In April last year, the UK government took the bold step of passing a new Bribery Act, updating the law of 1906, and catapulting the UK from the mediocre to a front-runner in fighting corruption.
Today the Government bowed to pressure from the Evening Standard and interests in the City of London to delay the implementation of the new law, with the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke sending it for review.
A review that follows a 10 year drafting and redrafting process, debate in Parliament, and an extensive consultation period around the guidance notes that business requested to gain greater clarity on how the law would be enforced.
The Global Poverty Project is disappointed in the Government’s decision, and even more so in the highly partisan campaign waged by the Evening Standard to block this law after the democratic process had run its course.
We stand in support of BOND’s anti-corruption strategy and wholeheartedly endorse Transparency International UK’s stance, who recently wrote that:
“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.”
Today the Evening Standard gave voice to these protests, arguing in its editorial on dumping the Act that “This Government is trying to make Britain a friendly environment for business, not one that seeks to strangle commercial activity.”
It is shameful that the Evening Standard or anyone should see that our commercial benefit is more important than integrity, or the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
We at the Global Poverty Project will continue work with others in the NGO sector to give a voice to the world’s poorest in our laws, and will keep you updated on how you can respond. For the moment, we must wait to see the details of the review – and in the meantime recognize that each month that passes without the Act is another month that continues to allow too British business to act with impunity in their foreign operations.