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A SLAP ON THE WRIST FOR SIEMENS

By NBF News
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Federal Government's decision to drop criminal charges against multinational corporation, Siemens, over its indictment for bribing Nigerian officials with 17.5 million euros in return for fat contracts is another blow to the fight against corruption in Nigeria.

The government, which also earlier last month let construction giant, Julius Berger, off the hook after payment of a N4 billion fine for complicity in the Halliburton scandal, said Siemens was let off because it had shown remorse and demonstrated renewed goodwill towards the country.

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who announced the bargain with Siemens, also hinged the decision on the weakness of the nation's penal laws. He said the company, in addition, met government's condition of payment of a fine of N7 billion, and an apology to the nation.

Notwithstanding this explanation, the acceptance of a fine and an apology from Siemens in a plea bargain to stave off its prosecution, is a mere slap on the wrist for the organisation. It does not demonstrate that Nigeria is serious about the fight against bribery and corruption. The implication of this bargain is that corruption is allowed if the offenders show remorse, and pay fines.

The minister has said the law against bribery in Nigeria is weak. Letting Siemens off lightly might, therefore, seem expedient especially if the law is so weak that it might be difficult to secure a conviction, or it prescribes light fines or other unreasonable punishment for the offence of bribery.

Given that situation, our corruption laws need to be strengthened to reflect the severity of the offence. Laws that allow people to get away with wrongdoing severely punished in other countries should be reviewed. We also need to review our business laws to make the country less vulnerable to corruption.

The situation also calls for strengthening of our systems. We should address every propensity to corruption. This can be helped through greater involvement and care in selection of leaders both in politics and the civil service. We must strive to put into office responsible people with uncommon integrity.

The plea bargain option, which has apparently been adopted in this case, is legal. It is not the first time it is being used. However, that our laws are so weak as to make such bargains expedient is an indictment of our lawmakers and our legislative process.

Lawmakers are paid to make laws for the good of society. When certain laws are so weak as to make a joke of the fight against corruption, it is the responsibility of the lawmakers to amend them.

It is not enough for us to lament over weak penal laws. Bills must be forwarded to the National Assembly for the amendment of the laws, and such bills passed expeditiously.

Ordinarily, Siemens should have been banned from Nigeria. At least, if we cannot adequately punish past offences, we can withhold new businesses. Unfortunately, the government lacks the will power to do this.

The legislature must, therefore, move to strengthen laws relating to bribery so that serious steps can be taken to contain the menace that is wreaking great havoc on both our image and our national life.

We cannot afford to give the world the impression that our country takes a light view of bribery and corruption. Considering the grave negative impact of the menace on our national life, the government has to take every stern step it can to demonstrate that corruption will be severely punished at every level of governance.

The plea bargain with Siemens does not give this impression. Necessary steps should, therefore, be taken to ensure that violators of our laws are truly brought to justice to serve as a deterrent from such acts.