Bribes, Compliance and Situational Ethics

Looking for the Path

Looking for the Path

“That’s not a bribe!”

In a developing nation somewhere, an underpaid policemen struggles with a drunk and disorderly citizen. During the arrest, the policeman’s hand is cut.

The next day, the policeman and the formerly drunken citizen reach an agreement. The citizen is charged with drunk and disorderly conduct, and he pays $5 to the policeman to compensate for the injury to his hand.

This is situation actually happened somewhere. Neither the leadership in the police department or the prosecutors’ office saw any problem with the situation.

Police Lieutenant: “It doesn’t matter that the injured party was a policemen, he was injured do to the drunken man’s actions. The result would have been the same (in our culture) if it had been two private citizens. So, there was no bribe.”

Response: “But this happened during the arrest, while the policeman was carrying out his government responsibilities. There were not charges laid for resisting arrest or assault of a police officer. This looks like a $5 bribe to avoid the extra charges.”

Answer: “Things happen in life. Not everything needs to be handled by official police activity. And the officer was satisfied and could pay for his medical expenses. This is a good result.”

While we may object to aspects of the story above, there are a few things that should catch the attention of international business people and their compliance officers.

Firstly, Neither the policeman or the police Lieutenant, or the first line prosecutors immediately saw this as a bribe.

They had all been trained by “Western” police schools, and “Commonwealth” law schools, and many, many western advisors. Indeed, when asked questions about identifying bribery or assaulting an officer in the abstract, they were able to spot the issues and identify the result accurately and quickly.

The result was different for these individuals when the “facts” were applied within a familiar cultural context. When in that cultural context, the traditional laws and rules for resolving problems took precedence, without anyone becoming aware that they had made a shift in evaluation criteria.  They had undercut their own laws.

Is this corruption? or an ordinary, and natural attempt by people to harmonize long-standing traditional law practices with the modern legal environment?

The answer to this question, while important, does not provide a clear and rapid pathway to companies faced with developing compliance programs.

Eyes Wide Open

I recently had the chance to discuss the impacts of traditional law with a large mining company. “How do you handle these problems? And how do you identify the specific cultural conflicts that might slip unnoticed past your FCPA, ethics and other compliance programs?”

Answer: “We engage a local partner. We know that we can’t really learn enough about the local culture in our due diligence to identify all of these problems.” (Translation: “We hire local attorneys, engineers, and others who have [presumably] been trained in western law and practices and can help make sure that we don’t run into those sorts of cultural conflicts.”)

That’s a rational response.  Except that it translates further as: “We hire those same kind of people that you described in the policeman story. Western trained, fully fluent in the English language, but unaware when they switch to application of the traditional laws.”

Having seen first hand the sometimes vast disconnect between behavior in the face of training for FCPA and government contracting that takes place in international settings, (e.g., rampant nepotism, interference with contracts, extortion and rent seeking), I can tell you that there’s a whole lot happening that executives and compliance officers would be unhappy to hear about.

In truth, these are not simple matters. But they are matters that local partners may not characterize in the same way as compliance officers in the U.S., U.K., or the E.U.

Due diligence can seem like an endless task. Indeed, there is no end to the list of things a company must be mindful of when operating in a foreign environment. Cultural studies on the potential conflicts between the formal and traditional law systems may not be available, or on point, at the time of purchase or operation start-up activities, for many countries.

That being said, once operations are underway, information can be obtained by compliance officers that can enhance corporate awareness of corruption risks. By formal or informal surveys, compliance officers, and other executives, can begin asking questions about the traditional law systems, and the cultural practices for transactions and dispute resolution. This information can help compliance officers “get the picture” of the potential “blindspots” that may exist within the operations of a country.

Brian J. Pinkowski

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Posted in Anti-Corruption, Anti-Corruption and Law Enforcment, Anti-Corruption Expert, Brian Pinkowski, Corruption prevention, FCPA Compliance, How to Fight Corruption, Integrity, USAID Anti-Corruption | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fear, Social Media and Anti-Corruption

Corruption Complaint form

Can’t I Just Complain About it on Twitter?

When I write about the role of social media and anti-corruption I typically get a couple of types of responses.

Group 1.   Social Media is Chaos

This group contains people who are concerned about the undisciplined and seemingly ungovernable nature of social media.  It is, in the view of some of my colleagues, a dangerous environment where lies and mean spirited comments can take on a life of their own and the originators of the comments are not accountable for the damage they may cause. Continue reading

Posted in Anti-Corruption, Anti-Corruption Expert, Brian Pinkowski, Bribery and corruption, Corruption, Corruption prevention, Destruction of Organizations and Nations, How to Fight Corruption, Journalist Training, Media, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Strengthen Corruption Prevention Through Mid-Level Management

Politicians Talk About Corruption – Brian Pinkowski
Leadership in Anti-Corruption

Leadership in Anti-Corruption

Leadership sets the example.

It’s as true in the leadership of Nations and corporations as it is in the leadership of small government departments.

Where leadership abuses or misuses the authority of their position, the entire organization decays beneath them.

Continue reading

Posted in Anti-Corruption, Anti-Corruption Expert, Brian Pinkowski, Corporate Decay, Corruption, Corruption prevention, Destruction of Organizations and Nations, Ethics, How to Fight Corruption, Integrity, Internal Investigation, Organizational Development, USAID Anti-Corruption | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Social Media in the Fight Against Corruption

Seizing Control of Social Media.  B. Pinkowski

Seizing Control of Social Media.   B. Pinkowski

Social media offers a tool for everyone and anyone to increase the transparency of actions that people and governments would otherwise hide.  Traditional media, while it can be quite effective on occasion, has some fundamental obstacles to being an effective tool to fight corruption now and in the future. 

“The media is too concentrated, too few people own too much.  There’s really five companies that control 90 percent of what we read, see and hear.  It’s not healthy.”  Ted Turner.

Of course, the truth of Mr. Turner’s words reveals two unavoidable tensions:  (that are discussed further in the remainder of the article) Continue reading

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Integrity Standards, Awareness and Cultural Standards




In an interesting discussion about the possibility of a “Global Integrity Standard,” a friend of mind offered the following touch of realism:

“Focussing on getting a better codification of an integrity standard is not without merit, especially when there are either – cultural issues which can confuse agreement on what are breaches of acceptable integrity, or, – cultural issues which can be dressed-up and co-opted to legitimise self-interested corruption. However, in many jurisdictions, having a better written document setting out standards of integrity will have little if any impact on behaviour.”  Shane Cave

I am in agreement with my good friend, Mr. Cave.

Codification of an integrity standard as the result of reasoned agreement is a good start, but there are many and significant cognitive and cultural conflicts that prevent people from following through.  I discussed this in Gradients in Anti-Corruption.

I am sure I am not alone in this, but I have run into many examples of government or business representatives that openly discuss the new and written rules and demonstrate apparent awareness of these required behaviors.  However, these same officials will turn around and carry out behavior that is in direct violation of those rules.

These individuals can be found in the governments of developing countries.  However, they are just as easily found in the government of “developed countries” and donor organizations.

It is an incomplete analysis to say that these individuals are corrupt or dishonest in their intentions.  While they may be flawed human beings (like the rest of us), they are basically good and decent people.  I believe the problem is more fundamental.  I find lack of awareness and the inability to reconcile the integrity standards with cultural norms for acceptable behavior.

I have see this borne out when I have discussed the seemingly contradictory behavior and been met with confusion from the officials.  They couldn’t see the contradiction.  It was as if I had begun speaking in a language they didn’t  understand.  (For example the Anti-Corruption Official that provides his wife 100% personal use, including fuel and maintenance, of donor or government vehicle.)

Behavior that is acceptable within the cultural norms was cognitively “cordoned off” from evaluation of the behavior against the legal or newly codified integrity standards.

They were unaware of the contradictions and struggled with reconciliation of the evaluative criteria between culture and law.

Successful development and issuance of an integrity standard, whether a matter of criminal law or the softer notions of integrity, requires substantive attention to identifying and overcoming the “cognitive blind spots”, and reconcile personal and institutional behavior to alignment with the new standard.

Brian Pinkowski

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Posted in Anti-Corruption, Anti-Corruption and Law Enforcment, Anti-Corruption Expert, Brian Pinkowski, Bribery and corruption, Corruption, Corruption prevention, Destruction of Organizations and Nations, How to Fight Corruption, Integrity, USAID Anti-Corruption | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Workshop Exercise to Strengthen Ethics with Government Employees

The following workshop exercise is designed to primarily for government employees, and government executives.  The exercises are simple, but involve significant discussion and discovery.

The workshop leader can guide the group to create a code of ethics from the exercise that results from the discussion.  Following the steps below, and with appropriate discussion, the workshop can take more that a full day.  The Workshop details follow: Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Anti-Corruption, Anti-Corruption Expert, Brian Pinkowski, USAID Anti-Corruption, Capacity Building, Anti-Corruption and Law Enforcment, Destruction of Organizations and Nations, How to Fight Corruption, Organizational Development, Ethics, Integrity, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Teach an Ethical Code to Government Officials

 “You cannot teach people to be ethical.”

There are countless “experts” in the world that teach this negative idea.  If you don’t believe me, type “can’t teach ethics” into your search engine and look at what they have to say.  It is a sorrowful opinion of one’s fellow man and . . .

 IT IS NOT TRUE. Continue reading

Posted in Anti-Corruption, Anti-Corruption Expert, Brian Pinkowski, Capacity Building, Corruption, Destruction of Organizations and Nations, Ethics, How to Fight Corruption, Integrity, Nepotism, USAID Anti-Corruption | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments