Thursday, 30 September 2010
The Bribery Act was passed by parliament in acknowledgement that corruption is one of the world’s great evils. The victims are usually the poorest of the poor, living in countries where corruption has undermined the rule of law, the economy and the provision of basic services like health, education and sanitation. When a company pays a bribe, it makes corruption worse. Perversely, that only escalates the cost of doing business there, both for the bribing company and other companies.
However, siren voices have already been raised claiming that aspects of the Act will be a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. Questions are also being asked on whether companies should be made responsible for bribery by their commercial partners. I would not be at all surprised if we soon hear protests against the Act’s sensible ban on so-called facilitation payments, on the grounds that small bribes to petty officials is the only way to do business in some environments.
The Government’s draft guidance on how part of the Act will be implemented, published on 14 September, appears to be a good effort towards clarifying difficult areas. Most UK companies want to conduct business ethically and it is important to address concerns about how certain provisions of the Act may affect legitimate business activity. The problem is that unscrupulous companies pay bribes sometimes disguised as corporate hospitality or promotional expenditure. This creates an awkward situation for companies that want to make reasonable, proportionate and bona fide expenditure on such activity. I hope we can find a constructive solution that addresses their concerns. I do not believe the answer is to seek an amendment of the Act because this may weaken it in ways that would be exploited by dishonest companies. TI-UK supports the Bribery Act as it stands.