Peter Eigen – Founder, Transparency International
I love picking my nine-year-old son from school. This is literally the highlight of my day. There is no end to the multiplicity of mischief that children get up to at this age. The account of day’s events is usually very animated – complete with sound effects. I was therefore surprised when, about a month ago, I found him nearly in tears and reluctant to speak. When I eventually pried some information from him, it turned out that he had told on his classmates for making noise in class and even taken the liberty to write down a list of the offenders for the class teacher. While this had earned him praise from the class teacher, the rest of the class – including those whose names were not even on the list – had taken to calling him a ‘SNITCH’ and had refused to play with him all day. Needless to say, I was heart broken. Worse still, I was unsure how to react.
You see, telling on others is not something that is very common even in the adult world. Every day, we see acts of corruption taking place on our streets, in our work places, schools and public offices and none of us says anything. How about telling on yourself? This is nearly impossible. Why would you create certain doom, immediate punishment not to mention self-inflicted shame? And yet, this is at the heart of integrity. I just spent the last 3 days attending the Landmark Forum. This is an international personal and professional growth, training and development program that offers an education in living. From the program, I got that when I do not call out another person for their wrongdoing; I lack integrity. For me, it is easier to excuse their behaviour or turn a blind eye. I discovered that this is because I can see my own behaviour reflected in theirs. If we do not call out our own bad behaviour, it is difficult to hold others to account because our past behaviour still has power over us.
Could this be why corruption remains such an issue in our African society?
Corruption is the single biggest threat to Africa’s growth. According to Transparency International, around 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa paid a bribe in 2015. The NGO ran a survey in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2014 and 2015 to attempt to measure the level of corruption. The type of bribes most commonly paid were to police officers and court officials. Half those surveyed had paid such bribes more than once. This means that that having gotten away with paying a bribe, one was likely to do it again. A report on the role of Corporate Governance by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), states that in dealing with corruption, there are no simple answers. In some instances business can be a source of corruption, while in others it is simply a victim. Crucially, the private sector can be a force in developing solutions to the corruption problem in a number of ways.
One key way of addressing corruption problem through internal measures is the establishment of strong corporate governance within companies. Good corporate governance is not only a tool that raises efficiency, improves access to capital, and ensures sustainability — it is also emerging as an effective anti-corruption tool. On the day-to-day transaction level it makes bribes more difficult to give and to conceal. At the decision-making level, corporate governance injects transparency and accountability, so that it is very clear how decisions are made and why. Economies only work if companies are run efficiently and transparently. We have seen vividly what happens if they are not- Investment and jobs will be lost and in the worst cases – Shareholders, employees, creditors and the public are ripped off.
Whistle blowing or reporting wrongdoing is relevant and plays a critical role in implementing Corporate Governance Practices. This was clearly evident when Sherron Watkins blew the whistle on Enron’s Management in the U.S. Companies are encouraged and, sometimes, required to set up channels for reporting or raising a concern about malpractices within the organization or through an independent structure associated with it. This is not easy especially in our society that has become so entrenched in doing wrong that corruption and violation has become the inherent part of the public and private life.
It is however a proven fact that companies and brands who mess up bounce back quicker when they confess, take responsibility and move aggressively to make things right.
The same is true of people. Landmark is onto something. Maybe more companies should get their employees to attend the Landmark Forum. Eating a slice of humble pie is tough, especially when it is our pie. But, like anything worthwhile, it’s the tough stuff that is most effective. Telling on yourself lessens the power that the wrongdoing has over you and puts you in an authoritative position to tell on others.
I am now living in the possibility of being authentic and powerful. I also have an answer for my son’s school dilemma.