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Corruption takes two …

January 28, 2009

DALLAS – Corruption in Africa was in the spotlight once again this week with news that Texas-based oil services company Halliburton will pay a record fine to settle a bribery probe. You can see our story here.

Halliburton Co will pay a $559 million fine to end an investigation of its former KBR Inc unit if the U.S. government approves the settlement, the largest penalty against a U.S. company for charges of bribery under federal law.

Halliburton, once headed by former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, said it was awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle claims that KBR violated anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials.

The U.S. government’s probe of Halliburton related to construction and expansion of a gas liquefaction facility at Bonny Island in Rivers State, Nigeria, and other projects dating back as much as 20 years, Halliburton has said in regulatory filings.

The problem in Rivers State and the Niger Delta runs deep — I know this firsthand as I covered Nigeria’s 2003 general elections there, which were marred by¬†bloodshed. Rich in resources, the region is scarred by gut-wrenching poverty and violence which includes rebellion,¬†gangsterism and kidnappings.

Many of its problems — like those in other African countries, oil-rich or not — can be traced to corruption. Kickbacks enrich a few; they don’t trickle down, unless you count the booze, drugs and weapons that are used to buy the muscle of unemployed young men to enforce political rule.

But this whole Halliburton affair is also a good reminder that corruption takes two. African government officials who accept bribes often do so from private western companies. There are two sides to every graft transaction.

And while the fines may get paid, the damage that has been inflicted on places like the Niger Delta cannot be fixed so easily.

(Photo: Niger Delta militants show off their weapons, March 6, 2008. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde (NIGERIA)


While the Western world has made tremendous progress in terms of social corporate responsibility with new business degrees at academic level, Africa is as always trailing behind. Environment issues are part of business strategy nowadays. Businesses are careful not to collude with pressure groups to avoid bad publicity and lost of sales, but this is only true in the Western context. The same businesses apply different attitude when they invest in Africa; with the support of local political leaders, they manage as in no man land. I don’t know who of the locals in Niger Delta will benefit of this ruling,which comes so late when most of the victims may have already been dead.


The Nigerian Anti-Fraud unit should also penalise Halliburton, and the corrupt Nigerian officials, and use the money in Rivers State

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