In 2013, Uniting Church members sent postcards and wrote letters to the Labor Government Attorney Generals, Nicola Roxon and Mark Dreyfus. They were urging an end to the legal ability of Australian companies to pay small bribes to foreign officials to ensure those officials do their jobs.
“Such bribes are highly corrosive to any efforts to curb corruption in the public service of a country, encouraging officials to only do their jobs when they are bribed to do so,” Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit said.
“It also means public servants give priority in service provision to those able to afford paying the bribes. In most countries around the world such bribes are illegal.”
Australian companies, including medium and small mining companies and QBE Insurance, claim the payment of such bribes is necessary in developing countries.
The new Attorney General, Senator The Hon George Brandis, has written to JIM stating there are no plans to change the ability of Australian companies to pay small bribes to foreign officials.
JIM asked if the government required any disclosure by companies of the bribes they made, to ensure they were in compliance with Australian law.
The Attorney General has responded: “There is no legislative requirement that facilitation payments [small bribes] be disclosed to a regulator. Such a requirement would impose unnecessary administrative obligations on business.”
The final report of a Papua New Guinea Commission of Inquiry into leases granted to developers over forests in PNG was released in September last year. The report highlighted the harmful impact of these small bribes on vulnerable communities.
The process by which foreign developers – often logging companies – get access to leases in PNG is supposed to involve thorough consultation with the landowners, who are often impoverished villagers.
The Commission of Inquiry found the impact of ‘facilitation payments’ was to corrupt the lease granting process to the disadvantage of the landowners.
The Commission found: “… developers routinely pay ‘allowances’ to government officials to carry out land investigations. It is improper and raised issues of conflict of interest. We have found that in such instances the investigating officer inevitably makes recommendations in favour of the developer.”
The Commission has recommended many of the leases be repealed, as the landowners were not consulted as required by law and often will not benefit from the activities of the foreign developer.