India Lacks Any Mechanism To Tackle Foreign Bribery, Report Says
An employee and a customer handle Indian Rupee banknotes in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

India Lacks Any Mechanism To Tackle Foreign Bribery, Report Says

India ranks alongside Asian peers that lack checks on foreign bribery—a failure that comes with huge costs and consequences.

“Hong Kong, India and Singapore lack specifically targeted legislation to prohibit bribery of foreign public officials,” the 2020 edition of German NGO Transparency International’s Exporting Corruption report said.

The report emphasised how bribery of foreign public officials in India isn’t criminalised at all. That’s despite the fact that the world’s largest democracy is a party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which requires it to define and criminalise foreign bribery.

As foreign bribes aren’t yet criminalised in India, there is absolute inaction against foreign bribery and related money laundering, the report said. The Indian government also doesn’t publish any statistics on foreign bribery enforcement nor does it provide such statistics on request, it noted.

The report states that in spite of India accounting for 2.1% of global exports, the country has neither initiated nor concluded even a single investigation of foreign bribery in the last three years.

The report argues that foreign bribery is a significant problem for free and fair economies. Corruption in foreign business transactions undermines government institutions, misdirects public resources and slows overall economic and social development, the report said. “It distorts cross-border investment, deters fair competition in international trade and discriminates against small and medium-sized enterprises.”

“The G20 has repeatedly encouraged its member countries, including India, to ratify the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention”, said the report. It further noted how India’s legal framework also suffers from shortcomings, thereby affecting the country’s capacity to prevent and prosecute foreign bribery.

“While the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act prescribe criminal and civil liability for domestic corruption, the reality is that actions taken against the perpetrators have been rare,” it said.

The Exporting Corruption report is an independent assessment of the enforcement of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Anti-Bribery Convention. It was set up to promote policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people and to address the supply side of international corruption.

While not a part of the OECD Convention, China, India and Hong Kong haven’t acted against any foreign bribery or any related money laundering. Singapore has taken only small steps, the report said.

Meanwhile, in India, recent developments like the functioning of the office of ‘Lokpal’ came into effect in 2019 to investigate allegations of corruption against public officials. It was not welcomed by other politicians who recognised major loopholes, the report suggested.

Another challenge in India is timely prosecution. With cases of corruption being juggled between multiple agencies, investigations are delayed—sometimes also due to political interference. Besides, Indian investigating agencies are short-staffed and lack many skills to probe white-collar crime, transnational crimes and other economic offences, the report said.

Countries like the U.S., U.K., Switzerland and Israel are among the very few to have active enforcement against foreign bribes.

As the world is paddling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the report stated how bribery among foreign public officials has become more severe. With cases of foreign bribery occurring in the healthcare sector, the world does not seem that it afford corruption to cost any additional lives, it said.

The report observed that foreign bribery is now more deadly and harmful on economic grounds than before.

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