The 7th Pan Africa Conference for Modernization of the Public Sector in Morocco was organized on the theme of breaking the culture of corruption in government. I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to the delegates at the initial plenary sessions. (Click here for the details – Fundamental Issues in Modernizing the Public Sector.) After the presentation I had the chance to speak with several of the Ambassadors and official government spokespersons from several of the countries.
Each conversation included a pronouncement by the person that “we can never fix corruption because it is part of our culture.”
This verbal declaration of despair wasn’t limited to government officials. I heard it from media representatives, anticorruption NGOs, and shopkeepers.
They say it, but it is not true.
I often point out to such people that they do not live with the same “culture” as their parents. And they invariably acknowledge that their own children will likely live by different cultural standards.
I also point out that all of the international hotel chains hire staff from all over the world and are able to create a corporate culture of quality and high performance.
In truth, we are not prisoners to our “culture.” Despite how it sometimes feels.
The starting point is understanding that “culture” is the habits and customs distributed amongst a population. It is distributed by formal and informal education. It changes, evolves and grows or dies by formal and informal education.
Thus, the real question is: What must we do to bring about a positive long-term change in government and business culture?
I have shared my white paper on the fundamental institutional tools needed to control corruption. I have also shared my thoughts on this subject with several online groups (LinkedIn, Facebook, the “How to Fight Corruption”, Organizational Corruption and Global Transitions & Development).
I find nearly unanimous agreement with the IDEAS discussed. The difficulties seem to arrive BEFORE implementation.
The challenge seems to be the willingness to confront the challenge of re-educating an entire corporation, government institution or society.
Willingness to Confront the Challenge
I personally saw an example where a senior government official wanted to have specific technical training developed for his staff that would qualify them for international professional certification. They all performed critical government oversight roles.
As part of the training development my team wanted to accurately assess the skills of the government staff. The Senior Official refused to allow a math skills assessment. After avoiding the question for several weeks, he relented and explained that he knew that his people would be unable to perform on the skills assessment at even the primary school level.
Question: “So how do you expect me to develop training that will qualify them for international certification if we cannot discuss the training needed to prepare them for certification?”
Answer: “I don’t know. But we can’t address them at their actual skill level. They will be insulted. Therefore, you cannot do an actual skills assessment.”
Most of the staff actually wanted to identify and address known and suspected shortcomings. But were not allowed to participate in the skills assessment because their boss was worried about the appearance.
There are many ways to address this problem. However, all of the ways require a willingness to face the problem.
One cannot implement any form of culture change, whether it is a new standard operating procedure or a culture of corruption, unless one is willing to face the actual situation in front of them.
If we can’t face the problem – we can never fix it.
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