Leaders Oman: Fighting bribery and corruption

Simon Ward, partner at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, explains what Omani construction outfits can do to curb corruption and bribery, and comply with the Sultanate’s tightening legislation

SPECIAL REPORTS, Projects, Bribery, Colt & Mosle, Construction, Corruption, Curtis, Leaders in Construction Oman, Mallet-Prevost, Oman, Sultanate of Oman

In 2013, Oman’s membership of the United Nations Convention against Corruption was ratified. As a result, significant efforts have been made to ensure that the Sultanate is fulfilling its obligations under the terms of the convention. Construction companies that fail to ensure that they are in compliance with the country’s anti-bribery and corruption legislation run the risk of a visit from the Royal Oman Police.

During his presentation at Leaders in Construction Summit Oman, Simon Ward (above), partner at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, left little doubt as to the dangers that await those who ignore such activities.

“The Omani legal framework is relatively robust,” he explained. “Some areas are pushing for further or specific legislation, but there’s an existing body of law that the courts are able to work with to effectively prosecute cases.

“The courts and public prosecution generally use a combination of the anti-corruption and money-laundering laws to get the penalties up to where they think are appropriate. And it’s by using a combination of those laws that we’ve recently seen penalties of over 20 years’ imprisonment being imposed for convictions,” said Ward, noting that these sentences would be considered substantial in any global region.

Ward also commended the Sultanate on the steps it has taken to comply with the UN Convention against Corruption, commenting: “Efforts to implement the country’s obligations under the convention are ongoing and have been quite impressive, certainly when compared with other countries in the region. Oman has really made headway in this area.”

Corporate efforts to curb bribery and corruption aren’t only useful from a reactionary perspective, however. In addition to local laws, the Omani market is subject to the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Overseas investors, warned Ward, are becoming increasingly mindful of these considerations when selecting potential partners within the Sultanate.

“This is something that is concerning investors because all of a sudden, what happens in Oman has an impact on residents of the UK and the US,” he explained. “They can be held responsible for what’s going on [here]. And what we have found recently is that to be able to attract investors from the US and the UK, companies [in Oman] are having to show that they have anti-bribery and corruption policies in place, that they are being enforced, and that proper training is ongoing.”

Put simply, the dangers are real, and failing to take adequate preventative action can prove detrimental, not only from a legal perspective but also from an investment standpoint. But what steps can Omani construction professionals take in response?

“We recommend working with senior management to advocate a top-down system, wherein [leadership] sets the tone within a company,” said Ward. “[This] will filter down through every level of an organisation so that a clear message is sent: there will be zero tolerance of corruption and bribery.”

During the summing up of his presentation, Ward turned his attention to compliance. Changes, he explained, don’t necessarily have to be drastic in order to be effective, but they do have to be meaningful.

“[In terms of compliance], we advocate proportionate measures. Often, there isn’t a need to make dramatic changes to the procedures that you already have in place. It might just be a case of tweaking them or ensuring that policy manuals are updated. It’s also about ensuring that your entire company is properly trained. It’s no use having a dead document in an office; you want to have ongoing training under the policy manuals.

“Being prepared means that if there are issues, it places your company in a very good position to either prevent the prosecution going ahead – by satisfying the investigators that there really aren’t any criminal issues – or in mitigating the adverse effects of any prosecution that does go ahead. And certainly, [it’s about] having a robust policy in place, and being able to show that you have measures to prevent corruption and bribery within your organisation. In our experience, that goes a long way towards mitigating or preventing an investigation or prosecution,” Ward concluded.

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