Transparency International have just released the 2011 Bribe Payers’ Index – a ranking of relative business incorruptibility amongst the World’s leading trading nations. Because it’s based on perception it’s a rather subjective survey, but it gives an overview of the most and least corrupt markets in the Developed World.
The good news is that if you live in the Netherlands, Switzerland or Belgium, your businessmen are the most squeaky-clean incorruptibles anywhere. For us Brits, however, the news is less encouraging. Although we’re ranked at number 8, ahead of many of our European neighbours, we have dropped 5 places in the rankings since last year. It is disappointing that, after a year in which draconian new anti-bribery laws have been introduced, we’re not further up the list.
Being realistic, I suppose it’s asking a bit much to expect an immediate improvement in performance – we have the legislation in place but it has not yet had an opportunity to bite. Indeed, and as already mentioned, the only charges brought under the new law so far have been against a minor Court Official, for accepting a bribe to amend Court records (sentencing on the 11th of this month, folks!).
Much rhetoric continues to revolve around the Authorities encouraging Companies to self report cases of bribery and to organise and meet the costs of their own investigation rather than being taken to Court with resultant damage to their public image (and their finances). This is all very well but, in the words of the UK Director of Transparency International:
With the entry into force of the Bribery Act we would have expected to see the UK higher up in the rankings. UK companies need to make sure they have a rigorous zero tolerance approach towards bribery.
For reasons of cost, inter alia, the authorities seem to be steering clear of launching any large scale investigations, or bringing any prosecutions. However, in my view, they need to beware of making empty threats, which will certainly encouarge companies to ignore their legal obligations. What we really need is a nice, juicy test case with swingeing penalties, pour encourager les autres. At the moment, all we seem to have is an SFO Hotline; well, I suppose it’s a start …..
There is also – still – the issue of whether Companies will ever pay more than lip service to the new laws whilst the playing field remains so uneven, which was the subject of one of my earlier blogs. Interestingly, the UK Director of Transparency also had this to say:
At the same time the UK government needs to level the playing field for honest UK businesses ……
Until this happens, there’s a continuing risk that UK businesses will pay bribes to get lucrative overseas contracts “because that’s the only way we will get the business” and we will continue to languish in the Doldrums of the Index.
Could do better, indeed.