New Times,
New Thinking.

5 January 2007

We need a ’Bribery Tsar’ for the 21st century

If bribery is so good for jobs, why should it be a crime?

By Mark Thomas

The war on terror has been used to justify many things from the Brian Haw law (to make protesters get permits) to illegally invading Iraq. It is indeed a small wonder that John Prescott when caught shagging didn’t opt for the “war on terror” defence.

I for one would pay money to see him declaring, “We have it on reliable intelligence information that unless I put my penis in the woman’s vagina then terrorists will detonate a nuclear dirty bomb device. In London, quite possibly at Battersea Dogs Home or somewhere else with a large collection of vulnerable pets.”

In the game of Parliamentary Top Trumps the “war on terror” is the argument with the least amount of logic or consideration but the most likely to win – the political equivalent of a parent saying to a child, “Because I said so!” However, the most unbelievable use of the “war on terror” excuse has to have been committed by Tony Blair.

Just before Christmas, on the day Blair was questioned by the police (in connection with the cash for peerages inquiry) and Lord Stephens issued his report on Diana and her drunk driver, the Attorney General briskly announced the Serious Fraud Office were stopping their investigation into allegations of bribery between Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer BAE Systems and the happy-go-lucky-beheading-nepotistic state of Saudi Arabia.

Why had Britain ceased its legal duties to investigate corruption? Tony Blair later explained that sometimes the rule of law had to be balanced against security interests – the “war on terror” excuse!

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Even the most cynical could not have predicted the Prime Minister of Britain would publicly say that we need to pay bribes to Saudi Arabia or al-Qaeda will get us! In fact, considering that one of the bribery allegations under investigation was that BAE Systems forked out for prostitutes for Saudi officials, what Blair is essentially saying, “unless he puts his penis in the woman’s vagina then terrorists…”

Of course, it is quite illegal for the SFO to cancel its investigations; as the OECD convention – to which the UK is a signatory – clearly says prosecutions should not be “influenced by considerations of national economic interest [or] the potential effect upon relations with another state.”

The UK authorities argue that Saudi Arabia will get upset and refuse to collaborate in the fight against al-Qaeda if the SFO investigates corruption. This kind of behaviour is normally called extortion, and caving in is also breaking the law under the OECD treaty.

However, while the authorities try to dance on the legal head of a pin, the views that “we need to bribe the Saudis to get the jobs,” and “well, it’s wrong but it’s good for the economy,” has swung a begrudging public mood.

So let us put aside the legal arguments. Let us leave the constitutional debates on how the rule of law is defied. Cease the cries of “corporate criminals breaking the law with Blair’s blessing!” Silence the shouts of “hypocrisy” from the admonished African leaders at the G8!

If bribery is so good for jobs, then surely it should not be a crime? Bribing a foreign official only became illegal in 2002, but, since we’re clearly having difficulty with the new law, let’s get rid of it and legalise bribery.

Historically bribery is the British way, a part of our heritage and tradition. Where would we be without bribery? The Premiership would be in total disarray. Hackney Council’s housing department would cease to function. Backhanders are quintessentially British, like Ronnie and Reggie Kray or fish and chips.

But most important in the public debate is the claim that bribery is good for job creation. In order to ratify this we should assess how many jobs are created with our money. Our bribes need to be cost effective. After all other countries might bribe against us and then we would lose jobs.

Britain needs to be equipped with the bribing skills to face international standards and be flexible enough to cope with an increasingly competitive global market place. We need a Bribery Tsar to prepare Britain for 21st century corruption, to make sure that no British children leave school without bribery training to at least NVQ level. We need an Office of Fair Bribing, a bribery regulator – we need OFBUNG!

With this in mind, I am trying to launch a petition to create a Bribery Tsar on the Downing Street website. My first effort was rejected on the grounds it was “intended to be humorous, or has no point about government policy”.

If you want to sign on to it, mail us here and we’ll mail you details once the petition is up and running.

If you wish to sign on to the previous petition on the Downing Street website calling for Tony Blair to standardise the sale and price of a peerage to £1, then click here

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