5 reasons why your company should tackle facilitation payments
26 September 2019
Early-on in my career as a Chief Compliance Officer I prioritised a multi-year approach to facilitation payments. These are nominal disbursements supposedly made to ensure the timely delivery of services to which you are entitled - like getting through a customs check, a police stop or passport queue. We called them out for what they really are - bribes.
Choosing facilitation payments as a major focus seemed odd to some. There are legislative exceptions, such as under the US FCPA. And anyway, lot of people viewed company rules against making such payments as unenforceable. Prosecutors were considered to be disinterested and the detection risk lower than low.
So why did we take this fight? Here are some of our reasons:
1. Are you certain they're not bribes?
There's a fine line between grease payments and a fully-blown bribe. Did you merely speed up the process? Or did you in fact obtain a service to which you were never entitled? Even if you claim to be able to answer these questions, do you have full oversight on where you're exposed? All of this leaves a corruption risk lingering uncomfortably.
So much in compliance is outside of our control. The unruly joint ventures, the market pressures and myriad unforeseen events. But facilitation payments are in your gift as a GC or CCO. You can set the scope of your policy or review, and you are the one able to take preventive and reactive measures. Granted, deeply engrained issues will require hard work and well-laid plans. But you're more in the driving seat than on so many other topics.
And - by taking control - you'll see parts of the business you never imagined. I've walked around ports across Africa and Asia, watching the cash requests and understanding where the pressures come from. These insights alone would have made the project worthwhile.
Facilitation Payments are a cultural signal on tolerance. If you ban them, you set the bar for corruption at the lowest it can be. No cigarettes, whisky bottles or 20 dollars here and there. Nothing.
You test managers on their commitment to change and reward those showing creativity in their approaches. You test the organisation on what zero tolerance really means. Is it dismissal? A warning? Sharing lessons learned?
You also get a chance to talk about duress and extortion, preparing the organisation for far bigger issues.
And you can treat facilitation payments as a sign post for other issues. It gives employees an opportunity to talk and tell you their challenges in a well-structured project rather than an investigation.
If you get a review of facilitation payments right, you create a success story for stakeholders. The outcomes are really positive internally and externally, allowing you to tell the company's stories through the lens of its strong stance on ethics and compliance. Employees remember and repeat these stories.
Society is last because such paragraphs have a tendency to sound like meaningless rhetoric.
Facilitation payments hit the poorest hardest. If big companies pay at the passport queue, we create an expectation that everybody pays. What about the next person, who might not be able to afford it? They may be denied a passport, and the circle of poverty continues. Society matters.