by Ridwan Nugraha

Corruption in Indonesia’s public sector has been rampant. It can be started with street bribery involving low-level officers and ends with a mega-scandal involving elites and public officials. This unethical behaviour was "inherited" from the "New Order Regime" which ruled for 32 years (Prabowo & Cooper 2016, p. 1030; Merkle 2018, p. 2). In this long period, corruption is considered a normal activity and became a culture. Strategies have been carried out to overcome corruption, one of which is forming an independent anti-corruption institution. The Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi [KPK]) has been formed with law enforcement functions as a coercive strategy in answering the problem of corruption. However, corruption cases in the public sector continue to emerge because relying on The KPK alone is not enough to eradicate corruption. As Sousa (2009, p. 19) argues that the anti-corruption agency is not a “panacea” that can effectively eliminate corruption. From this point, it needs more than a single approach to tackle corruption. This article will argue that building ethics infrastructure in the public sector is an effective strategy to strengthen corruption eradication. Three following points will be presented to support this conclusion. Firstly, effective guidance promotes integrity implementation. Secondly, capable human resources management reduces motivation for corruption. Finally, strong control encourages greater accountability and transparency. The conclusion drawn is that building ethics infrastructure based on guidance, management, and control can effectively reinforce the corruption elimination.

Picture Source : DemocracyWorks: A Blog of the National Democratic Institute

Effective guideline promotes the implementation of integrity

The public sector needs a code of conduct to deliver ethical guidelines for their employees. Workers must be provided with guidance because they potentially face conflicts of interest in daily routine. The code of conduct describes a series of ethical references to determine what actions should be taken within organizations to avoid conflicts of interest and apply integrity at the same time. Head (2012, p. 11) states that the code of conduct is an integrity strategy that sets standard ethical actions based on probity in the public sector. Ethical standards are essential to promote integrity in the public sector because it gives workers reference to act based on honour and honesty. For example, when a procurement officer is offered by a vendor to help win the tender, the officer can refer to the code of conduct as a basis for decision making – hence, opportunities for corruption can be prevented, and integrity can be applied. Moreover, socialization and training on codes of conduct can improve workers’ understanding and skills when dealing with situations that require ethical decisions (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation Development [OECD] 2000, p. 117). From this viewpoint, employees will have the expertise to determine ethical decisions when facing situations that have the potential to cause corruption. Additionally, to activate the application of integrity, the code of conduct can impose administrative sanctions if workers do not comply.

Some people would argue that the code of conduct is nothing than a set of rhetorical words because the administrative sanctions are limited to formalities. Hence, workers are not motivated to obey the code of conduct and implement integrity in the organization. However, this is not necessarily the case. In the event of not complying, corrective approaches can be taken, such as reprimand, salary reduction, and employment termination (The OECD 2007, p. 29). For illustration, in 2013, Indonesian judicial ethics panel sacked an ad hoc corruption judge after the official was found guilty for judiciary code of conduct violation due to the meetings with another judge. The meetings were claimed to be an ordinary friend’s appointment, turn out; they were discussing a defendant in a graft case that handled by one of the judges (Parlina 2013). From this case, strict disciplinary sanction based on the code of conduct can be enforced to endorse integrity application. Thus, the code of conduct is compulsory to provide ethical references and promote integrity implementation in public organizations.

Furthermore, guidance from leadership is needed to promote integrity. Leaders have the responsibility to encourage their subordinates to conduct their activities that built on ethical values. Nevertheless, before demanding staff to act ethically, leaders must first address their commitment to act based on integrity. This commitment is critical because leaders have the power to direct their staff by example. Leaders whose words and actions do not contradict can convey a strong message in promoting integrity. Hence, leaders cannot commit unethical actions because staff will justify if they also do unethical acts. Preston, Samford, and Connors (2002, p. 186) argue that since managers expect their staffs to do the same way, they should firstly apply ethical consideration in their actions. Hence, it is mandatory for leaders to act within the scope of ethical behaviour to be a role model in demonstrating integrity. Moreover, The OECD (2005, p. 93) identifies that leadership is indispensable to ensuring ethical values taken seriously. When, for instance, if leaders commit corruption, then the values championed are only considered rhetorical. Linearly, if the leader fails to follow the code of conduct, subordinates may feel that they also should not implement integrity. For instance, 41 of 45 members of Regional House of Representatives of Malang Indonesia is caught for the mass corruption case. More than 90 percent of the representative, consisting the chairman, faction leaders, and members of the institutions are moved to the detention related to the bribery case (Kahfi 2018). This case shows that the organization’s leaders are not able to deliver ethical examples to their colleagues. Hence, even though the code of conduct has been provided, people keep breaching their integrity because they see the leaders do the same thing. Therefore, the role of the leaders is critical to provide direction and guidance for subordinates and their colleagues when implementing integrity in public sector institutions.

