Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba Correspondent
Corruption, regarded as one of the greatest obstacles to development, refers to misuse of entrusted office or power for private gain, leading to an entity (individual or organisation) being advantaged over one of more other entities.
Although corruption occurs in both the public and private sectors, this piece focuses on the public sector where its main danger lies in the diversion of resources from original aims, national development, as perpetrators prefer to expend the same on projects that allow for personal enrichment.
Corruption thus undermines socio-economic development as it weakens public administration, significantly slows down reform processes, prevents equitable decisions from being made for the common good and further reduces the quality of public services.
Such public services are ordinarily perceived to be unsatisfactory and fail to engender socio-economic development for citizens through the effective implementation of related projects and programmes.
Forms of corruption that include extortion, bribery, kickbacks, nepotism, influence peddling, fraud, speed money or embezzlement are common in most developing countries. All actors in a corrupt act benefit, either in terms of resources or undue advantage.
These illegal activities introduce significant costs to economies notably loss through looting, illegal costs to citizens who get compelled to pay for services that should be free or pay higher rates than officially set. The lives of citizens are also threatened by way of failing to access these services.
In the same context, inequality gets reinforced and perpetuated as poor people suffer disproportionately when even petty bribes significantly reduce their disposable incomes. Such inequality, in turn, fuels conflict in society as resources are diverted from sustainable and inclusive development projects and programmes.
Conflict also poses the great danger of weakening the legitimacy of a government and democratic institutions. In addition, public spending often gets distorted as decision-makers focus on project and activities that bring in large bribes rather than those aimed at addressing citizens’ pressing needs.
Moreover, investors shun corrupt environments thus economic development is slower than it would be with more foreign investment.
Relatedly, people’s lives are placed at risk when infrastructure development projects are executed by mediocre contractors, selected through the payment of bribes, and may also bribe their way out of adhering to health, safety and environmental conservation standards. Some contractors, recruited in this manner, completely fail to deliver any of the expected outputs, again stifling improvement in people’s lives.
In addition, corruption reduces public trust and citizens’ willingness to participate in national activities. For example, citizens who perceive that the public service is corrupt may disregard paying taxes or contribute to development projects.
Actors, encompassing individuals, companies, or organisations are usually skilled in developing new ways to be corrupt as well as cover the associated traces making the disposition of corruption ordinarily devious and knotty. Besides, there is no law against some corrupt activities.
According to literature, anti-corruption experts acknowledge that criminal or administrative law can fail to capture some forms of corruption. They thus underscore the prevention of corruption in addition to punishment.
Measures for such prevention include dissuasion through effectively revealing and prosecuting offences, strengthening institutional capacities for compliance with moral and ethical principles as well as providing protective barriers against corruption.
Strengthening capacities entails the selection and use of strategies that introduce or reinforce the notions of transparency, participation, accountability and integrity. The Results Based Management (RBM) approach, when fully institutionalised and appropriately implemented, has proved to be an effective remedy for corruption and poor project/ programme implementation, an equally deadly hazard.
This is mainly because the approach has the capacity to promote good governance as well as strengthen internal controls; elements identified among measures for preventing corruption. Also, its key features, furnish it the capacity to address both the drivers of corruption and conditions that promote the menace as well as detect acts of corruption in projects processes.
RBM is a broad management approach that aims at improving people’s lives through the achievement of clearly defined and measurable changes, in the behaviour or conditions of the target population. These changes termed “results,” from which the approach derives its name, are caused by the implementation of project or programme in question.
This associated causality demonstrates that resources are utilised towards meeting the set project objectives, thus promoting effectiveness. Explicitly, results should be attributable, beyond reasonable doubt, to the implementation of initiative.
The approach entails primarily focussing on these changes (results) and ensuring that project processes only derive value from effectively contributing towards the achievement of such desired changes in the lives of people (results).
For example, resources are closely aligned process required to achieve the targets results thus ensuring transparency and also reducing the potential for corruption, indifferent thinking and waste. Actually, RBM systems are designed to enhance management effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and transparency in business processes leading to improved project delivery and consequently, improvement in people’s lives.
The key features of RBM include:
Focus on the achievement of a describable, measurable change (result) in the lives of the target population (beneficiaries of the project or end-users of project deliverables). All processes are determined by the requirements for achieving the change
Mutual accountability, among all stakeholders, for the achievement of results
Maximum stakeholder participation with emphasis on beneficiary/end user centrality
Decision-making informed by evaluative evidence
Continuous monitoring, reporting and improvement
Continuous learning, from both success and failure and adjustment
Implementation of project using the RBM approach follows a life cycle approach comprising the planning, execution, which encompasses continuous monitoring and reporting, and learning.
There are several main drivers of corruption as well as conditions that facilitate or allow it to occur. Greed and the decline of personal ethical sensitivity that leads to an unfettered desire for wealth or power while totally disregarding the value of integrity is often regarded as the primary cause at the personal level.
This shortcoming is often aggravated by the prevalence, in most public services, of an administrative culture characterised by a weak work commitment and the absence of a sense of service, among staff. These are driven by selfish interests, instead of serving for the common good.
Similarly, there are cultural environments that lack accepted ethical standards, condone the breaking of rules and short cuts and hence allowing corruption to occur and thrive.
In such settings, false arguments without any moral basis are justified. Typically, there are statements such as “everyone does it”; “take advantage while you can”; “life is short.” It often turns out that individuals and groups within such a culture also do not denounce corruption, when they become aware of it.
Likewise, the absence of clear-cut criteria for proven integrity and responsibility within reward systems lead to elevations being awarded on the basis of familiarity or loyalty to whoever is in charge of the entity, rather than merit.
The implementation of RBM creates and promotes a sustained culture of results, focused on making a difference. Such culture, promoted and supported by introducing a results-oriented accountability regime that encompasses high ethical and moral standards, can address the issue of culture as a driver of corruption.
Staff pride themselves in their contributions, when results are evident as people’s lives. They get motivated to do more; may even loathe corruption and focus on improving their performance.
Performance measures are regularly reviewed and adjusted to maintain or enhance their quality. This reduces susceptibility of the same to corruption, that includes the distortion of behaviour among stakeholders. Correspondingly, promotions and career management processes are guided by best practices in human resource management with principles of fair competition transparently applied.
During RBM planning, stakeholders jointly define measurable results to be achieved and set the desired targets. Such targets dictate the strategies for their achievement and the required resources, with all the decisions informed by evaluative information or knowledge.
Indicators for measuring the results are then selected, setting the criteria for performance, and used for continuous monitoring and reporting, during the execution phase. The objective of this process is to assess the adequacy and utilisation of resources as well as progress towards achievement of the target results.
Such continuous monitoring and reporting facilitates early detection of problems and their solutions. When combined with the alignment of all elements with the target results, the processes help to improve the implementation and project performance as well as reduce the potential or uncover acts of corruption, as appropriate. The use of measurable results and provision of associated performance data can also reduce chances for corruption significantly.
The lack of accountability is another chief cause of corruption in most public institutions, where inadequate performance, among staff, also appears to be the norm. Employees ordinarily carry out their tasks lackadaisically and only speed-up their pace when they get a bribe.
At the organisational level, corruption grows in a variety of political and economic environments and particularly thrives where governance structures, encompassing controls, policing, detection and prosecution processes are weak while policies and procedures are absent, unclear or not adequately enforced. Inadequate controls imply shortcomings in financial and performance management.
Defining transparent results during planning sharpens the focus on results that matter, resource requirements and realistic production schedules, all utilised as criteria for performance which help to detect inadequate performance and also block opportunities to access bribes.
RBM enhances the notion of accountability with all stakeholders held accountable for the achievement of results, within their areas of influence, as well as their behaviour. That is, the approach introduces mutual accountability among stakeholders with each group compelled to demonstrate that it is meeting its commitments and promises and that resources are expended strictly for purposes of contributing towards the desired results.
Performance agreements, documenting the expected performance for the resources allocated, are signed with key stakeholders undertaking to meet their obligations.
Funders provide resources; implementers demonstrate results and end-users use the project deliverables to effect changes (results) in their lives. In addition, end-users provide information regarding their needs as well as feedback on the performance of projects regarding contribution towards the achievement of the desired change.
Staff within the associated organisations are accountable to stakeholders for their results, rather than just for output to their supervisor. That is, they provide information on changes they would have caused to happen in the lives of the target population in relation to set targets and resources expended. These enhanced levels of accountability provide can deter stakeholders from corrupt activities.
The emphasis on stakeholder participation and centrality of the end-users enhances effectiveness and transparency in business processes. In fact, end-users of project deliverables are regarded as the most important group of stakeholders since they provide the most accurate information for the effective execution of projects namely information about their needs as well as feedback on the performance of the project.
This ensures that tasks are appropriately carried out and for the common good. Acts of corruption and diversion of resources can be detected timely when expenditure does not correspond to the levels of change, as determined from feedback from end-users. Participation also signifies close supervision which can deter potential acts of corruption.
Expected results and performance indicators are identified during planning and used for measuring progress and the effectiveness of projects and programmes. This strengthens performance management and also improves the accuracy of assigning responsibility and accountability which lead to strengthened internal controls and ultimately, improved performance.
RBM is, therefore, a sound internal and external tool for governance, accountability and improved performance making it a highly potential cure for corruption and poor project performance. The use of evaluative evidence or information on the results boosts decision-making relating to the project’s design, resourcing and delivery, operational activities and accountability.
Project performance is also improved by consistently aiming to make a difference (enhancing effectiveness), securing maximum value for the resources expended (efficiency) as the processes fairly guarantees that resources are channelled towards achieving clearly stated desired results (accountability) thus preventing diversion through corruption.
Dr Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba is an author, project/programme management consultant and researcher with a special interest in Results Based Management (RBM), governance and leadership. She can be contacted via email: [email protected]