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Greasing the wheels of business

It's not just the streets that can be a hassle, business deals can be too.
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Biz Traveller

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Call it baksheesh, dash, grease or la bustarella -- a bribe has many names around the globe. Yet for some it is an inherent part of doing business.

Favors may be needed when it comes to getting government contracts, issuing licenses and cutting through layers of bureaucracy.

It is more evident in countries where there is a lack of accountability and in collective cultures where payments or gifts are very important and where relationships are maintained through a system of favors.

"The perception of what constitutes corruption varies from culture to culture," Lilian Ekeanyanwu from Transparency International, a non-governmental agency that combats corruption, told CNN.

"What you call graft in the developing world is seen as a gift here in Nigeria, so it is difficult to have a commonality in the definition of corruption."

There is no single definition for corruption, although the United Nations defines it as "the abuse of power for private gain" ranging from nepotism through to bribery.

Nigeria ranks behind Bangladesh and Haiti as the third most corrupt country, according to Transparency International's index. Stories of corruption clutter Nigeria's newspapers.

"First of all you start with sectors like the police, the customs and immigration. These are the ones who confront people when they come into the country and who people have contact with on a day to day basis," says Ekeanyanwu.

However, oil rich-Nigeria, where opportunities abound for foreign investment, is keen to clamp down heavily on officials engaging in these practices.

"People who are paying those bribes are part and parcel of the problem," says Ngozi Okonjo-iweala, Nigerian Finance Minister.

"Business people should not engage in this because there is a supply and a demand side to corruption. If someone demands -- say "no" and report them to the finance minister."

Most multinational corporations have a company-wide policy on dealing with corruption.

"There are certain companies that have the policy stated and all their employees know about it -- that they do not pay bribes... and only do things that they can get receipts for and can put through their books," says Philippa Foster Back from the Institute of Business Ethics.

But what is on paper and what business is like on the ground can be quite different; according to ethics experts, there is room to negotiate.

Foster Back suggests that if it is a small amount of money to a low level official, typically this can be accepted. But if someone wants large amounts of money to help you, say, clear goods at the docks, then you are likely to be making illegal and unethical payments.

"It's very difficult to have a hard and fast rule. When the sum of money is going to cause somebody to change their behavior, that is when you have gone over the mark -- so it is the degree of influence that you are buying," says Foster Back.

Ultimately it is best to be honest in business, especially when it comes to explaining things to your headquarters. If the business dealings appear to be dubious, perhaps it is best to get out of that game completely.

CNN's Gaven Morris, Richard Quest and Shantelle Stein contributed to this report.

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