Foreign firms hoping for a share of Algeria’s $150 billion infrastructure fund must sign a commitment not to bribe officials if they want to qualify for state contracts, the government has ruled.
The new measure follows corruption scandals in the North African oil and gas exporter that have seen the head of state energy firm Sonatrach placed under judicial investigation and some officials at the public works ministry arrested.
The investigations focus on allegations of corrupt relations between officials and contractors and suppliers which led to those firms winning contracts worth, in some cases, millions of dollars.
Energy services firms including Schlumberger, Saipem and Baker Hughes Inc as well as engineering companies Alstom Lavalin and Todini are all active in Algeria. Algerian officials have made no suggestion any of those companies is suspected of corruption.
A government official, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters that a “statement of probity” was sent in January to state institutions and firms where the state has a stake, with instructions that foreign partners must sign it.
The statement says a foreign partner cannot promise a public employee gifts, information or training trips, “in order to facilitate the treatment of its file to the detriment of fair competition,” according to a copy of the statement obtained by Reuters.
Foreign firms that do not sign the statement will not be able to get contracts and firms found guilty of paying bribes will be blacklisted, the government instruction states.
The existence of the instruction has not been made public.
Paying or accepting bribes is already illegal in Algeria but the government order is intended to send a message that the government is serious about tackling the problem.
The investigation into senior officials at Sonatrach, which is one of the country’s heaviest users of foreign contractors, has sent a chill through the industry.
An employee with one firm that has won government contracts said some executives were staying out of Algeria, not because they had done anything wrong but in case they were caught up in the investigation.
“You just don’t know where the investigation is going to go,” said the employee.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised to spend $150 billion between now and 2014 to modernise the economy after more than a decade of bloodshed, when government forces fought a rebellion by Islamist militants.
The biggest project already underway is a 1216 km (755 mile) highway stretching from east to west across Algeria, which is being built primarily by Chinese and Japanese contractors.
The head of an Algerian corruption watchdog welcomed the government’s new anti-bribery measure.
“It is a first step in the right direction, but further steps should follow to make the fight efficient,” Djillali Hadjaj, head of the National Association for the Fight against Corruption, told Reuters.
“We already have good cooperation with western countries on the fight against terrorism, we should also have a strong cooperation with the westerners to tackle corruption,” he said.