NETWORK RAIL chief executive John Armitt last week defended the use of so-called corrupt practices by engineers working on international projects.
Delivering a lecture on 'Engineering Ethics' at the launch of the Royal Academy of Engineering's 'Statement of Ethical Principles', the future Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chairman argued that questioning local political culture was in fact outside an engineer's remit.
Addressing the issue of whether certain practices are corrupt, including the payment of commission to foreign ofcials to secure work, Armitt said: 'Many people would not accept that it [is] corruption by the standards and values of that particular society in which you are doing business.
'As an engineer you have to decide what to do; will you have no work for the UK and let the French win it?' British Expertise, formerly the British Consultants and Construction Bureau, promotes UK professional service rms abroad. Its chief executive Graham Hand said Armitt's comments represented the old-fashioned view of blindly accepting cultural attitudes, but this was no longer possible following the UK's ratification of the UN convention against corruption in February last year.
This means that any British rm found to be engaged in corrupt practices abroad can be prosecuted in the UK.
'Bribery is bribery. It's disappointing (because) with someone in his high prole position one would be expecting the highest ethical standards; for him to be leading from the front, ' Hand said.
Armitt's comments came as the Department for International Development yesterday (Wednesday) launched its Construction Sector Transparency Initiative.
It aims to make information on things such as project aim, cost and location publicly available for publicly funded infrastructure schemes in Ghana, Tanzania and Vietnam.
Prior to running Network Rail, Armitt was chairman of contractor John Laing's international division, working extensively in the Middle East.
He said that when he worked there 15 to 20 years ago it was commonplace to pay a commission to secure work and that the current BAE Systems scandal over alleged £1bn payments to Saudi Prince Bandar showed the practice still existed.
'We cannot sit here and assume that the current mores, values and views that we have about how life should be lived in the UK is automatically that which should be followed by other countries, ' he concluded.