Capable human resource management reduces motivation for corruption

Managing human resources in the public sector must be in line with ethical values. First, when recruiting or promoting employees, the public sector must balance “hard skill” (e.g., academic achievement) and “soft skill” (e.g., honesty, integrity). Aligning recruitment and promotion strategy with ethical standards is important because clever is not enough. According to Monaghan and Graycar (2016, p. 99), the strategies of selecting and promoting human resources in the public sector must be consistent with ethical norms. For instance, management can validate candidates’ behaviour based on their track records in the process of selection and promotion of public officials (e.g., criminal records, digital foot-print). If a record of unethical behaviour is found, the candidate cannot be recruited or promoted. This strategy will generate high-quality candidates, not only academically but also ethically. Second, bureaucratic recruitment and promotion processes must comply with ethical standards, such as avoiding bribery and nepotism. Given that the process of selecting and promoting civil servants in Indonesia is vulnerable to conflict of interests. To illustrate, a study from Kristiansen and Ramli (2006) reveal the “hidden market transaction” in Indonesia’s public sector employment positions. People must pay some money to the brokers to secure a position in recruitment or promotion. Hence, they will try corruption to return the money when they occupy the position (e.g., price markup, fictional business trip). Moreover, The Indonesia Corruption Watch [ICW] find that often corrupt bureaucrats who bribe in recruitment end up with corrupt actions in their careers (The ICW 2017, p. 22). This finding means that people who engage in unethical behaviour to get their positions will likely to be motivated in corrupt actions in the workplace. Management can fill the gap of the motives by applying procedures that are in line with ethics – for example, recruitment and promotion of civil servants must be carried out with the principle of justice and openness. The management must provide vacancies that are freely accessible by the public, apply transparency in the selection process to avoid conflict of interests, and publish each stage of recruitment as a form of accountability. Hence, the process will produce appropriate results that consistent with ethical values. Thus, ethics-based recruitment and promotion are crucial in the public sector because management can reduce the motivation for potential corruption.

Furthermore, fair and adequate incentives must be applied to avoid corruption. The merit-based system allows employees to be paid based on their performance – the higher the work performance, the higher the payment received. This system primarily offers a payment above the average living cost needs. Much has been written about remuneration to prevent unethical behaviour. The OECD (2000, p. 117) identifies that an appropriate salary can improve achievement, including ethics. In other words, workers will focus on achieving performance and putting aside unethical motives. The motivation to commit corruption can be discouraged because the system guarantees their income. Hence, proper incentives are crucial to create a comfortable work environment without having to think about unethical actions.

Some people will be sceptical regarding the performance-based remuneration system. This objection occurs because some public officials and civil servants continue to commit corruption even though their high income. For instance, the “Super Gayus” scandal in 2009 attracts public attention since an employee who receives high incentive remains corrupt. Gayus Tambunan, a mid-level government tax officer, was found guilty of corruption. The officer has been proven to have more than three million dollars as a result of massive money laundering and embezzlement (McLeod 2011, pp. 8-10; Kimura 2012, pp. 187-188). The case illustrates that adequate remuneration does not guarantee the motivation of government employees to commit corruption.

However, this is not necessarily the case. Suitable remuneration is essential to pressing down unethical motivation in the public sector. When, for example, honest civil servants with small incentives may be tempted to commit corruption such as fraud in fictitious transactions because of the need to survive. In a long-term period, this situation led to moral degradation since fraud is continuously practiced as a regular activity. In this case, the public sector must activate merit-based payment system to avoid underpaid personnel as well as to suppress corruption motives. In support, Langseth (1997, p. 509) argues that public sector remuneration must be upgraded to deter corrupt activities. The merit-based system gives the sense of security and encourages employees to work comfortably without being bothered by concerns about daily needs and their future. Adequately take-home pay will encourage employees to focus and perform their best without tempted to corruption. Thus, a satisfactory salary can reduce employee motivation to commit unethical actions.

