Fighting Corruption whilst Building Integrity

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Corruption is detrimental to the growth and development of any country or society. In Liberia, corruption is unarguably one of the conditions that have made the county one of the least developed in the world. This paper discusses the current situation and policy approach to fighting corruption, and what is being done to build and sustain integrity in the Liberian public service. It outlines the causes of corruption on the one hand, and the impacts of corruption on the country’s economic growth and development on the other hand. It then advances possible solutions to address this menace. The first section of this paper defines corruption, and discusses the types of corruption in public service in Liberia, the causes of corruption, and the impact of corruption on national development and economic growth. The second section outlines possible solutions to solve the problem of corruption.

By Mohamed H Bility

WHAT IS CORRUPTION?

The World Bank defines corruption as the misuse of public power for private benefits (World Bank 2001). This definition can include receipt of improper inducement by an official to allow illegal activity (such as smuggling, fraud in awarding government contracts, nepotism, embezzlements, cronyism, appropriation of public assets and property for private use, influence peddling, etc.) to go on. Corruption is arguably the main factor hindering the growth and development of developing countries. The Government of Liberia continues to face challenges in fulfilling its mandates of collecting revenue to invest in the delivery of the needed public goods such as national security, roads, electricity, Hospitals as well as protecting the domestic economy. Corruption over many years have created severe disincentives to the citizenry and distortion of economic growth and development. It continues to prevent the realization of public financial needs and put national security (social and physical) at risk.

TYPES OF CORRUPTION

There are several types of corruption that can be categorized into four major categories. Irene Hors of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has identified three types of corruption that occur in the work environment of public officials. According to Hors, the three types of corruption are – routine corruption, fraudulent corruption, and criminal corruption (2001). Transparency International (1997) divides corruption into two major types: – petty corruption and grand corruption. Hors’ definition and Transparency International’s definition are similar. Routine or petty corruption is survival corruption. These types of corruption usually take place at the junior officer level. At this level, corruption is systemic and endemic and it is not regarded as a criminal or illegal activity. Both the givers and receivers comfortably participate in this type of corruption. Officials involved in this form of corruption believe they are entitled to additional compensation from the businesses or citizenry.

There are several reasons that one can attribute to such corruption. One reason for this form of corruption is that officers at the level where this form of corruption occurs are grossly underpaid and another reason is the lack of professional training, supervision and proper management control.

The second category of corruption, fraudulent corruption, involves knowingly allowing businesses/traders to violate the law with the aim of receiving personal gain in return.

 The third category, criminal corruption/grand corruption, involves the payment of bribes to public officials to allow criminal operators to carry out illegal activities that are harmful to the country and its people such as illicit drug trafficking, award of concession contracts that are bad for the country, as well as allowing terrorist activities.  

Another type of corruption that should be considered is prejudice-based, wherein an individual or company gets favorable treatment, or is treated inappropriately, for no reason other than personal prejudice. This form of corruption includes favoritism in the award of contracts to companies, sectionalism, and nepotism. Senior bureaucrats are most often the participants in this form of corruption. This type of corruption underpins the codification of corruption in organizations, which then filters down to frontline officials. As a result of prejudice-based corruption at the top, the entire system is likely to become corrupt. From a personal perspective, this is the most damaging form of corruption that lays the foundation for systemic and endemic corruption. Once the right person is not placed in the right place at the right time, there is a high possibility of system failure. These types of corruption include nepotism and preferential treatment in dealing with institutions. Nepotism in the context of our discussion includes the selection of unqualified staff, promotion of incompetent staff, and transfer of staff to lucrative positions on the basis of a relationship instead of on a merit basis.

WELL-ORGANIZED AND CHAOTIC

To mitigate the impact of corruption it is important to understand the distinction between well-organized and chaotic corruption. One major difference between the two forms of corruption is the predictability of results. Under the Well-organized form of corruption, the supply side has a great idea of who should get bribed and how much to offer for a particular illegal activity to go on without being noticed or disrupted. In this form, authority is centralized. On the other hand, chaotic corruption is marred by confusion wherein the supply side has no idea what would be the outcome of the transaction should he/she bribe their way through. Under this form, authority and responsibilities are decentralized. If the supply side must venture into bribing its way through, there is a high likelihood of overly paying bribes to more people than necessary. When this happens, the person paying the bribe gets disoriented and discourage to venture.

CAUSES OF CORRUPTION

Factors giving rise to corrupt practices in public administrations include but are not limited to cumbersome regulations, widespread intervention, complex bureaucratic processes and procedures, low stakeholders awareness, the culture of impunity, disregard for the respect of standard operating procedures and guidelines, inadequate internal control, low salaries and remuneration, lack of job security, inadequate social security and welfare policy and the inadequate training and specified professional standards.  Until these factors are addressed properly using a holistic approach, there will still be an incentive for public officials to engage in corrupt practices.

1, Institutional weaknesses – an institution in the context of this paper holds the definition provided by Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist. Ostrom defines institutions as rules, norms, or strategies that people derive to coordinate or cooperate more successfully in collective endeavors (Ostrom, 1990). With this definition in mind, it can be deduced that weak strategies, rules, and expectations will lead to weak laws policies, and interventions. As Anne O. Krueger postulated, it is assumed that those in the private sector are motivated by self-interest and those in the public sector by social justice (Krueger 1990). Although this is how it ought to be, the case of Liberia is far from this belief. Public officials, instead of playing by the rules to realize government mandate, are at the forefront of self-interest. This attitude has given rise to weak institutions thus creating the incentive for corruption.

Although Government of Liberia has formulated some policies and created some Anti-grafts institutions to fight corruption, performance of these institutions and policies have necessitated the need for reform and strengthening of the existing institutional and policy architecture due to ineffectiveness. Government has created institutions such as Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, Internal Audit Agency, National Code of Conduct for public officials and a mandatory asset declaration policy. These institutions and policies seem to not be delivering the intended results.

2. Burdensome regulatory regime an overly regulated doing business environment is entrenched with too many rules, procedures, and regulatory requirements. The compliance cost to businesses is unbearable to the extent that it leads to the creation of avenues for public officials to solicit bribes. Overly regulated environments cost governments huge amounts of resources to ensure compliance. Another factor that renders overly regulated operating environments inefficient is the impracticality of sufficiently monitoring performance. All of the foregoing factors create incentives for companies to seek fast illegal approval through the offer of bribes to public officials.

3. Complex bureaucratic procedures – Bureaucracy is an array of functional departments with separate and distinct roles. In the Liberia public service, our observation shows that there are too many different government departments performing the same or almost the same task.  Because of this, there is a continuous conflict and competition between and amongst employees of entities for power instead of focusing on how to deliver the needed service. Businesses cannot afford long delays waiting for all concerned agencies to grant approval before moving further with their business operations. Complex bureaucratic procedures create a bottleneck in the flow of business processes and create incentives and opportunities for businesses and public officials to organize and implement bribery. 

4. Disregard for respecting standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines – most public officers do not read and work in line with approved Standard Operation Procedures. This is very serious, as some staff will do the wrong thing thinking that they are doing the right thing. Their intention may be good but in reality, it is against best practice. Others will knowingly do the wrong thing taking advantage of the ambiguity in the laws and flagrant disregard for approved SOPs. In modern public administration, it is better to set out standards of practice that everyone must follow. Criminals that know the law can hide behind ambiguities. As a matter of fact, there is an escape route to most laws. It is regulation and standards set by administrators aside from legislation that close most of the escape routes.

 5. Low citizen awareness – rules, regulations, processes, and procedures governing government processes and institutions are not made available to the public – even with the proliferation of media through which communication is easier. A significant portion of the population and/or businesses who failed to comply with laws and regulations do so as a result of a lack of proper knowledge of what the regulatory requirements are. According to the Expert Center for the Administration of Justice and Law Enforcement’s Tables of Eleven (2006), these types of violators are classified as unconscious non-compliant businesses/populations. The lack of public awareness in the administration of legislation and regulatory requirement creates a cloud of confusion over economic operators which opens an opportunity for public officials to solicit bribes by misinterpreting the laws.

6. low salaries – most Civil Servants and Security officer of government are paid wages that cannot sustain a family of three. An example is the security sector – the average salary of low-ranking officers in the Liberia National Police is around $140.00 take home which is not a living wage for a family of three (Salaries, Calculators, States and Kingdom, 2022). Imagine a police officer has a take-home pay of $140.00 where he has to pay rent, transportation to work and to take his/her child to school, buying school and uniform, food, and other basic household items – what do you expect of such person? Worst of all is that this low-paid officer does not expect any better life (better social security) after retirement. 

7. Lack of job security – The fear and expectation of being fired at will, by senior management, without regard to laws and policies impacts greatly on employees’ behavior toward the job. Management is all about getting things done through the use of resources – including human resources. In a working environment where employees feel insecure, there is high susceptibility to low productivity. Therefore, it is the management’s responsibility to make its employees feel secure at all times. Job insecurity in the mind of employees translates into low morale and further creates incentives for corrupt practices.

8. Lack of training and professionalism –Public service requires some amount of professional skills and knowledge to be able to execute certain functions. The best way to ensure fairness and neutrality in the administration of government mandate is to develop a well-trained and professional human resource with clearly defined responsibilities and accountability to performance standards. Understanding one’s role and responsibilities are key to better performance and productivity.

