Bribery Act – Comments on delay

It is today claimed that the coalition government’s decision to delay the implementation of the Bribery Act for the second time casts serious doubt on its commitment to combating corruption, said Global Witness, Tearfund, CAFOD and Christian Aid today. Passed with an all-party consensus in April 2010, the Act was due to be implemented last October, but was then put off till April and is now delayed indefinitely. 

“Bribery is neither the victimless crime nor the necessary evil that some UK companies might suggest” said George Boden of Global Witness. “It cripples development and it’s bad for our long-term business interests. British companies should back their superior technical capacity with high ethical standards, not compete in a race to the bottom to see who can pay the largest bribes – which we would likely lose anyway.” 

Neil Thorns, Head of Advocacy of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development added that: “Bribery of foreign public officials results in government revenue which could be used for development, being wasted on unnecessary and poor quality procurement projects, posing a risk to health and even life where essential services are affected. This risks undermining UK development assistance and ultimately wastes taxpayers’ money.” 

Like any other law, the Bribery Act is subject to judicial discretion and common sense when implemented. Companies will undoubtedly be allowed to continue to provide proportional hospitality to potential clients without fear of prosecution 

It is also claimed that arguments that the bill is too complex or stringent for businesses to implement do not bear scrutiny. The bill underwent extensive consultation with business and NGOs before being passed with support from the business sector. The Act was passed with cross party consensus, as a much-needed update to legislation dating back to 1906, which was roundly criticised by the OECD. 

The Act would have brought the UK into line with countries like the US, which already has robust legislation, as well as meeting the recent call of the G20 for every member country to introduce legislation to combat bribery. 

“Bribery is already illegal, but companies are operating under laws which are chronically outdated,” said Mr Boden. “Since the Act was announced last April, we have seen a concerted campaign to get it watered down, but the argument remains clear and simple. Bribery destroys lives and damages UK interests – companies which do not pay bribes have nothing new to fear from the passage of this law. 

The government has not given a clear timeline for implementation of the act, which the legislation mandates must include guidance for business.