Strong control encourages greater accountability and transparency

Internal and external controls mechanism help the public sector to improve their accountability and transparency. A robust and continuous controls system can build ethical awareness in the public sector. According to The OECD (2005 pp. 33-34), internal control sets the legal framework to implement accountability, while external oversight provides a transparency mechanism. First, internal control endorses ethical recognition within the public sector institution to improve accountability. For example, the whistle-blowing system is useful to support internal control within the organization. It allows recognizing incidents in the institutions because the authorities may not detect many unethical behaviours (Webster 2015 in Lukito 2016, p. 939). Additionally, whistle-blowers can improve internal control by reporting unethical actions to the superiors or internal auditors. Whistle-blowing as a corruption detector and preventer is mostly practical in public sector because employees as insiders have a strategic position to uncover unethical actions and conflicts of interest in the institution (Bowman & West 2018, p. 236). From this perspective, every individual in the public sector should act carefully and must be responsible for all the actions. If they do corruption, they are likely to be exposed by whistle-blowers who can report to the internal control mechanism.

Some people would argue that the decision to “blow the whistle” will be difficult to take because it is related to the dilemma. On the one side, corruption causes great losses and deserves to be eliminated – while on the other side, whistle-blowing has the potential to disrupt the working environment and might bring troubles on the future lives of colleagues and their families. However, this act can be legitimized and justified. First, government workers have a responsibility to the key stakeholder, namely public. Hence, a worker must put forward consideration to serves their institutions as well as to protect public interests. Second, related to the personal life of colleagues, reporting unethical colleagues is justified because offenders are conscious that corruption violates the law and has its consequences. Third, the whistle-blower in Indonesia is protected by the law, and this program is considered to work remarkably to eradicate corruption (The Editorial Board 2018). As a result, public sector workers should be cautious in carrying out all its activities and try not to breach the law. Thus, internal control can drive accountability since employees must ensure their actions do not break the rules and can be accounted.

Furthermore, external oversight encourages public institutions to improve transparency. Citizen participation is influential in raising awareness of transparency since public sector activities can be monitored at all times by the public. Public involvement is one practical method that enables citizens to observe public sector activities and prevent them from unethical actions, such as abusing public services for personal benefits (Florini 2007 in Park & Blenkinsopp 2011, p. 256). Moreover, in the era of technology, there are potential advantages from applying technology in corruption control. Citizens can use technology to check the public sector and acts as a catalyst to promote open data government to provide public information, such as programs and expenditures. Bertot, Jaeger, and Grimes (2010, p. 267) claim that e-government and social media lead to a culture of transparency. The more information provided to the public, the higher the level of publicity. Accordingly, by increasing the probabilities of publicity, it will fortify the public sector awareness for the transparency due to the highly public supervision. To demonstrate, The KPK uses an e-transparency application called “Jaga/Guard” that enables citizens to acquire public services information (e.g., procedures, fees) and to provide citizens a channel to give feedback about public services (The KPK 2016, pp. 10-15). When, for instance, some officers ask for extra payment in public service activities, citizens can report them real-time via the application. From this point, Indonesian’s public sector will pay more ethical attention to its activities since their activities will be acknowledged and judged by the public. Hence, public sector employees will think twice to commit corruption because they are controlled internally and externally. Therefore, strong control mechanisms can encourage awareness for ethical behaviours that generate better accountability and transparency in public institutions.

In conclusion, this article argues that building ethics infrastructure in the public sector is an effective strategy to amplify the efforts to eradicate corruption. This article assesses the need for the code of conduct to guide public sector employees so that they can act ethically and implement integrity. Further, the role of leadership has been demonstrated as an example to encourage subordinates in integrity implementation. Afterward, this paper explains that capable human resource management can reduce the motivation for corruption. Managing recruitment and promotion based on ethical standards can generate quality employees. In addition, providing satisfactory remuneration gives employees the convenience without being tempted by corruption. Finally, the article analyses internal and external controls that are crucial to promote greater accountability and transparency in the public sector. Whistle-blowing systems as the internal control and external oversight such as citizens participation endorse public sector employees to act ethically. To conclude, relying only on law enforcement is not a “silver bullet” to fight corruption. Preventive approaches within the public sector are needed to give extra energy as the supplement for coercive actions. Thus, building ethics infrastructure in the public sector, consisting of guidance, management, and control is effective to strengthen the corruption eradication in Indonesia.

(*This article is a duplicate of this page)


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