‘What is wrong with bribery? How, if at all, should the law deal with it?’

Aditi Zamvar – Year 13 Student & Law Society Member

Editor’s Note: Aditi Zamvar, student leader of the Law Society at GSAL, wrote and submitted this challenging essay for the Robert Walker Prize for Essays in Law organised by Trinity College, Cambridge. The primary objective of the competition is “to encourage students with an interest in Law to explore that interest by researching, considering and developing an argument about a legal topic of importance to modern society.” CPD

‘Why is bribery wrong?’ The question may seem simplistic, yet there is not a straightforward answer. Before tackling the question, I am going to define what bribery is. According to the Ministry of Justice bribery is defined as ‘giving someone a financial or other advantage to encourage that person to perform their functions or activities improperly or to reward that person for having already done so.’ [1] It is important to highlight the term ‘improperly’. One of the key reasons as to why bribery is wrong is the fact that it is encouraging people to do things that they know are, most probably, unlawful or immoral. The negative consequences of bribery are clear within society and it has a detrimental impact on both businesses and individuals, yet unfortunately bribery is commonplace. It is indisputable that there is a need for the law to deal with the issue of bribery, as ultimately bribery is corruption. The definition of corruption, according to Collins Dictionary, is “dishonesty and illegal behavior by people in positions of authority or power.”

There are a multitude of reasons as to why bribery is wrong and the impact on individuals in society is a clear example. Whilst bribery exists, the issue of social inequality can never be sorted. Bribery amplifies the economic inequality in society as those who are rich can pay their way into the top schools and jobs, receive the best medical treatment and so on. In most cases, it is the small bribes, known as ‘facilitating payments’, which can cause the most damage to individuals. In the countries where this occurs the most, people expect to receive these bribes even though they are just doing their jobs. For example, in Zimbabwe new mothers are often denied vaccinations for their babies if they do not pay the ‘consultation fee’.[2] In cases like these, where bribes are normal and required, it is the poor who suffer as they cannot afford or access the basic things that they need.

In a similar way, larger scale bribes also affect society. The ‘College Admissions Scandal 2019’ is a perfect example of this. To summarise the case, 33 parents have either pleaded guilty or were indicted for “allegedly trying to grease their little darlings’ way into university using their chequebooks.”[3] Ultimately, they were using their money to cheat the system in order to get their children places at university. It is evident that what they did was immoral but unfortunately, as with the ‘facilitating’ bribes, it is known that universities look more favourably towards those who can offer something of monetary value. By cheating the system the parents essentially showed that they believe that they are above the law and that they can do as they please, undermining the rule of law. Professor A. V. Dicey explained that: ‘when we speak of the “rule of law” as a characteristic… no man is above the law’.[4] This mind-set has a poisonous effect on society and it further disadvantages people who do not have as much wealth as others. In this case, many families were outraged and infuriated by the actions taken by these parents, and the corruption taken place inside so many reputable universities that was at the expense of the hard working, dedicated students who did not have the advantage of having as much money.

Corruption and bribery is also rife in politics, “98% of politicians are either corrupt or corruptible.”[5] Bribery within politics is dangerous for society as it can steer politicians away from doing what is best for the population. There are multiple examples of politicians taking bribes such as: Eric Stevenson, a New York Assemblyman, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2014 for taking over $20,000 in bribes in return for helping four businessmen build an adult day care centre in New York. Furthermore, big corporations fund political parties so that, when that party is in office, they can influence the government to make policies in their favour. The consequences of politicians taking bribes puts citizens at risk which goes against what a government is meant to do – protect its citizens. This is perfectly summed up by this quote: “You don’t necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. Politicians who value their pockets more than the life of citizens always do that every day.”[6]

Businesses also suffer due to bribery both financially and in terms of their reputations, “Bribery has no place in business in Britain or abroad. It undermines the rule of law, distorts our economy and damages the reputation of the UK.”[7] The first problem is the uncertainty associated with bribery. Businesses, in order to do well, require stability and predictability – the exact opposite of what bribery brings. If a deal is signed on the understanding a bribe is to be paid, the business has no protection if the said deal does not go through as bribery is illegal everywhere and they cannot then sue. Also, businesses involved in bribery and corruption cannot compete on the open market, as it is unsustainable. [8] Clearly, businesses, which are caught committing fraudulent acts, are going to suffer a rapid fall in their reputation, as consumers are not going to want to associate with a business that has committed a crime. Perhaps, more significantly, the business will face financial problems, as other companies are less likely to do business with them in order not to ruin their own reputation. In addition, the business will likely have to pay huge fines as well. Overall, the business is going to hinder potential profits and suffer losses in sales.

In order to deal with bribery, Parliament passed the Bribery Act in 2010. The Bribery Act was introduced to update UK law and it creates four general offences: the act of bribery, the act of being bribed, the bribery of foreign public officials, and the failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery on its behalf.[9] In order to adequately deal with bribery, it is important to prosecute both those who offered the bribe and those who received the bribe, as people need to be aware that both are equally immoral and wrong. By accepting the bribe, the recipient is helping to perpetuate this cycle of bribery, which is corrupting society. Third parties should also be prosecuted if they have helped to facilitate the bribe, even if they haven’t taken any of the money. Furthermore, I believe that the law should take into account the consequences and the seriousness of the case when it comes to dealing with bribery. I personally believe that bribery should be dealt with in the harshest manner, to demonstrate to society the cost it bears and highlight that no one is above the law regardless of his or her economic position. However, I understand the difficulty associated with bribery cases, as it is hard to prove that there was a corrupt intention.Overall, bribery is wrong, as it is immoral and unfair. The consequences of bribery, on all levels, have a dangerous impact on society and often times the poor are the ones who suffer the most. I think that it is undeniable that the law and the government have a responsibility to deal with bribery in order to protect both businesses and individuals. In my opinion society cannot grow and progress at the speed that it should whilst bribery and corruption exists – bribery and corruption are dragging society down and holding it back.

Aditi Zamvar (13KDM)


[1] (No author indicated) (2014) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13977221

[2] Russel-Prywata, L (2017)

[3] Samuel, J (2019) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/13/americas-college-admissions-scandal-corruption-cheap/

[4] Bingham, T (2010)

[5] Attributed to Mokokoma Mokhonoana

[6] Ayivor, I (2015)

[7] Attributed to Lisa Osofsky

[8] Fox, T (2017) https://www.complianceweek.com/blogs/the-man-from-fcpa/why-bribery-is-bad-for-business

[9] (No available author) (2019) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bribery_Act_2010

Bibliography

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