Keeping bribery at bay crucial for our standing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am

At first it seems wrong: why should a new British law on bribery concern firms in Hong Kong? We no longer answer to our former colonial master and no one has given it the authority to police the world. But as much as we may feel a sense of indignation, this sort of legislation - making bribery an offence for companies in any way doing business with Britain - makes sense. At issue is not extraterritorial jurisdiction, but ridding the world of the scourge of corruption.

There's good reason for the law. Britain has long lagged behind other governments with anti-corruption rules. Its reputation suffered as a result of a bribery scandal involving British defence contractor BAE Systems; the country's position in the international corruption index has fallen to 17th, behind Japan and Hong Kong. By making British firms, those that operate in Britain, or companies anywhere in the world that have British business links liable, those poor perceptions can start to be rolled back.

The law is tougher than a US one already in place. Given the absence of serious anti-corruption regulations in many parts of the world, such steps should be welcomed. Hong Kong already has its own rules and enforcement, but there is much to be gained by having them buttressed by laws from other jurisdictions.

Hong Kong, as a regional business and financial centre, has to comply with the highest practices, and be seen to do so. Our laws and legal system is one of our great strengths and sources of competitive advantage; but we have been lax with signing up to and enforcing several international codes. Perception matters. We can't be seen as being a place where companies can bend or break the rules. A survey of top companies released in April found nearly half had 'failed to display any evidence of taking significant steps to counter bribery'. Regardless of whether they have British dealings, this needs to change.

Beyond being wrong, corruption leads to inefficiency, endangers safety, causes unfair outcomes and undermines a system that has been built on hard work and merit. Our city's international standing is based in large part on our adherence to laws and fair play. Keeping bribery at bay is a key part of that.