The latest Transparency International Progress Report on OECD Convention Enforcement suggests that the battle against bribery and corruption has run into a brick wall.

The report blames it on a lack of political will. The most striking example of that is where it slams the British Government for quashing its investigation into BAE Systems' funny money deal with Saudi Arabia. According to the report, that sent a worrying signal to governments around the world.

"The termination by the United Kingdom of the investigation of bribery allegations against BAE Systems on the Al Yamamah arms project in Saudi Arabia presents a serious threat to the convention,'' the report said. "The UK government's assertion that national security concerns overrode the commitment to prosecute foreign bribery opens a dangerous loophole that other parties could assert when investigations may offend powerful officials in important countries."

In its report covering 34 countries, Transparency International found there had only been significant enforcement in 14 of them.

Countries where there had been no prosecutions were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Countries which had prosecuted were Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

The fact that many countries are not doing anything about the problem is a significant worry. As one New Zealand official said in the report: "Anecdotal evidence suggests that bribery of foreign officials is not particularly uncommon, but has been rationalised as a necessary means of doing business.The deficiencies or obstacles to enforcement have to do with an apparent lack of courage and will to get to grips with the issue both in legal and ethical senses.There seems to be an attitude which abhors the idea of bribery and corruption of officials within New Zealand, but accepts a different or lower standard with respect to bribery and corruption offshore."

The evidence in the report suggests it's a view shared by other countries. Which means the bribery problem is not going away.

19 Jul 2007