WE ARE NOT AMUSED
This month's cover story shows how Siemens executives viewed their (standard) practice of bribing government officials as simply a pragmatic way of doing business. The company, they said, was not in the practice of dictating political standards. "The customers determined our actions."
What starts innocently enough as a case of "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", quickly leads us down that familiar racist path to "Africans are endemically corrupt and on the take, so you have to pay bribes to do business in Africa."
But, as the Siemens story demonstrates, if your approach is cynical enough, the whole world is endemically corrupt: The president of Germany can be corrupted (hello Mr Kohl), Norwegian army officers can be persuaded to take bribes, British cabinet ministers can be persuaded to think it's OK to milk their parliamentary expense accounts of tens of thousands of pounds.
It is probably true to say that most of us are corruptible. Which makes it all the more important that we should not be led into temptation. To succumb to temptation, is to succumb to the wiles of the devil; to lead another into temptation is to play the devil.
In the Siemens case it is the corrupters who are the most frightening. They sit back in their smart offices and plan it as a marketing strategy: they work out the niceties of off shore banking; they devise elaborate money laundering schemes. When a difficulty arises with the scheme, they adjourn to the local pub -- The Old Innkeeper -- to discuss it over a beer and bratwurst. All very gemütlich.
They're textbook sociopaths!
Civilized people would have wanted to forget that, 65-odd years ago, Siemens put it's engineering skills to designing really efficient gas ovens capable of cremating hundreds of bodies at a time. Maybe we shouldn't forget.
The whole German system appears to be on their side. An organised, deliberate scheme of bribery conducted over decades; more than a billion Euros (13 billions rands) spent on over four thousands bribes paid in four years -- and no-one from Siemens goes to jail. Not one. A few employees got charged with having "abused the trust" of their own company by "misappropriating" company funds for bribes - all a legal contrivance: that way the company itself could remain innocent of any wrongdoing. Now there's a laugh! The accused employees all walked away with a fine (which the company in all probability paid) and a year or two's probation.
Now that Siemens has spent more than two billion Euros on fines and legal fees, it wants to "draw a line" under the whole affair. Move on. It's just another financial transaction: We've paid our money, so now can we go home, please?
Not yet. They still haven't told us how much they paid to whom in South Africa. We hope they will. (We have some ideas of our own on the subject which may yet get to share with you, too.)
Ah, and then there's the final insult: "Nobody was hurt, except maybe the taxpayers of the country," a Siemens executive is quoted saying about the hugely over-priced billion dollar contracts they obtained by bribery and corruption. We'll have a lot more to say about that subject in our next issue. But, just in the meantime, try telling that to the millions of South Africans who are unemployable and starving because they've had no schooling or training, because there aren't schools with properly trained and properly paid teachers, because the government has spent all the available money on keeping their friends at Siemens happy. And the "consultancy fees" and BEE profits flowing.
INVESTEC'S LEAK SOUP
Something strange happened on the way to the palace: we passed some men from the National Intelligence Agency going the other way -- to Investec Bank's head office in Sandton. A passing bird whispered in our ear that the Reserve Bank has asked the NIA to investigate all the unhappy leaks from Investec into the columns of noseweek. Which suggests that Investec and the Reserve Bank have some mysterious common interest in keeping the lid on things -- whatever those things are that they would rather the rest of us didn't know about. Are we perhaps back in the age of secret Reserve Bank "lifeboats"? Or is it something altogether new and more exciting than that? We can't wait to find out!
-- The Editor
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