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Ronald Noble, RKN Global Founder, on How Corruption can Affect Anybody

It often seems like the most corrupt sector in society is that of politicians.  Scandals in recent months in Brazil, Argentina, South Korea and many other countries seem to reinforce that the combination of extraordinary power combined with the naturally ambitious natures of those who go into politics to create a perfect storm for corruption.  Even this past week, a former senator from Puerto Rico was charged with lying under oath and violating an ethics law for government officials.  She had recently given testimony in a corruption case.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, cautions that while politics can create a “perfect storm” for corruption, it is not necessary to have that perfect storm in order to have opportunities for corruption. Indeed, power need not be at the level of a senator, governor or president:  the level of power that is needed to corrupt its holder is simply that which someone else without that power wants to avail themselves of.  And the personality type of a stereotypical politician (in the worst sense of the stereotype) is not needed for corruption to take hold—even those who start out with the most noble of intentions.

Police are a good example.  An individual police officer does not wield significant power over the public the way an elected official does.  He or she cannot approve or improperly grease the wheels for a government contract, for example.  But individual police officers still wield power over a particular group, which can be abused by member of that group:  Accused criminals.

Accused criminals are allegedly behind the corruption of a police officer in Malaysia who just a few years ago was the recipient of an exemplary service award.  Mahyuddin Abdullah, the deputy chief of the Commercial Crimes unit of the Sabbah state police, finds himself on the other side of the law.  Prosecutors allege that he received payments and agreed to receive further payment from Josepin Langkan, who was being investigated for cheating, in exchange for impeding the investigation and prevent any prosecution of her.

An individual police officer does not have much power.  But that little power can be important to those who can benefit from it, like those under investigation from police.  Which means that police can become a target for bribery.  If a police officer, even who had been previously honest, was in a hard financial position due to divorce, a gambling habit, or other unfortunate circumstances, he or she might be more easily tempted to accept a bribe and pervert justice.

We have previously seen other police who have fallen victim to corruption.  The case of Damacio Diaz in Bakersfield, California was an especially tragic story with a similar plotline of a police officer who began by taking bribes from criminals, but who then completely crossed the line into regular criminal behavior himself.

RKN Global’s founder, Ronald Noble, highlights the great harm that can be caused by police corruption.  When the police are corrupt, the public loses trust in the rule of law.  There is no one to trust when even the police cannot be counted on.  It is therefore essential that police departments educate officers about corruption, put into effect support programs for officers who are in personal or financial distress, and institute a culture of transparency and reporting within the police department.  The harm caused by police corruption is simply too high to ignore.

RKN Global on Public Perception of Corruption

A recent survey of perceived corruption in Asia does not offer much good news.

Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, surveyed almost 22,000 people from sixteen different countries in Asia over a year and a half, focusing on the prevalence of corruption.  The vast majority of respondents painted a picture of corruption which is widespread, even endemic, in countries throughout Asia.

RKN Global’s founder, Ronald Noble, observes that corruption is a natural consequence of human nature, and that various factors in any given social structure or society are at play in making it more or less prevalent.  One crucial factor is the prevalence of corruption that already exists.  The more likely a person thinks he or she is surrounded by a culture of corruption, the more easily he or she will in fact engage in corruption.

In light of this, the study’s findings are disturbing, because they indicate both that corruption is widespread in Asia, but also that people perceive corruption as being widespread.  This, in fact, makes it more difficult to eradicate corruption.

Among the surprising results, the study found that almost 70 percent of respondents from India had paid bribes in order to access fundamental public services like elementary education and health services in the previous year.  The survey extrapolated from this and other data that in Asia, more than 900 million people had paid such bribes in the previous year.  This is an extraordinary number:  Put otherwise, it essentially says that in Asia alone, 16% of the world’s entire adult population paid bribes in order to access services that are widely considered a fundamental human right.

