The U.K. Government's last-minute decision to push back the issuance of guidance and with that the effective date of the U.K. Bribery Act has not been universally welcomed.
Mark Pieth, chair of a working group from the inter-governmental convention body, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said "It is very disappointing that despite public commitments, the UK will further delay this important act to tackle bribery and corruption." He further remarked, "Establishing a level playing field for international business is as important now as ever and will help strengthen the global economic recovery." Indeed, there are even suggestions that the OECD may consider blacklisting UK firms if the Act is not promptly and meaningfully implemented.
Calling it "disastrous news," Chandrashekhar Krishnan, head of Transparency International U.K. described the government as having "failed" in its commitments to getting the law into effect as it said it would. The landmark law was already delayed once before to allow for the publication of guidance on the provision concerning "adequate procedures" defense. "This [additional delay] raises serious doubts about the credibility of the government's commitment to the Bribery Act, which was passed in the last Parliament on the basis of an all-party consensus, [and] creates unnecessary uncertainty for these companies and exposes the Government to international criticism that it is not serious about combating corruption."
Alexandra Wrage, head of the Annapolis, Md.-based business anti-bribery group TRACE International, said the U.K. "risks losing much of the ground it gained" by passing the law in the first place. "There have been doubts about the political will and commitment of resources behind this law, and those concerns are renewed today," she said. Others have pointed out how the delay actually prejudices those businesses who have already committed themselves to anti-corruption policies and practices.
This reaction may be as much over-reaction, as the continuing protests from business have spurred predictions that the Act will somehow be gutted. We continue to believe that despite the delay, companies potentially subject to the act should not sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. There are existing anti-bribery laws in place in the U.K., including a books and records requirement under the Companies Act, and although some consider the current piecemeal statutory framework outdated and cumbersome, recent successful prosecutions by the Serious Fraud Office demonstrate that the new Act is not absolutely necessary when prosecutorial focus is engaged.
Therefore, the review and updating of existing anti-bribery policies and procedures or the adoption where none are currently in place should not be put on hold simply because the Bribery Act is delayed.
Companies that have been dealing with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance already know how difficult day-to-day implementation can be. This delay in issuing guidance is thought to reflect only that U.K. officials are now confronting some of the same practical difficulties in providing meaningful guidance under the Act's safe harbor for adequate compliance programs. It is certainly to be hoped that the delay— predicted by government sources to be as short as only a matter of weeks—will now result in something much more detailed than the high-level comments previously offered.