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Bribe engineering
April, 03rd 2008

There can be four ways for an engineering company to pay X a `legal bribe' writes John Perkins in The Secret History of the American Empire ( One, the company could arrange to lease bulldozers, cranes, trucks and other heavy equipment from companies owned by X and his friends and pay excessive fees. (X, as you might have guessed, could be a political bigwig who is looking for a `cut' from the `development' project.)

The second method is to subcontract portions of the project to similarly owned companies at inflated prices, explains the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man fame in a chapter titled `Fruits of corruption'.

Third, use the same model "to contract for food, housing, cars, fuel, and other such items." And, four, "offer to arrange for the sons and daughters of the . cronies to attend prestigious US colleges, cover all their expenses, and pay them consultant or intern salaries while they were in the US."

The project at stake was a $1 billion chemical processing complex that SWEC (Stone and Webster Engineering Company) was planning in Indonesia, and a ruling family member had wanted $150 million, as a company executive bemoaned over a lunch with the author, in 1995.

"Although I acknowledged that arranging for such a large sum would probably require all four approaches and would take several years, I assured him that I had seen all of these schemes used very successfully and was unaware of any legal actions ever taken against a US company or its executive as a result. I also suggested that he explore the idea of retaining geishas to help seal the deal."

The geishas were already hard at work, the executive informed Perkins. There was a problem: the bribe was wanted in cash up front. "I had to admit that I knew no way to make such amounts of cash available `up front.' At least not legally. He thanked me. I heard nothing further from him on this issue," continues the author.

A decade passed by. "On March, 2006, The Boston Globe carried the following banner headline across the front page of its Business section: The `bribe memo' and collapse of Stone & Webster'," recounts Perkins. "The article told the tragic story of how the company's glorious history, which began in 1889, came crashing to an end when it filed for bankruptcy in 2000 and ended up owned by the Shaw Group."

The company's downfall, as the article report, could be traced to `the critical memo (that) lays out in detail a previously unreported secret attempt by the company to pay an illegal $147 million kickback to a relative of Indonesian President Suharto to secure the largest contract in Stone & Webster history.'

The `Empire' that is the focus of the book is run by a group of people who run the largest corporations, frets Perkins. "They cycle through the `revolving door' back and forth between business and government. Because they fund political campaigns and the media, they control elected officials and the information we receive. They are not subject to the people's will and their terms are not limited by law."

Corporations are highly efficient at `marshalling resources, inspiring collective creativity, and spreading webs of communications and distribution to the most remote corners of the planet,' but there is a flip side too. The empire is "built on foundations of greed, secrecy, and excessive materialism."

The corporatocracy, as Perkins calls it, thrives on lethargy. "It counts on us to remain passive, to accept its advertisements as gospel, to buy unconsciously and allow it to continue destroying our planet," he cautions.

This must stop, urges Perkins. "Every one of us must shake ourselves awake."

Hits like a tonne of bricks.

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