Last summer, an article was published in the University of Pennsylvania, Journal of Business Law, entitled “The OECD’s Call for an End to the ‘Corrosive’ Facilitation Payments and the International Focus on the Facilitation Payments Exception under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”. It was authored by Jon Jordan, Senior Investigations Counsel, in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In this article, Jordan reviews, at length, the creation of the facilitation payment exception to the FCPA and the international criticism of the US position by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Transparency International, the World Economic Forum and TRACE International. The article also contains a discussion of the hidden costs to US companies which still allow facilitation payments under their company compliance regimes. I found this article to be an excellent review of the issue of facilitation payments and a useful guide to the compliance practitioner on how to navigate this knotty problem.
Costs of Facilitation Payments
1. The Bull’s Eye
Jordan notes that the cost of making facilitation payments is often higher than simply the (purportedly) small dollar amount. He believes that once a company starts down the road of making such payments, it may well lead “to higher costs imposed on those companies that choose to engage in that type of activity.” He quotes Alexandra Wrage, President of TRACE International, that having a corporate policy of allowing facilitation payments is like “putting a bull’s eye on your company’s forehead” as the payment of facilitation payments sets “a permissive tone, which leads to more and greater demands.”
2. Books and Records Issues
A second reason detailed by Jordan is the hidden intra-corporate transaction costs in making facilitation payments. There are a “complex matrix of domestic and foreign anti-bribery laws that companies must navigate when making facilitation payments, and steering through that matrix can be a compliance nightmare and a costly legal undertaking.” The clearest example of this situation is the UK Bribery Act, which has no exception for facilitation payments. If your company has a UK subsidiary, or any employees who are UK citizens, you must carve out an exclusion for them from your facilitation payment exception under your FCPA compliance policy. Got that? So not only must you have an entire carve out in your compliance protocols, your internal accounting system, which is required under the FCPA to record internal controls, you must also make sure that no UK citizen or person otherwise under the jurisdiction of the UK Bribery Act, makes such a claim for reimbursement under your company policy.
The same is true for large UK based multi-national companies with which your company might transact business. The most obvious example in the energy arena is BP, which not only bans facilitation payments, but requires that any company which provides services for them ban facilitation payments made while doing work for or performing services on BP’s behalf. So think through how you would train your employees on how to properly make and record facilitation payments under your FCPA compliance policy with the HUGE EXCEPTION of when they might be performing some work under the 5 year Master Services Agreement with BP. It’s an administrative nightmare.
Is it Legal to Bribe?
Jordan also brings up the issue that there is not any country in which facilitation payments to public officials of that country are permitted under the written law of the recipient’s country. Accordingly, even if a particular facilitation payment qualifies for an exception of the FCPA, it, nevertheless, is likely to constitute a violation of local law – as well as under anti-bribery laws of other countries that also might apply simultaneously – and thus exposes the payer, his employer and/or related parties to prosecution in one or more jurisdictions. While enforcement to date in this area has been limited increased global attention to corruption makes future action more likely. Countries that are eager to be seen as combating corruption are prosecuting the payment of small bribes with greater frequency. Remember the hellish example of UK citizen Bill Smith, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in an Afghanistan prison for making a ‘facilitation payment’ to get his company’s vehicles out of a Kabul impoundment lot. Apparently, even Afghanistan will fight the corruption of its own government officials, particularly if the fight involves a foreigner.
You Don’t Need a Weatherman
Jordan concludes by stating, “The facilitation payments exception has become a dinosaur remnant of a bygone era…” He advises US companies to get ahead of this issue and ban such payments in their company compliance programs now. This is sound advice. I would, however, add one additional reason for such advice, which is foretold in the intro paragraph to this article.
Who does the author work for and where does he work? Let’s recap: The SEC in the FCPA Unit. The article clearly states, “The Securities and Exchange Commission, as a matter of policy, disclaims responsibility for any private publication or statement of its employees…and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission…” Did I mention who the author works for and where he works? You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and the direction of that breeze you feel at your back about now is clearly running against allowing the facilitation payments to continue.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2012