The latest of our Friday features in which we invite readers `of a certain age' to have their say on a topic of the day that really gets their backs up. Today MARK MERCER, of Scapegoat Hill, hits out at corruption at all levels of society

IN the past few weeks I have been offered, totally free of charge, a flat screen TV, a high specification computer and £150 "cashback".

What's the catch? None.

They are just personal incentives to encourage me to purchase certain items on behalf of my company.

The would-be purveyors don't know that I have retired but I am quite happy for them to waste their efforts, because I think they are little short of criminal.

In a trade store I asked the price of a tool I thought was worth maybe £30, only to be told it was "on promotion" at £130.

"You're joking" I said. "No no! That's the right price - you do get a free mountain bike with it." At this I fell about laughing.

What? Me on a mountain bike? Then, it was explained to me. I could get a little tax-free income out of this. The company would get the tool, worth £30 and my grandson would get the bike, worth £100.

Any employee doing this would only be robbing his company while committing a little tax fraud. No problem with this then? I mentioned it in the office. "Oh, yes", they said.

"Hardly a week goes by when we don't get offered something."

Petty bribery of this sort is becoming commonplace. "Incentives" are probably within the law but are, none the less, a form of corruption.

A buyer gets a free TV for committing his company to a purchase which is not necessarily or even likely to be in the best interests of the company.

Sometimes the expectation of personal incentives can be very damaging. My company lost one contract almost certainly because the opposition took the buyers on a freebie foreign holiday, ostensibly to visit the supplier's factory.

Grouse shooting is sometimes involved and corporate boxes at football matches.

On another occasion I was sure my company was manufacturing the best product at the best price (if we hadn't been we would have made modifications to ensure that we were) but our sales effort was totally wasted, and so was that of several competitors.

The consultant specifier was receiving 3% from one of the competitors, an importer, in addition to the fee for his "independent" advice.

Several British manufacturers involved spent time and money bidding and demonstrating equipment for a job that was not truly on offer. The customer did not get the best buy.

This sort of thing happens. Whether it is for a single bottle of wine or for a million pounds it is always wrong and should be resisted in every way possible.

Fortunately corruption is by no means universal. The vast majority of people in business are straightforward and honest in their dealings. Honesty is, after all, the best policy. But "graft" is certainly on the increase.

There is great pressure on decision makers.

For example, my company enjoyed a big opportunity when a store chain vetted us carefully and appointed us as a supplier. Subsequently the buyer requested a substantial percentage "cash back" in return for "exclusivity".

The project meant a great deal to us at the time. Jobs were at stake as well as quite a lot of money. Should we bend or resist? What would you do? Choose principle or profit?

In fact we refused on principle. The long-term cost of lost business was very high but we maintained our standards of integrity. Was it worth it? Commercially we did the wrong thing. Morally? You tell me.

If jobs are at stake does a responsible manager have the right to put his own principles first?

These experiences are, of course, very small beer in the larger scheme of things.Very recently it was seen that in Saudi Arabia, home turf of the Wahhabi sect, the most extreme Muslim Reformists, they have few scruples in this area.

The British government was ordered to put a stop to the activities of the Serious Fraud Office who were investigating corruption charges that might involve the Saudi royal family.

The threat was simple. Stop the investigation into alleged bribery or we transfer our multi-billion pounds worth of armaments orders to the French.

The Government did not sit long on the horns of this moral dilemma. The criminal investigation has been stopped. We will now ignore massive amounts of corruption in order to keep this huge business, itself of questionable morality, in the UK.

There is no question regarding the morality or legality of the massive bribery known to be involved, but who cares?

This is one British industry we have not yet handed over to China, so let's do whatever it takes to keep it. Never mind that it means embracing the methods that have handicapped and even destroyed emerging economies throughout Africa and elsewhere.

All corruption, large or small, is outrageous in my view but with the Government's fine example before us and moral laxity surrounding us, society is becoming ever more deeply riddled with it, from "cash for peerages" to little bits of cashback on company deals.

It is a sadly retrograde path we are on and we are all diminished by it.

IS there something annoying you? Is there something about today's world that you need to get off your chest? Or is there something you feel is great? If so, why not share it with us? Each Friday we're giving `seniors' the chance to write on a subject of their choice. Interested? Then tell us in no more than 100 words why it should be you. Send it to: Get It Off Your Chest, Features department, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, PO Box A26, Queen Street South, Huddersfield HD1 2TD or email

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