Myth, reality and the UK Bribery Act

The following is a post by Chandrashekar Krishnan, the Executive Director of TI-UK.

In the wake of intense last-minute lobbying, reinforced by negative and misleading coverage in some quarters of the media, the commencement of the UK Bribery Act has again been delayed.

The Act was originally scheduled to come into force in April following lengthy consultation last autumn on official guidance to companies on ‘adequate procedures’ for preventing bribery – guidance that is pivotal to the workings of the new law.  That guidance should have been published in January, but never materialised. The UK Government now says it is ‘working on the guidance to make it practical and comprehensive for business.’ Even worse, the UK Government has given no clear timeframe for when this important, long overdue and robust new law will actually come into force.  We will only know the date once the Government publishes its official guidance – and it will be three months later.

There’s no reason whatsoever for any further delay. The Act was passed in April 2010 and once in force will bring the UK’s antiquated anti-bribery laws – they date from 1889, 1906 and 1916! – into the 21st century. Indeed, the new Bribery Act is urgently needed to ensure the UK meets its international obligations under the OECD anti-bribery convention – obligations it has failed to meet since ratifying the convention in 1998.

There’s no reason either for business to fear the impact of Act. Claims in some sections of the UK media that the Bribery Act will put UK companies at a disadvantage in world markets and will threaten the legality of promotional and hospitality spending are entirely erroneous.  In fact, the Act should benefit British companies by helping create a level playing field, and should help Britain’s overseas interests and reputation. If the UK is to exercise influence in building good governance and tackling corruption abroad, it must first put its own house in order. We cannot expect our efforts fighting corruption in Afghanistan, for instance, to have any credibility unless we can demonstrate our own anti-corruption law is effective.

Transparency International UK has issued a briefing note to inform rational discussion of the Bribery Act’s implications. The four-page document Bribery Act: Myth and Reality explains why we need this law and debunks six big myths about the Act that have been swirling around the increasingly one-sided debate in Westminster and the UK media.

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