Corruption – Scourge of the Developing World

“There is no question that corruption represents one of the biggest threats to stability and economic growth in developing countries, and remains stubbornly resistant to any attempts to reduce and eliminate it. This is the view of David Silverstein, CEO of strategic management and consulting firm BMGI, who recently wrote a paper on how to break the cycle of bureaucracy and corruption in developing countries.

“Most corruption in the developing world has at its roots in a long history of control and mistrust,” Silverstein said. In Apartheid South Africa, white minority rulers wanted to control the black population; in colonial India, a similar relationship evolved between the governing British rulers and native Indian population; in communist China and Russia, control of the population and distrust of workers similarly led to excessive bureaucracy and, ultimately, corruption.

The key word, according to Silverstein, is bureaucracy.  “Bureaucracy drives corruption and corruption breeds new bureaucracy.”  Initially, people just work around the rules to get the job done.  This results in more rules and more workarounds.  “It is both ironic and paradoxical to realize that the steps taken to defeat corruption—more and more rules and regulations —actually exacerbate it.  Corruption and bureaucracy feed each other in a vicious, circular relationship.”

According to Silverstein, most efforts to break the cycle fail because new rules and regulations, and more aggressive enforcement, merely feeds and perpetuates a vicious cycle.

So, what is to be done? Silverstein believes that “to defeat corruption and to break the bureaucracy-corruption cycle, we must establish a culture of trust and accountability.”

Accountability implies that we understand what is to be accomplished, that we can measure and monitor performance and that we are prepared to sanction those who do not perform, while rewarding those who do.  But it goes deeper.  “For someone to be more accountable, they must accept accountability. We must feel accountable to be accountable. Simhandcuffs-921290_1280ply being told we are accountable accomplishes nothing,” says Silverstein.

Accepting accountability demands that people be afforded a level of control: to make decisions, to direct resources and to implement change. This, in turn, is embodied in one word:  empowerment. Silverstein emphasizes that “to hold someone else accountable, we must be willing to empower them.  But empowering people is not easy because it means ceding control to them.  In addition, this happens while the person ceding control generally still remains accountable for the consequences.  This can be very discomforting.”

“Many business and government leaders declare that we must “empower our people.” Yet little changes. Managers told to empower their people cannot overcome the fear associated with being held accountable for the mistakes of others,” Silverstein argues.

Silverstein believes that the key is trust.  “To truly empower others demands trust, not so much in their integrity, but in their ability to perform the job to our satisfaction and standards. Empowerment without trust dissipates quickly.  But trust must be earned.  Earning trust means honouring commitments and delivering on expectations. Earning trust demands that we know what are expected to do and that we do it.”

“Accountability, Empowerment, Trust and Capability all come together to form a cycle, where each revolution reinforces and builds upon that which comes before it. Each revolution of the cycle builds more trust, offers greater empowerment, assumes more accountability and improves capability. Unlike the vicious cycle of bureaucracy and corruption, the cycle of trust, empowerment, accountability and capability forms a virtuous cycle.”

Silverstein urges companies and governments to “build trust and reduce rules and regulations, remove unnecessary checks and balances and limit oversight.  The result will be freedom: freedom to control one’s own destiny, to improve without restraint; freedom to embrace others, to earn the trust of others, to offer empowerment to others, and to accept accountability ourselves.”

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