22 Aug 2017 - by A4ID

Bribery: a barrier to development?

Last night I spent an interesting evening listening to people discuss what NGOs need to be aware of now that the new UK Bribery Act has come into force.

Bond – the umbrella group of British NGOs working in development – had just published their new ‘Anti-Bribery Principles and Guidance for NGOs’ for which A4ID lawyers had previously provided legal research.

At the launch of these new Principles representatives from NGOs, the private sector and government came together to look at the route to the new Act and the challenges for development organisations going forward.

It was interesting as I think many of the discussions around the Bribery Act looked at it as a tool for development – a way to prevent corruption that can be so damaging to development efforts.

Instances of bribery can be found worldwide, but like most things it is a practice that hurts the poor the hardest diverting money away from the provision of education or healthcare, and into the back pockets of unscrupulous individuals or the bank accounts of companies.

But despite being a new piece of UK legislation, the UK Bribery Act should also have a positive impact on developing countries as it applies to all international organisations if they engage in any commercial activity in the UK.

This is good for development. But the message from last night was that NGOs also need to make sure they are leading by example and ensure they have their own house in order and their own anti-bribery policies in place.

The biggest concern for most people listening seemed to be around ‘due diligence.’ If they are working on the ground with partners, and if those partners are also working with partners, how far down the chain does the NGO have to go in its due diligence process? And how do they do this?

The second issue was around reporting bribery. In some areas where NGOs work bribery is so ingrained as a way of ‘getting things done’ that ensuring local staff report these instances – and then refuse to engage with them in the future – can be challenging, especially if they see it as a ‘UK law’.

All NGOs would agree to a zero tolerance approach to bribery as a concept because they know how detrimental to their aims and objectives it can be. But this does not mean that eradicating bribery in all its forms will be an easy task.

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