Monday, 20 December 2010

Corruption and Organizational Behavior

He had the life that most people only dream of – a post-graduate degree from a prestigious B-School, a high paying job in a famous public sector oil firm, all comforts of life and what not. With his expertise and experience, he could have easily switched his job when he found that conditions were not favorable for him to stay on. His principles did not allow him to do so. But little did he know what fate had in store for him. His unrelenting attitude and tough stance eventually led to the tragic day in the winter of 2005 when he was brutally murdered, sending shock waves across the nation.

This is the story of Shanmugan Manjunath, marketing manager at Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and a post graduate from IIM Lucknow. He had been recruited in the firm through campus placements and had observed the rampant corruption at the pump-stations very early in his job. He was a man of principles and chose to work according to the rule book. He had ordered the shutdown of fuel stations which sold adulterated fuel. Sadly, during one such surprise raid, he was killed by the petrol pump mafia which perceived him as a threat. The news had stayed in the headlines for most part of 2005-06 and there were large scale protests and demands for the petrol pumps selling adulterated fuel to be closed down. However, as most stories in India, even this has disappeared from the public memory.

Corruption in India has reached such overwhelming proportions that every one of us has started to accept it as a way of life here. One of the most troubling question that India as a nation faces during its march to being a world superpower is can it do something to improve this sorry state of affairs? Every day, a new scam is unearthed and new stories are exposed as breaking news and even these incidents have failed to evoke harsh public reaction anymore. India is now 87th among the 178 nations in the world corruption index which is a very ignominious situation to be in.

One reason for such public apathy to the prevalent corruption could be the tedious procedures in our bureaucratic setup. The “
license-raj” which existed during pre-liberalization made matters worse by giving incentives for people who bribed and stayed in close corridors of power. The liberalization of the economy improved things to certain degree but a large part of the nation’s setup still faces this problem. Even today, a motorist on a two-wheeler finds it easier to bribe a traffic policeman a petty amount and escape rather than go through all the procedures of keeping the required documents for his vehicle such as insurance, emission test, driving license, etc. It’s a pain to run from pillar to post in getting most of the government work done and people who are short of time choose to ignore them. This explains why many of the educated working class people in India still do not have voter’s Id cards or the poor turnout in the elections.

Major fallout of the menace of corruption is the growing crime rates. The corrupt politicians and officials will go to any extent to protect their self interests. Thus, there will be a large scale evasion of laws and policies which leads to a chain of criminal activities. One such example is the distribution of licenses for petrol bunks. Since huge bribes are paid to obtain the licenses, the people who obtain them will be forced to sell adulterated fuel or retort to unlawful activities. They will also want to protect their self interests and hence breed local
goondas to eliminate whistle blowers like Shanmugam. This could easily spiral into a huge maze of lawlessness as we has been witnessed in the Laloo ruled Bihar or the current Mayawati regime in Uttar Pradesh.

A more dangerous trend is emerging out of all this – people have started to accept corruption as a way of life. Studies in Organization Behaviour such as the Cognitive dissonance seem to explain this fact. People perceive corruption as beneficial and hence try and rationalize that it is essential for their well-being. Also, studies in group behaviour have shown that there is a high probability that honest people succumb to the greed because of the rampant corruption that exists in the organizations. Maureen McNichols, Professor at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University has conducted extensive research in this area and concluded that even good people would turn bad under the influence of a large group or people. For example, a honest officer who is posted to a place where corruption is rampant has very high chances of turning corrupt himself. Even though, he can resign or expose the scams of others, the perceived risk in such activities is very high as has been shown in cases of Shanmugam and Satyendra Dubey. Thus the officer chooses to play along with the parties becoming involved himself sooner than later. Thus, the scourge of corruption has now grown into a all-engulfing giant which threatens to breakdown the entire administrative machinery of the nation. The recent exposure of Satyam in the multimillion dollar fraud case is all the more threatening as it has tarnished the image of the hitherto unblemished IT sector of India. This just is one more example of the cognitive dissonance where people at the echelons of power have justified their corrupt nature by rationalizing the benefits over the embarrassment of being caught in public.

One more reasoning for the rampant corruption is because of the social setup that exists in the nation. Usually, the bright children in the family get into high positions of fixed salaries or get the love and acceptance of their parents. The dull and illiterate kids usually end up in non main stream professions like party workers or politics. The constant pressure on them to go one-up against their intelligent siblings and earn the acceptance of their parents could be one of the important factors which encourages corruption amongst them. This has been clearly depicted in the yesteryear movies such as
Deewar where the anti-hero is proud of the fact that he has more money than his intelligent, honest brother. It has to be noted here that these are just one plausible sequence of events and need not be assumed to be the same all the time. And with more educated people choosing politics as a profession these days, we can expect a change in this trend.