Along similar lines, almost one third of the survey respondents admitted to bribing a police officer in the previous year, twenty-two percent had bribes for public school, and eighteen percent paid to be able to get medical treatment in a public hospital.

High-profile government scandals, though certainly not unique to Asia, undoubtedly contributed to the perception of widespread corruption.  Hong Kong’s former mayor, Donald Tsang, was recently handed a prison sentence, and South Korea’s president was impeached due to a corruption scandal involving her sharing classified information with an adviser without security clearance, who used her proximity to the president for corrupt personal enrichment and also entangled the leader of the corporate giant, Samsung.

Ronald Noble, RKN Global’s founder, agrees with Transparency International that enhanced government transparency and a zero-tolerance policy for corruption can help reduce corruption.   Other important measures include education and the provision of options for safe and easy reporting of corruption, in order to raise the price of engaging in corruption and building a culture which is more supportive of honest behavior.

Ronald Noble, RKN Global’s Founder, on Increased Intolerance for Corruption in South Africa

The annual report of Corruption Watch, an NGO focused on reporting on and combatting corruption in South Africa, proffered some good news in the release of its 2016 annual report:  Corruption is becoming less tolerated by South Africans.

The NGO’s annual report measured the society’s decreasing tolerance for corruption by measuring the number of whistleblowers across the variegated sectors of South African society.  The year 2016 saw 4,391 reports of corruption to the organization, up substantially from 2012 when the organization began its work.  The reports came from members of the public all the way up to officials in public service and ministers of the Cabinet. 

Corruption Watch’s Executive Director, David Lewis, noted that the reports help identify areas of corruption, which can be used to then combat corruption more effectively:   “It points to greater levels of awareness and urgency among communities to rise up against corruption. This data creates the opportunity to target corruption in specific sectors.”

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, applauds South Africans for reporting corruption.  It is ultimately the public that has the power to successfully reduce corruption.

The creation of a whistleblowing culture—where people call out and report corruption when they encounter it—is an important goal for any society.  One specific question which has been discussed about how to achieve that goal is whether anonymous reporting methods undermine the whistleblowing culture, or support it.

In certain contexts, such as sport organizations and corporations, there exist options for anonymous reporting, including both apps and hotlines.  The goal is to encourage reporting of corruption, on the assumption that some will be too scared to come forward if they are not anonymous, for fear of the consequences to their job or some other type of personal retribution.  A number of years ago, the head of the South African Institute for Security Studies, Daryl Balia, argued that these anonymous hotlines and apps undermined a whistleblowing culture and a culture of integrity in an organization or society.

Balia argues that given the option of a hotline, many more people who would otherwise report directly will now report anonymously in order to provide themselves with greater protection from retribution.  This causes the loss of the advantages of direct reporting, which include being able to interview and take evidence from the whistleblower himself or herself. 

Another argument against anonymous means is that they lead to too many complaints of corruption, and organizational or governmental authorities will be overwhelmed and unable to handle them or distinguish the legitimate reports from the host of illegitimate ones.  Balia points to the troubles faced by the United States General Accounting Office in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Of 90,000 phone calls received via anonymous hotline reporting, 13,992 needed further investigation.  In the end, only 1,589 of the reports had any substantive basis.  That is a tiny percentage and a huge morass of false or unverified reports to have to plow through, requiring a huge drain on resources. 

There is another side to the story, of course.  For one, whether anonymous options should be offered to report corruption depends partly on the amount of perceived danger to the whistleblower.   In circumstances where there is significant disincentive to report corruption for fear of consequences, then anonymous hotlines or apps are more appropriate.  Furthermore, even the option to report anonymously—by hotline or app—creates an awareness in the mind of perpetrators that they might get turned in, which is a disincentive to fraudulent or other criminal behavior.  In this way, even anonymous reporting methods can be advantageous.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, suggests that different circumstances and fields might benefit from allowing reporting and whistleblowing in different ways.  The essence is to create a culture where wrongdoers are held to account by others, a culture where integrity is the goal and the benchmark.