All forms of bribery are wrong but it is widely recognised that bribery of public officials is particularly damaging, with consequences including the distortion of fair competition, diversion of funds away from vital public services, corrosion of the rule of law and the undermining of national security.
In response, international legal conventions specifically prohibit the bribery of public officials and many business standards provide especially strict requirements for companies interacting with public officials.
However, the application of this global norm is complicated by high-level international legal definitions of ‘public official’, as well as varied national legislation and guidance. Interpretation of these definitions is further complicated by the international diversity of government structures and public service delivery. The border between the public and private sectors also frequently shifts through privatisation and nationalisation, outsourcing of public services to private sector contractors and government involvement in commercial activity through hybrid structures such as State-Owned Enterprises and Sovereign Wealth Funds.
Through our work with members to identify best practice and benchmark procedures, UK Finance has seen how this ambiguity adds costs and delay to corporate anti-bribery and corruption efforts and can reduce appetite for doing business with new markets. Varied interpretations in company policies can also hold back collective action and collaborative work, adding complexity to efforts to share risk intelligence on official corruption and to support public integrity initiatives.
We have therefore worked with our members to develop a practical and risk-based definition of public officials for the purposes of anti-bribery and corruption compliance. The following paper sets out the technical approach and recommended guidance to help industry work to a consistent definition. While we recognise that each firm will need to apply its own risk appetite, this guidance proposes a broad approach building on both international legal analysis and recent case law, including on borderline cases such as public contractors and State-Owned Enterprises.
We hope that this guidance will contribute to wider anti-corruption efforts and provide a stimulus to future updates of existing definitions and due diligence tools.