The intricate connection between lack of integrity and corruption

By Bakunzi Didas Mufasha

It has been argued and it is now believed that lack of integrity amongst some leaders in our society is the reason of persistent corrupt practices and or actions we see in our dear country. Indeed, the Fourth National Integrity Survey Report of 2019 by the Inspectorate of Government (IG) recommended, among others, that ethics and integrity studies should be introduced in Uganda’s education cycle.

In the IG report, it is recognized that corruption and maladministration have far-reaching effects on the development of Uganda and the prosperity of citizens. The roots of corruption run deep in the society making it a complex dynamic and perverse phenomenon and recommended harsher punishment of the corrupt.

Being a person of good behaviour and morally upright means doing the right thing when no one is watching. “If I steal this money which is meant to buy drugs for the sick, Am I doing the right thing?” such question should ring a bell before delving into the process of concealing the theft. The answer to that question may lead you into doing the right thing even if no one is watching you or will be able to catch you for prosecution. If public servants were cognisant of this important facet of integrity, possibly the corruption index would plummet.

 A story is told of a Japanese man who was walking in a suburb of London around midnight. There was no more motor traffic and traffic wardens had long retired. The man was about to cross the road but the traffic signals turned red. He stood and waited. In the meantime, other persons who appeared to be in a hurry passed by him, glanced at each side of the road and crossed without waiting for the green signal. Still the Japanese waited until the signal turned green. He then bowed and crossed.

It can be said that both the Japanese and the others behaved ethically in so far as compliance with a rule was concerned? They both appreciated the objective; to protect self and not to cause traffic disruption. That is why the others glanced at each side of the road and crossed after ascertaining that there was no oncoming traffic. For the Japanese compliance consisted in waiting for the “green”, a morally higher degree of compliance and integrity.

Self-examination is the bedrock of integrity. It can be defined as the quality of being honest and fair. This highlights that it is a personal choice. Ethics can be imposed on a person as whether he or she agrees with it is not a problem. However, integrity cannot be imposed on anyone. It has to come from within. Therefore, unlike in the case of ethics, this is not external but is more internal. It can be referred to as a set of principles that guide the behavior of an individual. The actions, words are all in line with the principles that the person adheres to. A person with integrity does not need to be under observation or any rules to do the correct thing, but would be self-motivated towards the action, just because it is the right thing to do. In some cases, integrity would make a person go against ethical codes as well.

In a consistent fight against public enemy number one in Uganda that is corruption, laws have been enacted creating various institutions and legal frameworks to guide the behavior of public servants. These include the Inspectorate of Government, the Auditor General, the Anti-Corruption Court, the Leadership Code Tribunal, the PPDA and many others.  With these, it would be expected that corruption would be well abated.

The Fourth Integrity Survey Report 2019 indicated that awareness about corruption is high among the general public. In its findings, the three most known forms of corruption were bribery, embezzlement and nepotism at 92%, 83% and 81% of the respondents. On the other hand, the least known forms of corruption were causing financial loss at 30% and influence peddling/conflict of interest at 31%.   All these corrupt tendencies hinge on integrity and moral turpitude challenges amongst the players.

What does this mean for anti-corruption efforts put in place by government? It calls for concerted efforts to inculcate integrity and ethical values among Ugandans and perhaps take a closer look out for high integrity standards in recruitment into public service.  And, to mainstream integrity, there must be a common set of values, beliefs, and principles applicable for an ethical public sector that are at least acceptable, if not consistent, with those held by individual employees. The creation of anti-corruption laws and commissions, codes of behavior, and similar initiatives is indeed a commendable effort but may not effectively reduce corruption if individual integrity is not addressed.

Many writers and researchers have indicated that integrity is exemplified by honesty and consistency in doing the “right” thing according to one’s values, beliefs, and principles, even when no one is watching. A person is not born with or without either integrity or ethics; they are learned from the family and society. The consistent internalization and reinforcement of family and societal rules and beliefs for correct behavior, over time, becomes one’s personal choice, creating integrity. One may choose to adopt the rules, values, beliefs, and principles of the family, society, or a combination of both in determining those to which one ardently adheres. It is against these rules and beliefs, at the personal and societal level, that person is considered to “have integrity” or not and a society is considered “ethical” or not.

The concept of mainstreaming integrity in public administration in Uganda presumes there is an understanding, by the majority, of integrity’s meaning, need, and impact. Needless to say, it has been established worldwide that integrity is essential to a country’s success and development. It is the foundation of good governance, protecting a country from debilitating behavior such as corruption, while at the same time helping the country achieve its goals.

Bakunzi Didas Mufasha is a lawyer and

Member Leadership Code Tribunal

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