It is now just three days to publication of Bad Buying. So today, let’s move on to the second section of the book, all about fraud and corruption.

This was really enjoyable to write to be honest, even though we should be horrified at some of the stories. It was fascinating to see how frauds range from the mundane and often quite sad in terms of why the perpetraotrs do it ad the consequences, to those that have national or even international implications at the highest level.

One very ancient type of fraud is the cartel, although it is interesting to note that cartels weren’t always seen as a bad thing – and indeed, even today, we have OPEC, the oil cartel. But the medieval guilds were set up in part to operate as cartels and restrict the entrance of new suppliers into a market. But in modern times, we’ve seen illegal cartels in all sorts of areas, from international marine hose supplies (no, I’d never heard of marine hoses either), to construction firms in the UK public sector market, to brewers in India.

Many frauds relay on the buyer being able to ”fix” the supplier selection. In fact, that is a necessary condition in order to extract money though mechanism such as inflating invoices, over-billing or under-delivering. If a buyer and a supplier are going to collude – as they did in the case of a famous Sainsbury’s potato fraud – first of all, the buyer has to make sure that the supplier is chosen or wins the competitive process.

There are some rather ingenious examples of how this has been done. For instance, in the UK health service, a property manager manipulated the way that cost quotes were provided by suppliers to favour a relative’s decorating firm.  Bidders were asked to quote for different jobs, but work that actually was rarely needed was given a high weighting in the evaluation, and his relative bid low on those jobs, to score lots of points. But the jobs that actually would be frequently required were given a low weighting in the evaluation so his relative could bid high on those and still win the tender, knowing that he would then make significant money on that work. Very clever!  

That story points out one of the basic mitigations you can take to guard against fraud. Don’t leave any key parts of the process to a single individual, whether that is designing the evaluation process, marking the bids, negotiating prices… you can’t rule out collusion, but many of the examples I’ve seen are driven by just one personal internally. Putting a barrier in their way by taking away ability to act individually makes fraud much more difficult.

If that NHS example is small-scale, but interesting, at the other extreme we have the Petrobas / Odebrecht scandal in Latin America. At first that looked like a simple case of a large construction supplier paying bribes to win work from the Brazilian government-owned oil firm, Petrobas.  But as investigations went deeper, they exposed a vast network of corruption, with buyers paying over the odds to fund not just individual bribes but political donations too – and those political parties then appointing their stooges into positions in Petrobas where they could demand and get even more bribes!  Later, the related scandal spread to Peru, Mexico and further, leading to arrests and even the suicide of a leading politician accused of corruption.

That’s where the idea that a few more people knowing what’s going on breaks down. If corruption really becomes endemic in an organisation, it can be very hard to eliminate. Luckily, that doesn’t happen too often …

Anyway, there is still time (just) to order and get delivery on of the book on publication day – check out the links here. There is also a Bad Buying podcast now (“Peter Smith’s Bad Buying podcast”) and the first two episodes are available on most podcast platforms. There is even a Bad Buying playlist on Spotify (all my section titles in the book are also song titles …) It is a “diverse” playlist, as my daughter described it, but I’ll take that as a compliment!  You can make your own judgment on that.

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