Who is more corrupt: us or the French?

Before A French flaglast Monday’s Panorama about the Al Yamamah bribery scandal (in brief: lots of allegations about BAE breaking the law and bribing Saudis to get a big arms contract; big criminal investigation finds lots of evidence; but the investigation was axed before being concluded; both the BBC and The Guardian have unearthed plenty more since then) I emailed out to quite a few people to let them know about the TV show.

The gist of a few responses was that bribery being illegal didn’t matter – everyone does it – so if you want the business you have to be willing to bribe. I’m going to write about this in more detail soon (and I wonder how people with this view would respond if someone burgled them and the burglar said, ‘oh, that’s ok – loads of people carry out burglaries, so you can’t really expect me to be different’!), but I just wanted to highlight now the difference with France – there corruption allegations involving arms deal and powerful people with top political connections do get followed through; see here for example.

If France can take corruption seriously and prosecution people (and the US prosecutes people too), why should we turn a blind eye to corruption?

(And let’s not forget – there are very, very few countries that could have sold jet fighters to Saudi Arabia – it really is feasible to stop corruption in these sorts of large arms contracts as there is – or was until the UK took its ball away – a strong international consensus to prosecute bribery).

And as for boy David and “tough on crime” Conservatives – they haven’t been willing to speak up for enforcing the law on Al Yamamah either. I guess Labour and the Tories are just leaving it to the Liberal Democrats to be tough on crime!

0 thoughts on “Who is more corrupt: us or the French?

  1. Oooooooooooooh, cheeky – would you be trying to stir up some controversy with the French comparission Lynne?To be fair – you are a much better read on this than the so-called “top” bloggers like Iain Dale who seem to let their politics turn them into mutes when they don’t like the stories.

  2. Bribery provides a service in return for the money, so it isn’t exactly like theft – essentially it is a means to bypass regulations and barriers to trade. Whether it is moral depends on the reason for the barriers.A lot of developing countries have major problems with bureaucracy, red tape, inefficient government, poor recordkeeping and so on that stops people doing business. Poor people can’t get a foot up on the ladder, because it would take years, literally, to do even the most basic contracts and deals. If they obeyed the law, they would starve.So they pay bribes to officials to bypass the bad laws. The poor person gets a chance to run a viable business, the official receives a return for performing a service (and taking a risk), the economy gets more economic activity, bad law is made ineffective, and the nation gets richer. Everyone wins.Fighting corruption is one of the most damaging and destructive things you could do to a developing economy. It’s like stopping starving people from buying food just because they don’t have the proper paperwork – a licence to buy food. What you need to do is fight the reasons for the corruption – the bad law and bureaucracy.That said, I’m not sure that it applies in this case. I suspect the barriers to trade are set up deliberately by the Saudi government in order that they can take a slice for bypassing them. It’s like a stealth tax, in many ways.However, I don’t see the moral fault on the part of those who have to survive in business within the system, but those who constructed it. Barriers to trade are bad enough when unavoidable, to deliberately create more of them without justification is true wickedness.As with all tools of government, there are times when such barriers are justified on non-economic grounds – the sale of weapons to terrorists, say – but they are always very expensive in their consequences, and always leaky, and it would be extremely dangerous to block the leaks entirely. In other circumstances, it acts as a safety valve against legal tyranny and oppression – so the price of a few leaks is usually worth it.As a general point, if a government were to pass immoral laws – and the Saudi government has a bit of a reputation, doesn’t it? – is it definitely immoral to disobey them? I think a good case can be made up to a point, even in a theocratic dictatorship that oppresses women and minorities, but you can’t just take it for granted that breaking the law is by definition wrong.I can imagine that’s not going to be a popular view with a lawmaker like yourself 🙂 , but it’s what a lot of people think. Perhaps you’d like to address the issue when you get around to writing about it?

  3. Who is more corrupt Britain or France? hmmmm……………… good question. I think Saudi Arabia is more corrupt than Britain and France. Saudi Arabia is controlled in the House of Saud, a group of corrupt royals and the Mayor of London was right about those in the royal family…….good day

  4. Did we bribe the Saudis to get the deal? Or was it the case that their way of doing business with anyone is that commissions always get paid indirectly via the contractor, and they actually bought the best military materiel offered. Is that a way to ensure that the agent keeps an eye on the performance of the contractor? neocon’s points could be taken further – maybe in some countries with a minimal public administration the way that officials get paid is only for performance and then only directly by the person who performs, i.e. the citizen or business agrees with the official how much he will get in return for doing his job (a job for which his basic salary is far too low for the responsibility that he carries). We cannot expect that every other country will have the same inefficient bureaucracy that we have, i.e. they will argue that the cost of public admin at UK levels is not justified when they are trying hard to make economic progress. I’m not condoning what happens, and indeed the story about a truck carrying a large generator getting into Baghdad makes a very strong point: it got through many checkpoints unexamined because the people manning the checkpoints were paid (bribed from another point of view). When we trade (or invade), we need to work out how to manage everyday transactions in the other country, and manage them in a way that conforms to both our ethical and legal principles and theirs.