After the measured discussion of last year, 2011 took off with some strong vocal opposition and plenty of negative media coverage on the Bribery Act.
I can’t help think that it is rather strange to have to defend something that should be completely uncontroversial. Surely, no-one is in favour of bribery? It’s interesting that many of the public statements have been comment pieces quoting unnamed businessmen in hypothetical quandaries or statements by business lobbying organisation the CBI saying that the Act is not fit-for-purpose.
And rather than clearing up reasonable questions for businesses preparing to implement the new law, some of these comments have muddied the waters – unnecessarily in my view. Anyone who has read the draft guidance put up for public consultation by the Ministry of Justice, knows that it is not true that simply giving a nice bottle of wine – with the sole aim of reinforcing cordial relations with an existing client – could make one liable for prosecution under the Act.
In contrast well-respected law firms, the Financial Times, the OECD and the Serious Fraud Office all have pointed out that the legislation is actually good for UK business as it will level the playing field for honest companies.
So, what is going on? The not fit-for-purpose charge comes rather late in the day considering that the Act that has been through four formal periods of consultation over the last 4 years and was passed in April with cross-party support.
In looking for the answers, we have been unable to find out much more detail about which specific companies are expressing their concerns to government contacts. CAFOD’s input into the consultation – which was prepared jointly with other agencies of the BOND governance group – is publicly available.
So, aside from announcing the timetable for implementation without further delay, an obvious step forward would be for the Ministry of Justice to publish all submissions to the latest consultation. Then we can see both who exactly has concerns and the extent to which they have already been addressed. After all, if we are serious about combating bribery as a first step towards ending corruption, surely we should have the debate in a transparent way?