Corruption: Prevent It and Deal With It

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on May 10, 2018 | Print

Corruption.

It’s an uncomfortable word and is loaded with connotations of all kind. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon when it comes to relief and development work. From mismanagement to theft, bullying and hidden agendas, to government issues at the local, regional or national level, corruption impedes community projects and progress.

So…is corruption inevitable? How do you deal with it or avoid it all together? Is it ever best to simply walk away? This next short series of blogs will unpack these scenarios.

Before we start, however, let’s set the framework. We are all a part of a fallen race. We live and work in a fallen world. There are good people and there are bad people. There are Kingdom people and there are non-Kingdom people. There are evil people as well. Every one of these people (including you and me) are subject to make bad choices and fall along the way. We can set principles and processes that will help us, our teams, and our community keep our development efforts on-track and protected against corruption, dishonesty, criminal activity, and the like. Just remember that at any point and at any time, anybody can fall into the temptation of making a bad decision or bad choice. That being said, there are some common best practices to handle corruption, should it arise.

Have good processes and accountability built into your teams:

Top-Down

Every parameter, rule, guideline and accountability measure incorporated within your team or organization absolutely must start at the top. From commitment levels to financial dealings and more, a leader can not reasonably demand honesty and transparency in the work of his/her team without maintaining the same standard in his or her own work. A good manager or team leader develops an effective process of “checks and balances” that is employed with diligence and intention.

Right People, Right Role

Corruption, mistakes or other negative scenarios are much more prone to arise when an employee or team member is in the wrong job. In one of our projects years ago, I had placed a qualified person in a role that required him to be accountable for funds and their use. It was a disaster. The young man was honest, but he couldn’t add three numbers together consistently and come up with a correct sum. After several frustrating months (for him and me), I moved him to another role that he was also qualified for that aligned with his gifting/skills. We both were much happier and productive and our record-keeping became better overnight.

In another project, we had been having an issue with funds. The bookkeeper was really good at what she did. However, we began to suspect that there were some dishonest transactions going on. Over a course of a few months, we discovered that she was actually finding a way to pocket funds from the project. Part of the blame was mine because I didn’t have adequate processes in place to prevent something like this. A majority of the blame was on this young lady who we had to let go due to her dishonesty.

Right Person, Right Responsibility Level

A common mistake we make with our project staff and team members is that we assume if they can handle a small amount of responsibility, they must be able to handle a large amount as well. However, in many cases, the law of diminishing returns applies. For instance, it is not uncommon that we have a staff/team member who shows a lot of promise and results when they are implementing a certain project. Before long, they are doing so well, we add more responsibility, only to find out that the increase diminished their capacity to oversee or handle the tasks at hand.

In one project that I consulted on several years ago, the local project manager had gotten into big trouble with finances, which the project director couldn’t understand. The local project manager had been good and highly accountable with the smaller projects he had done in the past. However, when the projects and his responsibility (and handling of more funds) became much larger, he began to dip his hand into the cash advances. When I discussed the reasons with the project director, I was shocked to find out that this local manager had been entrusted with funds that would equal almost 25 years worth of his annual salary! On top of this, the local manager was so trusted (or thought to be so), he was given sole oversight of these funds. In my discussion with the expat project director, I shared with him that he had perfectly set up the local project manager for failure. I then challenged him to think about having cash/finances in the amount of 25 years of his own annual salary at his fingertips. Imagine the temptation!

No person or system is perfect. However, with solid, consistent systems in place and people paired with the appropriate job and responsibility level, we can minimize corruption/bad practices in our own teams. Next time, we’ll take a look at dealing with corruption within the local community. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your own experiences and thoughts.