Policy Implementation Fights Corruption


Policy Implementation is key to anticorruption.

Consider this scenario – you have given a written list of tasks to your staff only to have them come back later, look you in the eye, and say “I have completed the list.”

The problem is – they didn’t complete the list, did they?

You hand list back and ask politely, “Are you sure everything is completed?”

They look at you, get visibly nervous, look at the list again, and say, “Yes sir. I have completed everything on the list.”

But the list isn’t completed – they have failed to carry out the job.  Of course, the immediate temptation is to assume they lied, were stupid or possibly lazy.

But the truth is much more complicated than that.

When I ask senior government officials if they have had this experience,  virtually all of them will acknowledge and shake their heads in frustration.

But when I ask them “How many of you have gotten a phone call from your spouse asking you to pick-up three or four things from the grocery store on your way home from work?”

At this point the room usually breaks down into laughter, as we all know what happens next.  They get home from the grocery store and their spouse asks “Did you get the XXX?” and you realize that you had forgotten it.

Forgot the bread? and brought home the chapstick and gum.  Brian Pinkowski
Forgot the bread? and brought home the chapstick and gum. Brian Pinkowski

This failure to implement is at the core of nearly all corruption prevention failures.

If we are honest, we will acknowledge that EVERYONE has some trouble following instructions, or procedures.  It is not a function of academic education level, although education can help improve the ability to follow procedures.

Professional sports teams spend a vast percentage of their time working on basic skills and going over the “plays.”  These plays are the “policies and procedures” for the sports teams.

In contrast, professional government executives and employees in “first world” developed countries spends very little time learning the policies and procedures, and no time “practicing” either the “fundamentals” or the “plays.”

By direct observation, the learning and practicing environment is even weaker in developing and transitional countries.

Pritchett, et. al., have similar observations.  Their observations center on “capability” and go so far as to observe that “many countries remain in ‘state capability traps’ in which the implementation capability of the state is both severely limited and improving (if at all) only very slowly.”  Dramatically, they announce that “countries like Haiti or Afghanistan or Liberia would take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to reach the capability of a country like Singapore and decades to reach even a moderate capability country like India.” (See note below.)

From this perspective, its fairly naïve to expect much of government anywhere.

Where critical training is in fundamental skills absent (i.e., everywhere) success is hinged entirely on the quality and tenacity of management to push through to see that policies are followed and targets are achieved by staff.  But government managers don’t get much training either.

A challenge in All countries is the ability to follow instruction (policies and procedures).   Fundamentally, “capability” is an education problem.

When I raise this issue with academics in the field of public administration, I am often met with turned up noses.  “These matters are too basic.  What do they have to do with public administration theory?”

But at the end of the day, people need to REALLY learn how to do their jobs.  And their job descriptions are often nearly worthless in instructing them on the procedures and products associated with their jobs.

Ongoing training and education is critical, but needs to go beyond superficial classroom and online training that teaches the buzzwords.  It needs to include practical experience with the implementation of policies.  Probably the most useful sorts of training I have received either in government or outside government has been timesheet training.  Getting the timesheets correct is a high priority and institutions will dedicate time to ensure it is understood and done properly.  I am sure there are other examples, but none of those training examples are implemented without educated and capable management to push them through to completion.

Let me encourage my colleagues in government and consulting to be courageous, and take on the challenge of teaching managers the skills needed to push, encourage and drag staff through to learning implementation skills.

If people know and can execute their jobs well, corruption will find it that much more difficult to find an opening.

Note: Pritchett, L., et. al., Capability Traps? The Mechanisms of Persistent Implementation Failure.  Center for Global Development. Working Paper 234, December 2010.

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8 thoughts on “Policy Implementation Fights Corruption

  1. Dear Mr. Brian Pinkowski,
    I think you have soft-pedaled in this article. Lack of ability to implement policies and procedures does give room for corruption in some cases; but in comparison with many other things that open the floodgates for corruption, it is infinitesimal.
    In fact many policies and procedures, drawn intentionally and non-intentionally to facilitate corruption, deserve to be mentioned first in this regard. In this we may include conspicuous absence of definite policies and procedures also.
    No political party in India has ever included in its policy statement zero level tolerance of corruption or a firm commitment to bring corruption to an end within a specific time. Relatively an young person, Rahul Gandhi has said that it would take 20 years to stop corruption! If only there is a strong political will, in my view, corruption could be brought down to a very low level in public life within 2 months just making honest use of the available legal and administrative machinery and by enlisting the cooperation of the judiciary.
    All said and done, unless we take concrete steps to improve the individual value system and cultivate good citizenship, we cannot win our battle against corruption. Most of the youngsters think – understandably of course – that the politics is the business in which one can become enormously wealthy in a very short time. They think that once well entrenched in politics, they don’t have to mind the Law of the nation. We may go on adding but the crux of the matter is that the corrupt leaders have partly succeeded in corrupting the minds of the people; in roping the mass into their nefarious systems by mischievous plans.
    Properly educating the people, promoting self-esteem in them, inculcating in them noble values of public life, enthusing them in unity and nation-building, and making them politically enlightened – these are the ways mainly to fight corruption; of course, in addition to continuing the public agitations against the cases of corruption that surface here and there.

    1. In reading your comment I find we may not be far apart. For instance, you have said:

      “No political party in India has ever included in its policy statement zero level tolerance of corruption or a firm commitment to bring corruption to an end within a specific time. Relatively an young person, Rahul Gandhi has said that it would take 20 years to stop corruption! If only there is a strong political will, in my view, corruption could be brought down to a very low level in public life within 2 months just making honest use of the available legal and administrative machinery and by enlisting the cooperation of the judiciary.”

      This translates to me as a claim that the political parties don’t have policies in regard to corruption, and that policies aren’t being followed in the regard to the courts and justice systems.

      Thus, we are of one mind on this issue.

      India has significant challenges with corruption that are greatly exacerbated by the economic pressures on individuals that effectively force them to set aside their more noble ideals in the struggle to survive on a daily basis.

      Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to join you in the fight against corruption some day.

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