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Letter From Africa: Resignation Is Not Acceptance

Elizabeth Spahn’s post yesterday — Is Bribery Acceptable To People Abroad? — elicited this thoughtful comment:


Dear FCPA Blog,

I am a counter fraud and counter corruption consultant active in the East African region, where I am a native of. I have carried out tens of corruption investigations in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti and lately, Angola in South West Africa. In fact, I have been involved in possibly 90% of all corruption investigations in the region over the last 3 years. All of these are third world countries. And to borrow your phrase, and perspective, “abroad”.

I have never come across anyone who thinks that bribery, or other forms of corruption, is okay. I have heard arguments for why bribery is necessary but always from the bribers (foreign multinationals) and the recipients (typically public officials) but never from the real victims. The real victims are the local peasantry who have to live with poor (oftentimes, non-existent) public services and facilities. The real victims also have to live with the arbitrary predations of bribe demanding public officials.

What I have witnessed is resignation. Resignation to the fact that corruption has taken root and we may not eradicate it in our lifetime.

Now, I am not convinced that resignation is synonymous to acceptance. If that were the case, one would argue that the slaves chained in the slaving ship holds on the Atlantic had accepted being chained up as a way of life. It appears to me that resignation is worlds far from accepting something as okay. But English is my third language so I could be wrong.

Also, the American and European companies that propagate the fiction that it is impossible to do business in foreign countries without “greasing the wheels of commerce” just don’t get it. I think that is a rather convenient and self serving argument. In fact, it smacks of unacceptable intellectual laziness. The facts are very easy to grasp: public officials demand bribes from foreign (from my perspective) businesses simply because foreign businesses pay bribes. It is a vicious cycle.

If MNOs were clear that they are not willing to pay bribes, that they will never pay bribes and that they will fight all attempts to coerce them to bribery, then I am confident that the bribe industry would experience serious contraction.

It is also a fact that most of the countries where MNOs pay bribes are poor countries in acute need of Foreign Direct Investments with the attendant jobs, tax money and social programmes. It is quite unlikely that all MNOs would be run out of town just by refusing to pay bribes. I think foreign companies pay bribes because it is easy to do so.

To wind up, from my experience, the contention that bribery is acceptable in foreign countries is a rather convenient obfuscation of the issue. It also shifts attention from the bribe givers without whom there would be no bribery.

The real question is: Is Bribery Acceptable To Companies That Pay Bribes?

Kind regards,

Michael Kuria, LL.B (Hons), CFE

[email protected]


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  1. Right on and well said. In fact, it needs to said–repeatedly.

  2. In response to your letter here a few elements

    – resignation and fatalism are common among the poorest layers of society . Only a few individuals would have the guts, the education and the means to refuse what is consired by a few as a painful necessity.

    – grand corruption elimination or curtailing remains a prime target to all strategies of eeimination and experience shows that you cannot start eliminate petty bribery alone. The systemic effect of anticorruption plans unfortunatly does not exist mainly for political reasons and lack of vision of international experts: for instance in Pakistan, the National Startegy focused initially on grand corruption but as it was used as a political tool and would jeopardise the predominance of eeh army, it was then decided to take care of administrative and petty corruption, with the good results we all know (this is sarcastic of course).

    – pointing fingers to MNOs is a but short as it takes 2 to tango. Yes MNO are on the supply side but FPO (foreign public officials) and PEP are on the demand side as well. In reality, roles are often interchanged where corruption of MNOs are coerced as well by FPOs.

    – sanitizing the environment does not need ONE unique rule that would be universally valid in Uganda and Kenya, in Italy or the USA.. Political, law enforcement and judicial systems are different. Economies vary a lot. In 20 years of work for anticorruption I have heard it all (stupidities)
    ++ " it is genetic" as if there is anything genetic in crime….
    ++ "it is in the blood" .
    ++ and worse of all " it is in the culture". This I can and will never accept as there is no culture in crime and no crime in culture.

    Integrity is a state of mind. It does not need any religion or Penal Code to handle the issue. Today we have both, and we are still struggling. A f or one, will never reisgn and will never give in.

    With regards
    A Segus

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