The Negotiator Magazine

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Lunch is an Option


Taking someone to lunch when you are about to say No to them can be a good negotiation tool.12 When you will effectively be saying No to an entire office that is accustomed to receiving bribes, then “lunch”, either real or symbolically, is something to consider, seriously.


Here we are stepping into the tricky and riskier landscape of gifts and hospitality –and how to distinguish between corrupt bribes, “morally acceptable” bribes, and non-bribes. The obvious gift and hospitality bribes, are, well, obvious. Other gifts and hospitality that are not obvious bribes, may also be bribes, depending on host-country laws or home-country law enforcement interpretations.13 Over the last two years we have been polling law students, police officers, anti-corruption workers, lawyers and accountants on where they would place a series of acts, all the way from offers of treats to toddlers, to apples for teachers, to lunches for government functionaries, to money for guards to free an innocent person before execution. The results are interesting because of their lack of uniformity, and because they show that a corrupt bribe depends on many factors, including, among other things, the intentions of each of the parties, the relative positions and comparative powers of both parties, the extrinsic and intrinsic values and appropriateness of the gift or hospitality, the secrecy involved, the timing of the offer and of the giving, and the ends to be accomplished. In any case, our conclusion is that people disagree in almost every example, especially when they believe that the intentions of both the giver and receiver are pure. Furthermore, almost everyone seems to accept “morally acceptable bribes” as a useful category, but they differ on which transactions are corrupt bribes and which are morally acceptable ones.


Therefore, to help guide you through this gilded but dangerous landscape, in addition to considering the intangible intentions and valuations of the parties, make sure that:

  1. The monetary value of the gift, favor or hospitality is spread out evenly or at least randomly, and that no particular functionaries receive special favors or direct special favors to others

  2. The program is public

  3. The costs, purpose, recipient, and date are recorded and made public

  4. The intended end result is to help the general public as well as the gift-giver.


WARNING: DO NOT NEGOTIATE OR GIVE GIFTS, FAVORS OR HOSPITALITY TO OR THROUGH GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONARIES UNLESS YOU HAVE CLEARED THEM WITH LEGAL COUNSEL EXPERIENCED IN THE ANTI-BRIBERY COMPLIANCE LAWS OF YOUR COUNTRY AND OF THE HOST COUNTRY



I do not know how things presently stand at the Mexican Immigration Office, but at one point a few years ago, that office went off the Bribe Standard, after the national anti-corruption chief worked together with the director of the Immigration Office and with a number of foreign companies who had constant visa needs and problems in Mexico. They negotiated a plan for those companies to pool their resources to update the office equipment and to buy very valuable year-end raffle prizes and across-the-board gifts for the employees, on the understanding that the employees would process all visas promptly and without bribes. According to the national anti-corruption chief, the immigration office employers agreed to the new arrangement, their productivity and their morale improved tremendously, and under-the-table bribes were no longer needed to speed the visa process for these companies and for the general public.


Poor office morale supports the Bribe Standard, and if you or you and your colleagues from other companies can agree to work together on this larger scale with government offices to improve the productivity and self-esteem of their workers, the results may be faster and better services for all the users of the government office. Also, special over-the-counter payments for urgent needs can be negotiated, to pay for the additional expediting work. For example, the U.S. Government provides a fast-track passport service for an additional fee. When you directly pay a government functionary to expedite your request – that is bribery. If you pay it into the government coffer, the U.S. Government does not consider it a bribe. It is unclear whether this type of added-cost expediting service slows down the rest of the passport services for everyone else who has not paid the extra fee.


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January 2008