anti-corruption field to experience rapid growth and administrative suspension and debarment systems to become more common.

Now is a good time for academics and student practitioners to become involved in this arena.  Examining and considering the goals of these systems now will help ensure that they evolve to include appropriate due process considerations.  With knowledge-sharing, and with fresh ideas from new practitioners, these systems show great promise as an effective response to corruption.