Facts that should change the world

In Kenya, people pay 16 bribes on average a month; the payments account for one-third of the average

For most Kenyans, a request for kitu kidogo (Swahili for "something small") is an almost daily occurrence. Getting a job, a school place for your child, a birth or death certificate, a business licence, medicine, or a hospital bed - all these require palms to be greased. As one Nairobi resident put it, you can get documents to prove your father died ten years ago and then get him a passport the following day. There was even a hit song about it: "Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo" or "Country of Bribes".

Kenya, according to Transparency International, is now the tenth most corrupt country in the world. Weeding out corruption is imperative for any developing country. Corruption hits the poor hardest. Bribes and kickbacks add an estimated 20-25 per cent to the cost of government procurement and tend to deter foreign investment.

Yet multinational corporations are often implicated. Courts in Lesotho convicted two western companies - Canada's Acres International and Germany's Lahmeyer International - of bribing their way into contracts for a dam construction project. Two US businessmen were indicted for their roles in a huge scam where payments on Kazakh oil and gas were routed into the bank accounts of senior government officials. Some European countries have allowed bribery payments to be tax-deductible.

An OECD convention, which came into force in February 1999, was intended to stop companies based in one country from using bribery and inducements in another. But none of the signatory countries has so far brought a prosecution. Corporations from the US, Italy and Japan - all among the signatories - have a particularly high propensity to bribe, according to studies.

Extracted from Fifty Facts That Should Change the World by Jessica Williams, published by Icon Books (£9.99)