Fighting Nepotism

You aren’t what we are looking for.

Is nepotism ever acceptable?  Or is it always corruption?  Believe it or not, opinions differ as to whether placing family and friends in key positions is corruption. It’s important to treat this question seriously to develop successful anticorruption and development policies.  I explore this important topic in a Blog on the Global Transitions & Development website.


3 March 2014 Update: The Blog portion of the Global Transitions Website is undergoing revision.  The original article is unavailable.  The article referred to a white paper that can be downloaded here:   New-Tools-For-Fighting-Corruption-in-Organizations

Brian Pinkowski


9 Replies to “Fighting Nepotism”

  1. Howard WHITTON • There is something inherently corrupt with ‘Nepotism’ (as with the cognate terms patronage, cronyism, favoritism, etc) because its general definition has come to mean just this: “appointing a family member (Latin: nepos) or relative (friend, protege, etc) to a position whose functions they are not competent to perform, in preference to others who are competent to perform those functions.”

    But (I suggest) that too-broad definition risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater: appointing a relative to a job is not, of itself, necessarily corrupt. Provided that the relative has been assessed as both genuinely competent/suitable for the position, and the most competent/suitable of the candidates available, through a transparent and competitive merit selection which adequately tests ‘the market’, any familial relationship should be irrelevant. The integrity of the selection process is of course crucial, as is genuine transparency, but these are process issues. Conflict of Interest issues (eg arising in supervision of a relative) also need to be separated out.

    At issue is a broad assumption that the competent ought to be hired in preference to the not-so-competent, for any job in an organisation whose stakeholders (workers, stock-holders, clients, suppliers, the community, government, etc) have legitimate interests in its survival which are literally ‘at stake’. On this basis, Nepotism is arguably a breach of a fundamental ethical obligation owed by management. In the public sector it is usually also a breach of law.

    ‘The fix’ for Nepotism ( – if only it were this simple in practice!…) is to require the decision-maker in the case to show unequivocally that the merit selection process was not corrupted by other factors – such as improper influence, dishonesty, fraud, (etc.).

    The question for the decision-maker is thus: “Can I demonstrate to the world at large that the selection outcome had integrity, and was fair?” The question for the world at large is slightly different: “Do we believe it?” – which is (or should be) a powerful incentive for an organisation to develop a solid reputation for integrity, by ensuring that its processes are fair (and not just in hiring, but also in firing, discipline, contracting, protecting (genuine) whistle-blowers, and remuneration, CSR, business ethics, legal compliance, and so forth.

  2. Nevena Radosevic • The worst thing about nepotism is that it discriminates against capable professionals and quality people in favor of oftentimes mediocre or even substandard ones.

    Of course, if someone’s relative IS the most qualified professional for the job, then that means they are being hired on their own merits, and generally in such cases their relation should not be taken against them. The purpose of fighting against nepotism is to avoid discriminaiton of any kind and promote fairness and equal opportunity. There are rare examples like that, but I think the negative aspects of nepotism prevail by far.

    Fighting against nepotism is always difficult, but depending on where you may be on the globe, it sometimes turns into a battle against Hydra, a mythical creature that grows two heads in place of each one that’s cut off.

  3. Lars Elffors • I clearly follow Brian for a start, discussing human (social) behaviour in the terms of survival (in a broad sense), claiming nepotism to be a sign of lack of confidence, or even distrust. However, following that, the discussion too much focuses actions of the government, and actions towards raising the trust in government.

    However, I believe the distrust goes deeper than that, in corrupt communities, deeply affecting inter-personal relations overall. It is a matter of the mood or the “climate” between individuals (and groups). The basic trust in a civilized society is in itself a protection to nepotism and other sorts of corruption.

    I agree, main actions cannot primarilly be successfully directed towards deep societal attitudes between individuals, and could primarilly mainly take place (in a controlled way) in the relationship between individual members (and groups) of a community and its government. But this is not the same as reducing the problem to a strictly governance problem.

    As it goes for the discussion (Howard, Nevena) on relatives, friends, etc, possessing the proper qualities, and being selected in a transparently competetive way, I agree in theory. However, there is the question of “Caesar’s wife”. Selection processes are never fully objective, there are always elements of subjectivity in them. And in order to build confidence and trust, I believe the tresholds for such relatives and friends must – unfortunately – be higher, as compared to other applicants. Basically one should try to avoid employing them as far as possible. This could of course mean that, at times, the most fit will not be selected.

    However, the confidence is more important in most cases.

  4. Quan Dinh • One way to reduce nepotism is to have “clear and transparent procedures” for selection.

    In many developing/transitional or post conflict countries, these HR procedures do not exist, are weak or are easily “corrupted.” The commitment for transparent and fair processes is only the first step in the right direction. Beside those procedures there must be some checks and balances – i.e. a strong civil society as “trust” is not enough to keep nepotism in check.

    The combination of transparent procedures and a strong “civil society” would help.

  5. Brian Pinkowski • Howard, it does seem that the imposition of rules should be enough to correct the problem, but, as you observe, it is not. I suggest that where rules are not implemented/implementable, there is a conflict between the ideas of individuals and groups about the importance of the rules to the survival of individuals and the community in general. In other words, where people don’t believe the rules are more important to their survival than nepotism, they will act accordingly. As we know, more rules do not the answer the problem.

    Sometimes (perhaps often) individuals and groups do not understand the impact of their actions on the survival of their groups. I would contend that government itself often fails to communicate the importance of its contribution to the survival of individuals and groups. Instead it merely communicates its importance/authority.

    Comments from Nivena and Lars underscore the challenges of trying to find a process to create fairness while balancing the difficulties of individual and group survival behavior. Of course, that is the challenge and the conflict.

    The clear and transparent procedures suggested by Quan Dinh go right to the heart of the issue. The fact that there is hesitance to instill and follow such procedures openly, in my view, points to the conflict in thinking that people and groups have about the harmony/linkage between their personal survival, survival of their friends and family, and the survival of institutions.

    I believe that the solution has to contain a combination of education for the community and government employees about the connection between government action and their survival and prosperity, and efforts by the government to prove that it is working on behalf of the survival of individuals and groups.

    I would love to hear of any good examples of government programs that have effective training programs that make this point as well as any examples of governments that make the effort to prove they are supporting the survival of individuals and groups. I am looking for such examples that manage to survive beyond an initial cynical response by communities.

    I look forward to your replie

  6. Fighting a nepotism is like fighting gangrene. It is not worth to treat. The only way is to amputate. I real words this would mean to place them in the jail for long time. Then the others would think well before they do employ their relatives.

  7. Nepotism is big cancer. I wish every one concentrated on fighting this vice. Unfortunately, it is rare to hear people talk about the fight against Nepotism. Does it mean many are comfortable with nepotism and find it justifiable?

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