So, how do we stop this menace or even think of controlling it to some extent? There is no doubt that harsh punishment meted out to the corrupt officers would scare the rest of the lot and thus they would abstain from getting involved. But since that seems far-fetched because of the delay in our judicial system, a more efficient and elegant solution is the need of the hour. There are already organizations which are started in memory of the innocent whistle blowers like Shanmugam and Satyendra which are fighting for the speedy justice and punishment to the guilty. Also, they are rewarding honest officials by numerous awards and thus promoting ethical behaviour. Apart from all these, the recent studies in organization behaviour could come to our aid. According to the Stanford Business Magazine, we can control corruption by taking into account Group power, organizational structure, rationalization and fear and confusion. By emphasizing the fact the whole group would turn against a person who goes corrupt, the organizations can cultivate en environment that is corruption free where people fear to tread in the wrong direction because of the fear of the other group members. This will only be possible if the policy makers are themselves honest and want such a healthy change in the organizations and in nation as a whole. With more and more affluent and educated people entering administrative services, we can expect better policy making and implementation of these measures in the mainstream politics soon.



Nithin Uliyar said...

A sad truth of our country.... As rightly said corruption and lawlessness/goondaism go hand in hand, one doesnt let the other go down...but I disagree the part where u have mentioned that educated people are less corrupt... in fact they will be more clever to hide their trails and go on almost undetected.... between a well put article :)

Anonymous said...

I went to a bangalore RTO today and I am starting to feel very helpless, cynical and getting the belief that I cannot do anything to change things

Rahul said...

Stanford business magazine's solution to corruption will NOT work in India.
Also as you noted that policy makers will need to be corruption-free-->it is impossible...This is actually a vicious cycle..consider this:

Today you joined uncorrupt--->you become corrupt after say 5 years---->you reach policy maker position after another 10 years---->new person who joins after 15 years now deals with this person--->He also becomes corrupt!!

There is one more major reason for this rampant disease-->Judicial system...And Fast track courts could help improvising the situation..

Shashia said...

@Nithin: I know of educated people who will be clever to hide all details. But when I referred to educated people, I had those who studied and imbibed moral and ethical values right from childhood and know how to judge things.

@Anonymous: Sad truth. But there is hope with implementation of IT in governance (atleast in case of RTO)

@Rahul: No doubt that fast track courts will go a long way in improving the situation. We need such reforms badly.
About solution not working, I know its easy to be cynical. What i have presented here is a model that can be tried out. Only after its implementation (if that is done ever) will we know about the results. :)

Anonymous said...

Curbing Corruption by Group Power - interesting thought but how feasible it is for a nation like India?
Well, is the whole phenomena as simple as it’s defined- "the abuse of public office for private gain", it’s certainly more complex for a nation where corruption has been deep rooted at every level both at political and the bureaucratic levels.
“With more and more affluent (??) and educated people ( though none of our parents would encourage or support :)) entering administrative services, we can expect better policy making and implementation of these measures in the mainstream politics”
“The whole group would turn against a person who goes corrupt” – this would be the case if corruption was rare, consisting of a few individual acts, it would be straightforward (though seldom easy) to detect, turn against and punish the individual. In contrast we are dealing with systemic corruption (pervasive or entrenched) where bribery is routine in dealings between the public sector and individuals along with theft of government financial resources on a large scale is quotidian.
I feel the problem is with us - You and me who are happy sitting in front of our PC’s whole day long in our air-conditioned offices catering to the needs of developed countries helping to increase their GDP’s and being content writing blogs or comments! Unless we awake, arise and fight against corruption in our daily walks, it may be impossible to reduce corruption through law making or group policy alone.
- Anonymous2

Shashia said...

Nice comment anonymous, thank you!
I acknowledge most of your points, and agree that some of the solutions would not be feasible in India. And it is people like you and I who are responsible to make changes happen (although I technically don't know you and cannot be making any judgement about your profession/nature)

But I disagree to your point that just writing about it would not make a difference. To give you an example, I created a site during 2008 general elections giving information about constituencies, candidates, and urging people to vote. Many of my friends came back to me and said they found the site really useful and used it to choose candidates to vote for. I know it was not an earth-shattering impact, but it still made few people aware.. didn't it? Anyway, this is what i believe in and will continue to do so. You are definitely free to believe/act otherwise :) That is the power of free thought which our country has given us