The Blog

Bribery & Corruption

Bribery and corruption - like beauty and so many other lofty moral issues and ideals - are always in the eye of the beholder.

I recall in 1980 working in Saudi Arabia and being responsible for installing a new fax system (remember what a fax is?) for the company I worked for. For 3 days I kept going outside to see how the man who was sitting on top of the hole in the ground in which all the cables lay was getting on getting us connected. I was bemused by what on earth was holding him up, when all he had to do was simply connect 2 red wires. We engaged in polite and friendly conversation about all sorts of things and he regularly showed me the 2 red wires that needed connecting in an infuriatingly tantilising tease. I simply couldn't work out what was preventing him from just 'clicking' the wires together. This is when a Saudi colleague introduced me to the concept of Bakschisch - a 'tip' or a 'gift'. It is simply 'how things get done around here' he explained - a thoroughly normal practice in so many parts of the world. Although I felt I was involved in some sort of bribery and corruption act (and paid it out of my own pocket rather than claim it on expenses) I also had a job to do and my boss was getting hot under the collar about how much time such a simple task was taking me. Although this is the only time in my life I have knowingly paid a bribe to get something done - I also know that I am a big 'tipper' in favourite bars, restaurants and other places I spend time, as I know a 'tip' often helps give great service, a table, or whatever else makes life easier.

In so many countries that I have visited and done business in, bribery is endemic and an accepted way of life. There is a strong sense of 'if you cant beat them - then join them'. Although many look aghast at the scandals surrounding FIFA and the World Cup - in so many of the countries that voted Sepp Blatter back into office for a fifth term - the way of getting things done that is considered 'normal' is considered by others as corrupt and morally bankrupt. As ordinary citizens worldwide will attest - they hate the fact that they have to pay Bakschisch to get things done - but they also accept it as a way of life. It's no different to paying tax. Everyone understands the need for tax but no one likes paying it.

Whereas I find the whole concept of bribery and corruption to be abhorrent and against my own personal moral code, I can also see that as far as the beneficiaries of financial handouts from FIFA are concerned - they just did what to them was 'normal' to get a new football pitch built or investment in their youth academy. For them, this redistribution of wealth from the richer footballing nations to the poorer ones was a way of 'leveling the playing field' and giving their country an opportunity to participate in the global game. If in exchange for some funding they agreed to vote in a certain way, their parochial view of what was good for their country took precedence over their ability to see the bigger 'developed' world point of view.

However, lets be honest about how the political systems of most 'developed' countries would not function without massive 'donations' to politicians and their parties by 'donors'. In developing countries they look at this and see the words 'donation' and 'Bakschisch' as interchangeable. I think our politicians are sometimes prone to the same hypocrisy and double standards that they so willingly accuse others of plying.

FIFA 'Partners' - the massive global brands - see the hugely profitable benefit of having their logo splattered all over the TV screens of billions of global consumers during a World Cup. A chance to get so many 'eye-balls' in such concentration is not to be underestimated. The damage to one cola brand of NOT being the official sponsor can be huge. So, they turn a blind eye to the construction workers who build the stadium, the debt that the host countries amass to fund the event at huge cost to the economy and social funding for local people. They turn a blind eye to how things get achieved to deliver what they want - which is customers. Expediency rules the day.

Big brands want customers - and that's how bonuses (an incentive to perform beyond the call of duty) are earned. However, they do need to be mindful of what they do, as customers vote with their wallets when they feel that brands are overstepping some invisible line on acceptable practice. A boycott of a certain coffee shop that wasn't paying sufficient (or any) taxes on its business only needs 10% of the customers to revolt - and that drop in sales and profits can cost millions. So, they pay some tax that's no doubt smaller than the loss of profits to keep things rolling along as they were.

Although the vast majority of sports fans don't like slave labour to be used to make their trainers or sports gear - if only a small minority were to object and stop buying a certain brand in protest - big brands would react swiftly. Companies no longer underestimate the power of social media or consumer backlash.

Personally, I think that consumers and voters are a lot smarter than politicians and business people give us credit for. They abuse our trust in the short term, possibly for short-term gain, but in the long run - doing the right thing and doing it the right way for the benefit of most people is a matter of personal choice.

We all know whats right and wrong - whether 'wrong' is socially acceptable or otherwise - and so learning to be the best version of ourself should come before telling others how they should behave.

If we don't like what someone else is doing - we should vote with our wallet - and our heart and head. We should have the courage to be aligned in our behaviours with our integrity. Great leaders do this. Poor ones don't - and even if they survive for a while - nothing lasts forever. Everything always turns out OK in the end - and if it's not OK - it's not the end.