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