IMPACTS OF CORRUPTION ON OUR NATION AND ITS ECONOMY

Corruption retards national growth and development. It has severe harmful effects on nations struggling to reduce poverty. The direct effect of corruption is more on the poor than on the rich. In a systemic corrupt society, the possibility of having a vibrant middle class is very difficult if not impossible. The hardest hit by corruption are the ordinary people of society and it is evidenced by economic decline. Aside from the poor being hit hard by corruption, it also acts as a serious disincentive to foreign investment, which also causes a decrease in economic activities including international trade. Investors’ business decisions are made based on the level of transparency, fairness, and predictability of countries’ governance system, especially how tax is administered and the legal system. Widespread corruption can discourage foreign direct investment. Corruption brings about delays in the processing of needed business documents (i.e permits, customs clearing, court cases, etc) which causes a significantly higher cost of doing business. It also weakens the competitive strength of a country’s economic operators and scares away foreign investment. Another consequence of corruption is that it exposes society to national social insecurity, endangers community safety, and reduces the nation’s security measures against terrorism and other external threats. The presence of widespread corruption can, therefore, destroy the images and legitimacy of Ministries, Agencies, and tax administrations and severely limit their capacity to contribute to government mandates.

BUILDING INTEGRITY

Patricia Revesz of the WCO, in a presentation on building integrity in customs at the 52nd fellowship training (2010), defined integrity as a set of attitudes that foster honest and ethical behavior and good work practice. Good integrity is not only being free of corrupt practices. It calls for acceptable value, professionalism, commitments, fairness, and a good work culture that leads to effectiveness and efficiency. It even includes the dress code at work. Building integrity in public service requires a holistic approach that compels the involvement of the central government. There are a number of policy issues that government needs to consider when it comes to building integrity. Key among the many issues are; a well-defined salaries and benefits scheme, sustainable social security and welfare policy; a job security policy; a rigid investigation and audit regime; robust prosecution and sanction regime, and a well-defined human resource policy that considers a fair recruitment process, capacity development, and performance management structure.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION

It can be argued that corruption a major detriment and a distorting factor to economic prosperity —engendered by political and institutional weaknesses. There is no quick fix or solution to the problem of corruption. A comprehensive and sustainable approach is required to address the causes and symptoms of corruption. Government has formulated some policies and created some Anti-grafts institutions to fight corruption but productivity remains a challenge  thus necessitated the need for reform and strengthening of the existing institutional and policy architecture due to ineffectiveness.

Therefore, the approach to fighting corruption should broadly amalgamate prevention and reactive approaches. To achieve the goal of eliminating corruption, and ending poverty, it is imperative that a holistic approach to transforming our governance systems should be designed and implemented. This should include but not limited to rewiring attitudes acceptable in public service and ensuring full adherence, encouraging community participation in governance to promote accountability and build integrity. The approach should include but not be limited to the following recommendations.

RECOMMENDATION

A. Well-structured and articulate human resource policy that ensures:

1.         Fair and transparent recruitment and promotion policy free of biases and favoritism and based on the principle of merit that maintain high standard and integrity

2.         Continuous basic and professional training in order to build a sustained professional capacity of the institution.

3.         Developing a performance appraisal policy and architecture that will form the basis for promotion and other rewards.

B. Issuance of and acceptance of an unambiguous code of conduct that set out the behavior expected of public officials. This has been relatively done but implementation needs some improvements

C. Strengthen and/or improve existing audit and investigation regime and ensure a robust prosecution regime. A separate autonomous integrity bureau responsible solely for reviewing measures in place to build integrity (i.e., developing living wage plan, ensuring better pension/social welfare policy).

D. Build a respectable organizational culture that promotes acceptable public service values and norms. A culture where an esprit de corps exists based on a sense of loyalty in the service and to the state.

E. Develop a regulatory compliance management policy that simplifies and harmonizes laws, regulations, administrative guidelines, and procedures so that government formalities can proceed without undue burden to the business community and frontline public officials.

F. Embark on a vigorous public awareness campaign that will lead to informed compliance among the business community. When people know their obligations, they will have no reason for non-compliance and no one can mislead them into paying bribes.   

G. Separate economic decision-making and the justice system from self-indulgent political powers.

H. Government should embark on a comprehensive reform that would strengthen existing anti-graft institutions. The reform should consider the formation of an independent monitoring body that will monitor the implementation of all anti-corruption policies and institutions.

I. Convict and shame corrupt government officials in courts of law and the precedence will remind public officials that with every action, there is a repercussion.

By Mohamed H Bility

Founder and CEO of Governance Watch Liberia

Contact: Mobile – +231777297779 Whatsapp: +231880653419

Email; [email protected]

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