Is nothing sacred? Oxford University Press accused of bribery

Is nothing sacred? Are all our illusions of the UK being a country full of decent, stoical, trustworthy, altruistic folk to be shattered?

Our wonderful British banks appear to be nests of self-serving, money-crazed, customer exploiting psychopaths. GlaxoSmithKline, our globally respected Pharma giant, is fined millions by the US regulators for a host of misdemeanours. And now the Oxford University Press, publisher of academic treatises and minority-interest poetry, is banned from doing business with the World Bank for two years over alleged corruption.

OUP's Kenyan and Tanzanian subsidiaries made improper payments to government officials, claim the the World Bank. that was in return for orders for textbooks in those African countries. The BBC reports that  OUP had agreed to pay a fine of $500,000 (£318,000) as part of a "negotiated resolution" of the issue, the World Bank added.

OUP is taking disciplinary action against the employees involved – one or two bad apples will no doubt be the explanation.

But the Guardian says that the hit on OUP is greater – the Serious Fraud Office has ordered them to pay £1.89 million. In addition to the fine, OUP has offered to contribute £2m to not-for-profit organisations for teacher training and other educational purposes in sub-Saharan Africa.

As in so many cases, it takes two to commit procurement-related fraud. (We’ve written a series of in-depth articles about that topic for Spend Matters PRO recently – see here for more detail).  And often in the African context, it is the problem of fraud within the local public organisations, exacerbated and encouraged by suppliers – some local, some international, and including blue chip names like OUP.

Reducing and eliminating fraud is a huge struggle. It needs action on both sides of the fence – action against the staff involved on the buy side, and those on the sell side, as in this case. It’s a long-term task, but I suppose we should be pleased when a high-profile case like this is exposed and publicised. I guess if we never saw this sort of thing we wouldn’t know whether corruption had been eliminated – or whether it just wasn’t being discovered!

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