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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3 Replies to “Integrity Standards, Awareness and Cultural Standards”

  1. Brian – you said in conclusion: “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.”.

    I agree, absolutely – and based on my work in 13 countries (from Morocco to Estonia to Australia) – this is why (imho) it will never happen. This is also why UNCAC does not promulgate an ‘international’ (generic) definition of corruption.

    What is needed is local enforcement of local standards, in the local context. Every country I have worked in had operating at least one well understood notion of ‘corruption’, and ‘conflict of interests’, and ‘abuse of office’, etc.

    I was once asked by a senior official of an International Chamber of Commerce what use a Code of Conduct which prohibited bribery would be in the situation where one of his member businesses was being pressured to provide kickbacks for contracts – a criminal offence in the country concerned. The clear implication was that a Code would be of no use where corruption was endemic. The official said that he had been asked for advice by the CEO of the business as to the Chamber’s position on what he should do, because the businessman’s survival depended on getting the next contract.

    I asked about the Chamber’s policy on paying bribes. ‘Don’t pay bribes’, was his answer.

    My next question focused on the evident unhelpfulness of the Chamber’s advice to that member.
    I asked when the Chamber would start lobbying the country’s government to ensure that the existing criminal prohibition of bribery was actually enforced, and this was known to be a priority of government, based as it is on the (widely accepted) notion of the rule of law, fairness, and a level playing field for business, etc. He was nonplussed. I might as well have been speaking a foreign language.

    My point was that bribery in these circumstances will continue unabated until there is a general perception that the next businessman who offers a bribe to someone is taking a real risk that they could be met with the response: “Thank you, sir: you are under arrest…”

    The great thing about this approach is that it is really easy to create that perception, or the fact, if you are serious about it.


  2. the question of weather a code is good or bad depends on who is watching who? the offender looks on the bosses and how committed are they to the code? do they follow it to the letter or the code is meant only to be applied to the subordinates? what about cultural superiority and conservatism? No code will be obeyed or genuinely applied if those concerned play Hippocratic about it. I recommend those who are to apply ethics or any code whatsoever be blameless, role-models and passionate about it. those who code them should not seem to benefit from it or do it in such a way to please the superiors but count themselves as victims and prisoners of such coding.

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