- FCPA Professor - https://fcpaprofessor.com -

A Focus On Indian Pre-Contract Integrity Pacts

This post is from Sherbir Panag [1](MZM Legal Advocates & Legal Consultants in Mumbai, India).

*****

The Government of India  unilaterally terminated [2] a Euro 556 Million contract with the Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturing company AgustaWestland on the 1st of January 2014 for breach of the pre-contract integrity pact on the basis of allegations of bribery. Similarly in March 2012 the Ministry of Defence (which is incidentally the Ministry concerned in the AgustaWestland case as well) cashed a bank guarantee put forth by the Israeli Military Industries and blacklisted six companies [3] amidst allegations of bribery and breach of the pre contract integrity pact.  A similar blacklisting [4] was also imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture for a period of 5 years on M/s Dow Agro Sciences India Pvt. Ltd in the year 2011. The operative term in the above cases is the ‘allegation of bribery’ or rather the assumption of bribery after which consequences have ensued.

What is a Pre-Contract Integrity Pact?

‘Pre-Contract Integrity Pact’ or ‘Integrity Pact’ is a tool that was developed by Transparency International [5] to help governments, businesses and civil society fight corruption in the field of public contracting where the scope of abuse is immense owing to the large value of contracts. The ‘Pre-Contract Integrity Pact’ establishes binding obligations on both parties, those being the State or its instrumentalities and the commercial organisation.

As the name suggests these obligations become effective from the stage of bidding itself that is prior to the contract and remain in force thereafter as well. The Central Vigilance Commission of India in a document [6] explaining the nature of ‘Pre-Contract Integrity Pacts’ states that failure to implement the Pre-Contract Integrity Pacts’ , would result in public officials being subjected to penal action and bidders would face cancellation of contracts, forfeiture of bonds, liquidated damages and blacklisting. Such action does not require a criminal conviction but can be based on “no-contest” after the evidence is made available or there can be no material doubts. Pre-Contract Integrity Pacts are gradually being widely used by the State and its instrumentalities in all areas of public contracting.

The Ministry of Finance, Government of India in  a circular titled ‘Use of Integrity Pacts by Ministries / Departments – Implementation of Administrative Reforms Commission’ provided a draft of a Pre Integrity Contract [7].  A perusal of this draft puts forth the following salient points:

Why should companies take Pre-Contract Integrity Pacts seriously?

The cases discussed above and a perusal of the text of the pact, puts forth a situation that companies must take stock of whereby companies have faced the consequences whether it be blacklisting or contract termination, without the investigation being completed or a trial commencing or an ensuing conviction from such trial. Why should companies engaging in public procurement with the Indian State be worried:

This notwithstanding, a company would have grounds to challenge the State’s action when it invokes a breach of the pre-contract integrity pact before a higher court, but it’s definitely not going to be an easy battle nor will the result be immediate.

Conclusion:

In light of recent actions in India, companies engaged in public procurement / public contracting need to take Pre-Contract Integrity Pacts more seriously and not view them as a mere procedural requirement before signing the contract. Further, companies should also consider the impact that proceedings / investigations / disclosure in one jurisdiction may have in another and should address the risks of the same. With public pressure against corruption mounting and proactive media houses in India reporting instances of corruption, companies need to do a major re-think on the economic viability of bribing in India and the consequences that may follow.