When lobbying skirts close to bribery

Metaratings
08 Feb 2011
00:00

 

Before I am accused of drawing unfair comparisons I will admit publicly that I am not up there with the intelligentsia and, for the life of me, cannot see a clear distinction between the activities of both companies. Yet one is viewed as the bastion of all things that corporate America should aspire to and the other vilified for what is deemed to be evil corruption. Both activities appear to involve money or gifts being offered to influence a decision.

Authorities have even linked payments to foreign officials as potential funding of terrorist organizations to give even more gravitas. Through the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, directives have gone out to all firms doing business with the USA that it will not condone these types of activities under any circumstances and, as Alcatel-Lucent and Siemens before them have discovered, the investigations and penalties can be extreme.

As one senior official in Asia once explained to me, what the West sees as graft is left-over from a traditional feudal system that has operated in many Asian countries since well before the USA was even colonized. Without wishing to simplify matters too much, land was owned by chiefs, lords, princes, etc. and the peasants allowed to farm the land in return for giving the top man his share of the harvest. Those that produced the most were rewarded with greater resources in order to produce even more.

In more recent times, the tradition has carried on with loyal associates being granted jobs and repaying the favor by ‘donating’ part of their salary to the one responsible for getting them in. Not unlike today’s employment headhunters, I guess.

You can see a natural progression to today’s situation where the winning of contracts is influenced by the ability to pay the facilitator some compensation for his contact base and position. The practice is endemic across many parts of Asia, Africa and South America and is not likely to be stamped out by Western-based morality rules in the short term.

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