“We are operating on the principle that if we’re bidding for a job, the rule is: no entertaining.” These are the words of a businessman I met at an event organised by the Ministry of Justice to discuss the impending Bribery Act. He, like many of the hundred or so attendees, is nervous of the legislation and uncertain about what it is allowed under the act and what is not.
This breakfast seminar was the last of of seven that have been held around the country as part of the consultation on the draft guidance to the legislation, which will be enforceable from April.
Corporate hospitality is one area that many people have picked up on because of the new offence of “bribing a foreign public official”. For companies trying to win work abroad this poses a major risk.
The MoJ’s Roderick Macauley was keen to point out that legitimate hospitality is not being targeted under the act. He said: “The government recognises that hospitality is part of doing business and it doesn’t want to crack down on that, but at the same time it can also be used as a bribe.”
It’s all a question of proportion, apparently. The MoJ has produced some “illustrative scenarios” alongside its draft guidance that are supposed to help businesses understand what is proportionate and what is not. But the people I spoke to were not convinced. They felt the examples given are extreme: flying a foreign public official out first class with all his family and putting them all up in a five-star hotel is clearly crossing a line. It’s the grey areas that will be tricky.
For more information, look out for Building’s article on the Bribery Act and the implications for construction firms in the 29 October issue.