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If Only Corruption Could Be Defeated with Pocket-Less Trousers

Fumiko Nagano's picture

We at CommGAP are interested in learning how to change social norms as key to fighting petty corruption. When looking at the issue of norms as they relate to corrupt practices, as with most issues, there are two sides to the petty corruption equation: citizens who pay bribes and public servants who accept them. A number of posts on this blog have dealt with the importance of getting citizens to view bribery as wrong. So what about public servants? How do you get them to stop demanding and accepting bribes from citizens?

A couple of interesting solutions to this question were found in Nepal and Kazakhstan, as reported by the BBC earlier this year. In Nepal, in order to fight petty corruption at its main international airport, the government planned to put in place an unusual measure: making airport employees wear pants without pockets to prevent them from taking bribes from travelers. In Kazakhstan, one of the government’s anti-corruption initiatives included making civil servants wear badges saying “I am against corruption,” in the hopes that those wearing such badges would think twice before demanding bribes.

Business ethics professor Chris MacDonald states that, in fact, there are two types of solutions to problems like corruption (what he calls “people” solutions and “technological” solutions) and we should also consider “technological” solutions like the one proposed by Nepal’s government that might actually be appropriate. Maybe so, but the fact remains that it is only a short-term solution, a band-aid covering up the infection. That this measure would only be as successful as the quality of its enforcement already points to its weakness. Besides, who is to say that clever airport officials would not find ways to go around the system (by simply attaching hidden pockets on their shirts, for example)? If the act of wearing mandatory badges stating what we are supposed to believe in could actually alter our values and behavior, the world would be a rather boring place indeed. The problem with this type of solutions is that the root of the issue—civil servants’ attitude towards bribery—remains unaddressed. In fact, I think that these “technological” solutions can only act as ancillary measures to support the undoubtedly more difficult-to-implement “people” solutions.

For a measure to produce a genuine and lasting change in public servants so that they condemn bribery and become active contributors to a culture of probity and accountability, that measure must engender a deeper transformation within. Anti-corruption commission officials and senior practitioners have told us about the need for a number of important criteria for building a culture of probity, including leadership commitment to ethical standards, the existence of enforceable code of ethics, and the development of a strong whistleblower protection system. Another intriguing idea we heard was generating staff morale and pride in their work. All of these measures require long-term engagement, but then again, most reform efforts do if they are to “stick.” The bottom line: the fight against petty corruption will not be won with pocket-less trousers alone.

Photo Credit: Flickr user elrentaplats

Comments

Submitted by Estenieau Jean on
It would be great to live in a world free of Corruption. But is it possible? I guess not.Inequalities and corruption are interchangeable in a certain way. corruptions and inequalities are characterized by the dominance of the rich over the poor. We all know that is almost impossible.

Submitted by jennorins on
If we are looking to understand how to change the social norms related to corruption, I think that we should give the Nepalese and Kazak governments credit for developing initiatives that force individuals to think more about their actions. These anti-corruption initiatives demonstrate that the governments of Nepal and Kazakhstan are committing political will to change the societal perceptions of and acceptance of corruption. Imposing a change in behavior can be seen as a first step to changing norms (smoking bans is an example). But there is another interpretation of why individuals engage in petty corruption that may not necessarily be related to socially accepted norms of behavior, but rather more to their socioeconomic well-being. If a person does not have enough income/resources to meet their (and their family's) needs, and if this person lives in an area where the inequalities between rich and poor are stark, manipulating the system could be seen as a means of survival and betterment. Perhaps ensuring that people have adequate food, shelter, health care, education, and a sense of empowerment would go a long way in decreasing the prevalence of (petty) corruption.

Submitted by SUNDAY AREMU on
I am quite impressed by your piece on Corruption and how it can be checked. I came from a country where corruption rewards much more than honesty. The problem is so endemic that once you secure a public office, your kinsmen would, in their congratulatory messages, remind you not to "slack". That is a call to acquire as much as one can! Few brave ones who have tried to confront this cancer have either been ravaged by it or have had untimely transition. The problem with this corruption, either petty or otherwise, is that we do not seem to believe that it is wrong and injuriuos to the country in the long term. Our leaders are known all over the World. Infact, without them, some banks in Europe and America would never have had customers. My country has one of the best pool of laws to combat this virus. But again, it will take alot of courage and moral resolve. Perhaps, someday we might pick up these measures and see if they will work in the land; that is, if we have not been ravaged before then.

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