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The Bribery Act Should not be Watered Down

Written by Robert Barrington on Tuesday, 28 May 2013

According to reports, the UK Government is considering reviewing the Bribery Act, specifically the section on ‘facilitation payments’, otherwise known as bribes. Since the Bribery Bill was introduced in 2009 there have been concerted efforts by a small but vocal minority to water it down or prevent it passing into law.


According to reports, the UK Government is considering reviewing the Bribery Act, specifically the section on ‘facilitation payments’, otherwise known as bribes. Since the Bribery Bill was introduced in 2009 there have been concerted efforts by a small but vocal minority to water it down or prevent it passing into law.

It was passed in 2010 with all party support. It would be ironic if the Government were to weaken it further in the light of its anti-corruption rhetoric around the G8. The Bribery Act was not the UK gold-plating its legislation. It was, after a decade of non-compliance, bringing the UK in line with its international obligations under the OECD Anti- Bribery Convention.

It has already been weakened twice – first by the Guidance which undermined some key provisions, and second by the withdrawal of resources for enforcement.

There are two agendas at play. On the one hand, there are those who are genuinely concerned about what the law means and how to implement it and would like clarification. Transparency International understands this point of view and believes it can be solved by better communication with SMEs and some user-friendly practical guidance.

But there are those who simply want to continue paying bribes. They often use beguiling arguments about the level playing field or why certain types of bribery do not count. There should be no tolerance of such arguments. Businesses that want to pay bribes are acting unethically and illegally. Bribes were illegal before the Bribery Act and are illegal throughout the world. Like human rights abuses, the fact that they are tolerated in some countries does not make it right for some companies to do it.

At Transparency International we see the real damage done by corruption to the lives of ordinary people. A company does not pay a bribe in a vacuum. It is perpetuating a system that embeds the power of corrupt elites with devastating effects for economic development, effectively taxing the poor.

Anti-bribery laws – and there have been an increasing number passed in recent years, not just in the UK – are designed to stop this abuse of power. If a company can only win a contract by breaking national and international law, the board should question whether its executives are operating a sustainable resources-resources-business model.

Despite the noise, the Bribery Act has not yet had a chance to work. The lack of prosecutions to date is no surprise – such cases often take several years to come to light. We might reasonably expect the first prosecutions over the next twelve months.

Any review would be a premature attempt to kill it off before a single corporate prosecution has been brought. That is exactly what is wanted by those who wish to pay bribes; and therefore exactly what the Government should resist.

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Read 16238 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 13:44
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Robert Barrington

Robert is TI-UK's Executive Director. You can view his full bio here, and tweet him @TIukED.

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