Facilitating Payment: Definition, Purpose, Legality, and Example

What Is a Facilitating Payment?

A facilitating payment is a financial payment that may constitute a bribe and is made with the intention of expediting an administrative process. It is a payment made to a public or government official that acts as an incentive for the official to complete some action or process expeditiously, to the benefit of the party making the payment.

Key Takeaways

  • Facilitating payments are payments made to officials with the intention of expediting an administrative process.
  • The payment is meant to smooth the process of a service that the payer is legally entitled to.
  • In some countries facilitating payments is prohibited by law and is considered bribes.
  • The U.S. has a narrow exception for “facilitating or expediting payments” if it's made to further a routine governmental action that involves non-discretionary acts.

How Facilitating Payments Work

In general, a facilitating payment is made to smooth the progress of a service to which the payer is legally entitled, even without making such a payment. In some countries, these payments are considered normal, whereas in other countries, facilitating payments are prohibited by law and considered bribes. Also called facilitation payments.

At times, facilitating payments can be expected by low-level, low-income officials in exchange for providing a service to which the payer is entitled to even without the payment. Certain countries do not consider facilitating payments bribes—as long as such payment is not made to earn or maintain business, or to create an unfair or improper advantage over another business.

Such countries may believe these payments are simply a cost of doing business. In other countries, including the U.K. and Germany, facilitating payments made abroad are considered bribes and are prohibited.

Special Considerations

Unsurprisingly, for years companies doing business on an international scale have frowned upon, if not altogether prohibited, the use of facilitation payments. While outright fraud and bribery are of central concern, another more subtle but important rationale for restricting their use arises as companies increasingly recognize facilitation payments are inconsistent with corporate governance cultures prohibiting corruption and international anti-corruption programs.

While the sweeping prohibition on paying bribes to foreign officials makes clear sense, exceptions persist.

To give U.S. businesses more latitude in competing with foreign competitors, Congress passed the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. The act offers a narrow exception for “facilitating or expediting payments” made to further a routine governmental action that involves non-discretionary acts.

However well-intentioned, in reality, entities and individuals struggle with the limitations of the thin facilitating payment exception—as it’s often difficult to determine when lines have been crossed between an illegal bribe and an exception permissible facilitating payment.

Example of a Facilitating Payment

An example of a facilitating payment is illustrated in the following scenario. Assume a business required a particular license or permit to operate. The company is entitled to the license or permit because it has met all the requirements. The business is otherwise poised to open its doors for business but is legally bound to wait until the license or permit is officially issued.

The company may make a facilitating payment to an official who can help “expedite” the licensing or permitting process. In many countries, this payment would be acceptable as long as it does not involve a payment made to a foreign entity. In other countries, this would still be considered a bribe (and thus illegal).

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) prohibits facilitation payments. The legal status of facilitating payments varies by country. The Risk & Compliance Portal is a collection of free anti-corruption compliance and risk management resources, including e-learning training, country risk profiles, and due diligence tools.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Justice. "FCPA Resource Guide," Page 25. Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  2. Gov.UK. "Anti-Bribery Policy." Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  3. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. "Implementing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention," Page 5. Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  4. U.S. Congress. "H.R.4848—Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988." Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  5. U.S. Code. "15 U.S.C. 78dd-1(b)—Prohibited Foreign Trade Practices by Issuers." Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  6. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "Anti-Corruption Policies and Measures of the Fortune Global 500," Page 2. Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

  7. Risk & Compliance Portal. "Integrated Compliance Management." Accessed Sept. 9, 2021.

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