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Holistic Integrity Systems

Thus far in my analysis I have argued for the importance of integrity systems for combating institutional corruption, and have identified three relevant dimensions of institutions, namely, purpose, structure and culture. Let me now briefly describe the general features of an integrity system or at least of what I will refer to as a holistic integrity system.

Integrity systems comprise both reactive, e.g. investigation of complaints, and preventive mechanisms, e.g. ethics training. Preventive mechanisms include those which promote ethical behaviour, reduce opportunities for corruption, deter corruption, contribute to good corporate governance, and increase transparency. It is evident that in most societies, jurisdictions, and indeed organisations, the attempt to combat unethical behaviour involves all of the above. That is, integrity building strategies involve reactive systems as well as preventive systems, and within preventive systems there are mechanisms that promote ethical behaviour, there are corporate governance mechanisms with an anti-corruption function, and there are various transparency mechanisms. Moreover, it seems clear that an adequate integrity system cannot afford to do without reactive as well as preventive systems; and that preventive systems need to have all the elements detailed above. This suggests that there are two important issues. The first is the adequacy of each of the elements of the above systems, e.g. how adequate is the investigative capacity or the mechanisms of transparency? The second issues pertains to the level of integration and complementarity between the reactive and the preventive systems; to what extent do they act together to mutually reinforce one another?

In this connection, it is worth noting that many jurisdictions have corruption ‘watch-dog’ agencies, such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong. These bodies are established by statutes that also define a range of offences, have powers to investigate and refer matters to the courts for prosecution. However, it is noticeable that these ‘watch-dog’ agencies often involve themselves in corruption prevention programs that involve the development of preventive mechanisms; they do not necessarily see their role as merely that of a reactive agency.

In the past, there has been a tendency to advocate some specific remedy to deal with a corruption problem that has been identified. Of course, in some situations it is possible to identify some clear administrative or legal shortcoming that can resolve the particular corruption problem. However, it is far more likely that the corruption problem requires recourse to a wide range of integrated anti-corruption mechanisms. More generally, it is likely that the best integrity systems are holistic in character. In short, it is best to conceive of specific integrity building mechanisms as elements of a holistic integrity system.

In looking at the set of integrity building processes as a holistic system, we need first to remind ourselves what is presupposed by an integrity system. First, and most obviously, there must be some shared moral values in relation to the moral unacceptability of specific forms of behaviour, and a disapproval of those who engage in such behaviour. That is, there needs to be a framework of accepted moral norms. Second, there needs to be a broadly shared conception in relation to what needs to be done to minimise it, e.g. should it be simply criminalised or should the response include restorative justice elements (Miller and Blackler 2005, Chap. 6). Thirdly, there needs to be present some capacity to create and implement mechanisms that deal with the issue of unethical behaviour, and this presumes some form of legal or regulatory system and organisational structure. Here considerations of efficiency and effectiveness are important. Finally, there needs to be some source of authority whereby sanctions can be applied to individuals who engage in unethical behaviour.

Having discussed what an integrity system looks like, I can now identify some of the key properties of an effective and vibrant integrity system. One of these factors is leadership. Whether the anti-corruption message is coming from the President of the US, the company management or the police commissioner, an effective campaign against unethical behaviour requires clear articulation and a strong and visible commitment on the part of the leadership. However, even when an individual leader is strong and committed to an anti-corruption program, problems can arise. Specifically, if the necessary institutional mechanisms are not established and entrenched, then the result can be disastrous when the charismatic corruption fighter moves on.

Another feature of a good integrity system is impartiality, and the capacity to deal with the powerful in particular. Put simply, the real test of an effective integrity system is its capacity to deal with cases where the perpetrators are powerful. It is relatively easy to establish systems that act disproportionately against the least powerful engaged in relatively minor forms of misconduct, such as junior police who ignore written complaints from influential public figures of police using abusive language. The test of the system is whether it can act against, for example, senior police who profit from serious forms of corruption. This issue is critical because if the aim is to eliminate serious forms of immoral behaviour such as corruption, then it follows that the integrity system must be capable of dealing with the most serious forms of corruption. Moreover, nothing undermines the legitimacy of an integrity system more than the perception that persons involved in minor forms of unethical practice pay a heavy price, while their superiors who are engaged in far more serious acts of corruption are left alone.

A good integrity system maintains a balance between its component parts. Effective operation not only requires that all of these components be present, but that there be a reasonable balance between them. The most obvious example of an integrity system out of balance is one that relies totally on harsh and vigorous enforcement to the exclusion of all other mechanisms. Such systems tend to create a secretive and punitive culture. Secretiveness is generated because if mistakes or minor misdemeanours are disclosed they are harshly treated. But, as we have seen, secretiveness facilitates corruption. On the other hand, the power of those in authority is greatly increased by virtue of their capacity and tendency to mete out harsh punishment. But, as we have seen, power imbalances often facilitate corruption.

A final, and related, indicator of the effectiveness of an integrity system is transparency. As is well-known, corruption thrives in environments in which the members of a community or organisation are unable to obtain key information, whether it be through an effective news media, elected representatives or through individuals who wish to come forward and bring unethical practices to light (see Chap. 5).

 
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