How to Treat Corruption
Everywhere, literally in every country I have worked in, people complain about corruption. Mexico, Slovenia, Serbia, Russia, Israel, even the United States. Maybe in Switzerland people do not complain about corruption, but even if it is true, it does not change my observation: a country without corruption is a rare find.
In order to know how to treat corruption, we have to understand its causes and for that purpose we need to ask ourselves: why is corruption universal?
Because change is universal.
Let me explain.
I suggest to you that one major factor that causes corruption is uncontrolled, unmanageable change, or no change or very little change in the country which nevertheless needs to perform in a changing environment.
Why are change and corruption related?
In Hebrew there is an expression: “A hole in the fence invites the thief.”
All of us, I suggest, have a little larceny in our souls. There are very, very few saints. We should not assume that saints would ever come to populate the whole world. It is simply unrealistic to think the world can be or will be different. If there is a hole in the fence, if we perceive that we can be a little bit corrupt without getting caught, there is a chance we might succumb to the temptation.
There is a similar expression in Serbian: “Those who work with honey cannot help sticking their fingers in the pot to taste it.”
In other words, we are all human. We differ merely by the degree of resistance we have to temptation.
I suggest to you that the problem to be addressed is not the “thief” that we all have in us, but the “holes” that tempt us.
What, exactly, are those “holes”?
What creates them? (1)
How fast do market needs change? In modern society, the changes are very fast and very often.
Now, how long does it take to build and implement a system to serve market needs efficiently?
It takes a long time.
Since the needs change fast and the system to satisfy those needs changes much, much slower, there is a good chance that the system will miss responding to the client needs promptly and by the time the system is developed it will no longer serve clients’ needs, because they will have changed.
The higher the rate of change, the faster clients’ needs will change and thus the higher the probability that the administrative system will be unhealthy; It will not satisfy clients’ needs efficiently, i.e. it will be bureaucratic.
I repeat, for emphasis:
The higher the rate of change, the more bureaucracy there will be.
And the same is true if there is no change in the macro system. The fact that that macro system does not change much does not mean the subsystems that comprise it do not change either. So, if a subsystem changes and the one it belongs to does not change as well, “holes”, as a manifestation of disintegration, will develop.
Take a society where social values have not changed much but technology is changing fast. There will be “holes” that need filling, like how to handle payments, or whether credit deserves being paid interest or not, etc…
Bureaucracy––non-(P)-producing (A)––is by definition disintegrated. To produce results, those that need to overcome the inefficiencies of bureaucracy––need to find a way to fill those “holes.” That calls for a “thief,” someone who knows how to get things done and for a price; another word for that “price” is: “corruption.”
Take an example.
In Santa Barbara, where I live, it is a very time-consuming process to get a building permit, which allows you to do construction on your home or your land. The process is bureaucratic.
People have learned to cope by hiring an “expediter.” This is a person who has recently worked in the planning department, which issues those permits, and thus knows the ins and outs of getting a permit. You pay him, and he finds the short cuts.
He does not bribe anyone. He simply knows how to overcome the bureaucracy, to quickly move your plans from one desk to the next.
In Santa Barbara, this is not called corruption but in my opinion, it is a de facto bribe! If the system were efficient, the expeditor would not be necessary. So, to me, the system is corrupt, which gives a chance for corrupt people to take an advantage of the situation. True, it is not as corrupt as in other countries, where documents move from one desk to the next only if the trail is exceedingly well oiled––i.e., lots of money changes lots of hands, but the phenomena is the same.
Wherever there is bureaucracy––i.e., a non-results-oriented administrative system, corruption will arise to make the system work. What differs among countries is the degree of corruption, and that is a function of the social values that function in that country, and how inefficient the administrative system is, versus how much pressure there is for it to perform promptly.
Granted, greed plays a very important role here but the system of values would not be as negatively productive if the administrative system worked well.
Take the court system in many countries. Change in social values to sue rather than to settle overloaded the courts system to the point that a judgment might take years to be delivered. People need resolution. That creates “a hole”, and someone will find a way to bribe the judge to get the judgment out sooner.
Take another example. A society changed from socialism to capitalism where how much one earns, how much one possesses is a measurement of ones worth. There was a change in values. But teachers, policemen, medical doctors and judges get paid as if the country still had the values of socialism: very little.
What happens now?
Policemen, medical doctors, judges, teachers take bribes and get paid well.
What do we need to do? What is the therapy?
Everywhere, and I mean this literally, everywhere I have discussed this topic, people attribute corruption to human greed and lack of integrity. In the Adizes methodology lingo, that would be attributed to column 1, the column in the chain of causality that attributes the problem to culture, to values or leadership style.
I beg to differ. I think corruption belongs to column 6, where we attribute the problems to be a systemic manifestation of systemic processes, and systemic structure and to values as one of the causes but not as the sole cause. . The treatment for column six is a lot different from how we treat column 1.
Let me explain.
If we attributed the problem to human greed and lack of integrity the treatment will be to change human nature.
Since I suggest to you that since human nature is unchangeable, we should not expect it to be the solution. So far, no one has succeeded. In fact, neither did God: The last time He tried, he created The Flood, and after that, He was forced to admit it was a lost cause.
Certainly it is possible to arrest the problem: Catch someone who is blatantly corrupt, and execute him. Make him an example for all to see. Scare people. That is what the Chinese are doing. Or put them in jail for many years. That is what the Americans are doing.
Arresting or executing corrupt people will arrest the problem––for a while.
How about educating people to behave honestly? That will also offer some relief.
But do either of these strategies solve the problem? No. I do not need to provide evidence here. Everyone sees it daily in the newspapers. Corruption continues.
Killing mosquitoes is not the solution. Drying up the swamp is. To solve the problem, we need to close the holes in the fence!
So, getting back to categorizing the problem, I do not believe it belongs in column 1. The problem belongs to column 6. To solve corruption, rather than just arrest it, it is necessary to deal with columns 2, 3, 4, and 5. In other words, you have to treat the whole system.
Let us define “treating the whole system.”
While change is galloping ahead, the cart attached to it is falling apart. The faster the “holes” develop, the faster we have to close them. We need a full-time “maintenance crew” working to find and close the “holes”––but without stopping the horse. They have to chase the horse and repair the cart on the run.
On a national level, this would be at the highest level of the government: let’s say a deputy prime minister with a significant ministry in terms of budget and people. His staff would be agents of change: professionals whose training is in systems analysis and change management. Their mission is not to find corruption and punish those who are corrupt. That is for the prosecutor general to do. This ministry must be dedicated to finding out how corruption happens, and to reengineering the system so that it is transparent, known to all, and serves clients rapidly and efficiently.
Corruption does not survive well in full sunlight.
And the same solution should be repeated at every level of government, down to state governments and municipal governments, and all large corporations, which are often just as bureaucratic as governments.
Corruption is a question of values, granted. But the solution is not to just change values, which amounts to changing people. We need to fix the system that tempts the weak in soul and spirit. We need to fix the system at least as fast as the system is changing and thus developing those “holes” that are the source of the problem that needs addressing.
(1) A little theory: A “system” means (A) from the (PAEI) code. For it to be a functional system it should not be (A) for the sake of (A). (A) for the sake of (A) is bureaucracy. To be functional it should be (A) for the sake of (P). Than it delivers results efficiently. How fast does (P) change? How long does it take to develop (A)? See Ichak Adizes: Mastering Change (Adizes Institute Publications)
It took forty years of observing the world around me and forty hours to write and rewrite this blog. When I read the finished product, it was so simple and obvious. I felt uncomfortable especially since my kids put me down and criticize me that all I do is say the obvious.
I wonder how many people realize how painfully difficult it is to find the elusive “obvious”; It is very complicated to make things simple and very simple to make things complicated.
Just a bit defensive today…
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes