Fighting corruption requires institutional reform not polygraph tests

Dear Editor,

I am amused that the President and certain agencies are promoting polygraph testing as a panacea for combating corruption in the public sector.  As far as I am aware, the polygraph test remains mainly an investigative tool, and should be viewed primarily as that.  Identifying whether an official is right for the job is one thing; resolving the wider problem of corruption via the polygraph seems less of an attainable goal.

Corruption arises from institutional attributes of the state and societal attitudes toward formal political processes. Institutional attributes that encourage corruption include the wide authority of the state, which offers significant opportunities for corruption; minimal accountability, which reduces the cost of corrupt behaviour; and perverse incentives in government procurement and contracting, which induce self-serving rather than public-serving behaviour. Societal attitudes fostering corruption include allegiance to personal loyalties over objective rules, the low legitimacy of government, and the dominance of a political party or ruling elite over political and economic processes.

The possible responses to these underlying causes of corruption in Guyana include institutional reforms to limit authority, improve accountability, and realign incentives, as well as societal reforms to change attitudes and mobilize political will for sustained anti-corruption interventions.

A strategy must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances of this country; the government needs to design a strategy that requires assessing the level, forms, and causes of corruption for Guyana as a whole and for specific government institutions.  In particular, strategy formulation requires taking a hard look at the level of political will for anti-corruption reform in government and civil society.  Corruption in state agencies does not exist in isolation.

To some extent, it is a manifestation of the prevailing ethical standards in the public sector. If ruling politicians and senior civil servants, who are supposed to uphold integrity in the public sector, are seen to be corrupt, if public office is generally viewed as an asset to be exploited for personal benefit, if public servants have no compunction about flaunting ill-gotten wealth, it becomes very difficult for officers to remain immune to the lure of illicit enrichment.

Opportunities for reform must stem from reformist tendencies within the government, public outrage over scandals or an opposition movement.

The government currently provides little or no opening to work in anti-corruption, and as such, civil society must take the lead and focus on societal measures to increase awareness of the problem and develop a constituency for reform.

The real issue which needs to be addressed, however, is the environment within Guyana which permits public officials to stray so far from their mission in the first instance.

It starts at the top. If people in the society or within the public sector don’t have confidence in or respect for the politicians or executives managing the government, it’s going to be reflected within the ministries and agencies. I should hasten to add that these latest problems within the public sector became pervasive under the leadership of the current administration.

I would therefore encourage the government to seriously consider aligning the anti-corruption agenda to national initiatives such as a national anti-corruption policy as an explicit national integrity agenda that would emerge with commitment to succeed shared jointly by civil society, the business community and the government.

Yours faithfully,
K. Bonnett

Around the Web