When is a bribe really a bribe? Many people are still unsure, as they can come in many different forms. Officially, a bribe is classed as anything that provides an unfair advantage in order to gain a business opportunity, Dyfan Owen, a partner at law firm Ashurst, said in a white paper published this week and based on a panel discussion organised by Thomson Reuters Projects (TRP) during The Big 5 trade show late last year.

To safeguard against the increased risk of bribery and corruption, many companies in the Gulf have conducted internal audits to make sure they are complying with global standards as ignorance is often no excuse when it comes to malpractice.

Nabil Al Ouf, a senior consultant at Dubai’s Virginia Institute of Finance, told delegates at the TRP event that his former firm, Dragon Oil, set up a hotline for whistle-blowers, which was run by an independent British company.

A whistle-blower could call to register a complaint and choose whether to remain anonymous. Once a report was filed, it was emailed to the internal audit department who would then investigate.

With contracts becoming increasingly competitive and margins being so tight, issues such as fraud, corruption and bribery are now big talking points in the construction industry.

Recent events in Saudi Arabia, where dozens of princes, ministers and business leaders, including the chairman of one of the region’s biggest construction firms, were detained as part of an investigation by a new anti-corruption body, further demonstrate the region’s move to crack down on illegal business practices.

While some participants at the TRP panel discussion expressed concern that implementing risk compliance and whistle-blower procedures would increase internal bureaucracy and disrupt business, Owen said this would not be the case, according to the white paper.

Helping companies identify risks will ultimately give them a competitive advantage in jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, and companies implementing these procedures often enjoy preferential consideration during tendering processes as well as easier access to finance, he said.

Click here to download and read a white paper outlining the issues debated at the TRP panel discussion.

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(Writing by Shane McGinley; Editing by Michael Fahy)

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