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The day is coming when bribery as a way of greasing the wheels of business will be a memory in many countries.
Tell that to an expatriate American manager under pressure to "get that contract, but don't break the law"--especially when a foreign competitor lands the business after paying off government officials. More infuriating to the manager is that the payment (regarded as illegal in the United States) may be perfectly lawful as a "faciliatting payment" in the competitor's home country and may appear on his company's books as a corporate tax deduction.
Since the passage of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the late 1970s, American companies have groused about the lack of "a level playing field," a cliche describing the difficulty they have competing equally with foreign competitors abroad. While virtually all developed countries forbid their citizens from bribing their own government officials, only the United States, under the FCPA, additionally prohibits its citizens overseas from bribing foreign government officials in exchange for business.
Because the FCPA covers only these officials, bribes from a U.S. company to its foreign partner may not come under scrutiny. But American expatriates note that doctors, university professors, hospital administrators and other professionals usually regarded as private individuals in the United States may be government employees abroad and may come under the FCPA.
Now comes a new development. There are signs that the tolerance of bribery by counties overseas is waning, even as experts caution that the practice is still widespread. "There have been some reforms, but bribery is at a level that is still unacceptable," says Michael Slattery Jr., an investigator at Kroll Associates, an international investigation firm.
Nevertheless, U.S. professionals who deal with foreign nationals report that emerging business and government classes around the world are gradually adopting a new attitude. These educated people--many of them seeking democratization in their home countries--are coming to regard bribery as ultimately ruinous to their economies.
Robert McNamara, former head of the World Bank, has stated that democratization of countries, growing intolerance of their citizenry toward illicit payments and increased media scrutiny have produced a climate more conducive to address bribery seriously than at any time in the past 40 years.
The Clinton Administration has put bribery on the international agenda by urging industrial nations to adopt strict antibribery laws comparable to those of the United States. It has put the issue before the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose 26 member nations comprise 16 percent of …