Amnesty needed for U.K. firms caught in corruption crackdown

International Construction Review
March 26, 2007

British businesses caught by the current round of anti-corruption investigations in the U.K. are in need of an amnesty arrangement, says global construction trade magazine, International Construction Review.

In the construction industry, the need is being recognised for some form of amnesty for firms caught by an association with corrupt practice back in the days when the attitude was one of placing blame on countries where corruption was seen by foreign businesses as part of the culture.

According to a report by International Construction Review, a magazine that focuses on issues affecting the global construction industry, moves to curb corruption cases involving foreign bribery by U.K. businesses and nationals raises difficult issues for contracting or consulting organizations that might be affected by these inquiries. For
example, a construction firm found guilty of overseas bribery might have once suffered temporary loss of reputation but a firm found guilty of the same now could face cross-debarment by international financing banks and serious loss of business. This has already become a reality in the case of Lahmeyer International, the German consulting
engineering firm found guilty of corrupt practice in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project trials.

The old attitude that bribery was part of the ‘culture’ of doing business in some countries is being overturned by an increased drive to punish both bribe givers and takers. As the chief executive of the British Consultants and Construction Bureau put it:

“The attitude of ‘Oh gosh, there is nothing we can do about it, it’s just part of their culture,’ is nonsense. It is learned behaviour. It is regrettable, but it is down to poor governance, it is not a natural human state.”

Meanwhile, despite growing pressure for legislative reform, the British government would not support a new Corruption Bill introduced in the House of Lords on the grounds that it lacked clarity and consensus of parliamentary opinion.

Introduced by Lord Chidgey, a Liberal Democrat MP and the vice-chairman of the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group, the bill began life as a 10-minute rule Bill in the House of Commons as a result of the group’s 2006 study of corruption in Africa entitled, Other Side of the Coin.’

The Bill defines main corruption offences and makes provisions for specific offences including: bribery of foreign public officials; corrupt transactions involving agents; foreign bid-rigging; and corruption in sport.

The Bill includes provisions to protect whistleblowers who report public sector
corruption and makes it an offence for someone “exercising any public function” who is offered a bribe but does not report it, and for someone who knows of such corruption and does not report it. The Bill also covers corruption committed outside the U.K.

The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group said its 2006 study addressed concerns raised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in its current review of legislation adopted by signatories to the OECD anti-bribery convention, which include the United Kingdom.

Speaking for the British government, Baroness Scotland, Minister of State at the Home Office, said it did not disagree with the need for robust legislation, nor what she called the pernicious effect that corruption can have on the rule of law and good governance.

She said the government’s Serious Crime Bill [PDF] , currently under discussion in committee, provides for the creation of serious crime prevention orders, which she described as an effective new tool for law enforcement. The Serious Crime Bill includes offences relating to the encouragement or assistance of crime; moves to increase
information sharing to prevent fraud; and amendments to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in regard to the regulation of investigatory powers.

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts

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