Many UK non-governmental organisations have welcomed the announcement of the new Bribery Act, which is expected to come into force in April 2011.
Most UK-based NGOs attach the greatest importance to maintaining high ethical standards, but it is vital that the NGO community adopts a zero-tolerance approach to the bribery procedures in their own organisations. This particularly applies to those operating overseas in environments where corruption risks are high.
The Bribery Act, which replaces common law offences and the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889-1916, contains four key offences: two general ones covering the giving and receiving of bribes (sections one and two); one of bribing a foreign public official in order to obtain or retain business or an advantage in the conduct of business (section six); and one that can be committed by commercial organisations that fail to prevent bribery committed on their behalf. There is a defence if the organisation can prove that it had in place 'adequate procedures' designed to prevent bribery (section seven). After a public consultation, the government is expected to issue guidance on 'adequate procedures' in January 2011.
Any act of bribery by a UK organisation or national, anywhere in the world, breaks the law in the UK, irrespective of the size of the bribe. Even if the bribe is paid by someone else on your behalf, you are still guilty. The act prohibits all corrupt payments, regardless of whether they are paid directly by the organisation or on its behalf by a third party.
There are concerns over NGOs being forced to pay bribes in order to disburse assistance in humanitarian emergencies. Collective action by NGOs and donor governments to protect NGOs in such situations is vital.
The offences under sections six and seven are generally not applicable to NGOs, but NGOs should seek legal advice on this issue.
They should conduct risk assessments to identify how and where they might be exposed to a high risk of bribery and whether anti-bribery policy, management systems and staff training are adequate in relation to these risks.
With the support of Bond, the umbrella group for development charities, Transparency International UK and Mango are starting a new project, together with the Charity Finance Directors' Group and the Disasters Emergency Committee, to develop principles, guidance and training on anti-corruption practice for NGOs.
- Chandrashekhar Krishnan is executive director of Transparency International UK