Guide to Strengthening the Institutional Integrity System

The integrity of a public body is the result of the daily actions of each and every person working in or for that organisation: from its chief representative (minister, mayor, president, director, etc.) to any private-sector company that offers a public service on its behalf and all of their staff. The greater the coherence and consistency between all these actions and the organisation’s principles, values and legal regulations, the greater its institutional integrity.

Consequently, institutional integrity is more than approving an anti-corruption policy or drawing up a code of ethics. It arises when the institution’s operational functioning (policies, processes and procedures, working systems, etc.), ethical standards and strategies for preventing corruption are fully integrated in order to make it possible to achieve the goals (the common interest) for which that institution was created.

Because building or strengthening institutional integrity improves organisations’ functioning in several ways:

  • They are more effective and efficient: they serve citizens better and become models of behaviour.
  • Decision-making processes are simpler and more consistent, and staff members find it easier to tackle new challenges/problems/dilemmas.
  • They suffer less staff turnover. Employees are more committed and satisfied, they suffer less stress and feel that they have greater opportunities for professional growth
  • They have a reduced likelihood of the emergence of corruption cases and of suffering serious institutional crises deriving from inadequately managing incidents, internal reports or external investigations.
  • In short, they are more competitive and have a better reputation.

Every public body can strengthen its institutional integrity! It can either take on an active role to foster the integrity of its organisation or it can leave this in the hands and to the good intentions of the people that are part of it.

This second course of action, however, entails too many risks for public institutions. It creates opportunities for people to abuse their public position for private gain and for illegal behaviour or simply conduct unbecoming of a public servant. Risks which, if they come to pass, translate into:

  • Financial losses and reduced effectiveness and efficiency for the institutions themselves
  • Inequalities and unfair situations for citizens
  • A fall in the public institutions’ credibility and distrust among citizens regarding the public sphere
  • Low levels of governance that hamper progress in a democratic society

How is this active role to foster institutional integrity performed? Action needs to be taken on three key aspects of the organisation:

  1. Culture of ethics. The aim of this aspect is to provide direction and guidance to the people working in the institution to ensure they behave in a manner expected of public servants.
  2. Professional public management. The aim of this aspect is to guarantee the legality and efficiency of the organisation’s operations.
  3. Corruption prevention. The aim of this aspect is to reduce the probability of the risks of corruption developing into cases of corruption (preventive work), but also to reduce the gravity of the consequences in the event that such cases do arise (work in response to circumstances).
Hexágono interactivo

These three core aspects are sub-divided into six areas of work that are interconnected in such a way that shortcomings in one of them affect the other five. This means that we are forced to work in a systemic manner to achieve results.

This model of action is the Public Bodies Integrity System (PBIS), represented graphically in the form of a hexagon. The PBIS gives public bodies a systemic way to:

  • evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses in the three core aspects.
  • draw up integrity programmes to improve them.

Cultura Ética organitzativa

The policies, processes and procedures of a public institution define its intentions regarding the way things are to be done in that institution. However, the organisational culture ends up determining the way things are actually carried out: the rules or standards that are adhered to, those that are stretched or adapted, and those that are ignored; which behaviour is tolerated and which is not. Popularly, they come to be described as the way things are done ‘here’.

This culture has an impact on the professionalism with which the institution operates, as well as the degree of commitment to preventing corruption, in particular when it comes to using mechanisms to detect and respond to abuses of public position for private gain, illegal acts or improper behaviour.

The management of this core aspect includes both formal and informal tools, which are developed and implemented through ethical leadership and the organisational culture.

Ethical leadership

The way in which people in a position to which they have been elected or politically appointed, the senior management and the leadership of a public institution direct the organisation on a day to day basis demonstrates their real commitment to fostering integrity and their real determination to prevent corruption and other illegal or improper conduct. Their management approach directly affects:

  • the conduct of other staff, as they become ethical standard-bearers and role models of behaviour and they determine the organisational culture of ethics, and
  • the level of demand for professionalism in management and hence the efficiency and legality of every action.

This is why we consider ethical leadership to be the cornerstone of the entire integrity system of a public body. It is the reason why any strategy to foster integrity and to prevent corruption requires reflection, effort and responsibility on the part of an institution’s leaders.

Principles and values

Every action and decision by the staff and leadership of a public body must be in keeping at all times with the principles and values established by legislation and regulations: objectivity, neutrality, impartiality, legality, the equality of citizens in the eyes of the public authorities, effectiveness, efficiency, economy, etc. The actions framed within this aspect seek to offer a guide for all the members of the institution on the conduct expected of them as public servants.

On occasions, it may happen that some of these ethical principles are in conflict with others, or the common interest may clash with the private interests of the people who serve a public function (either their own interests or those of third parties). The organisation needs, then, to be able to offer guidance in the event of such a dilemma.

Profesionalidad en la gestión pública

Every public body is created to attain particular goals of common interest. To achieve them, it is given certain powers and resources (materials, staff, finance, etc.). Professional management implies that the organisation:

  • designs and communicates policies in which it sets forth its goals in its area of action, while evaluating its ability to match the needs and expectations of the people it serves and the common interest.
  • allocates resources on the basis of those policies.
  • equips itself with working processes and systems that guarantee that its operations are in keeping with the legal framework and with public principles and values.
  • plans in the most effective, efficient and economical way to attain the goals set
  • evaluates the degree of compliance with its goals and the quality of the results and makes any necessary improvements
  • is accountable to citizens in an active and intelligible way.

This professionalism conditions the institution’s operational functioning: the level of efficiency and legality of the public goods and services supplied and of the public functions pursued by the institution, as well as the management of its human resources. And this is crucial to the institution because many of the breaches in its integrity (illegal or simply unethical conduct) and opportunities for corruption occur precisely due to failings in efficiency, planning and communication within the organisation or between institutions, etc.

Professional management of human resources

The way in which the human resources subsystems (recruitment, promotion, team management, training, performance evaluation, remuneration, recognition, etc.) are managed has a direct impact on the professionalism and talent of an organisation’s staff.

The principles of equality, capacity, merit and publicity in the recruitment and promotion of members of staff are intended to ensure that the most suitable people have access to the various positions and posts in the organisation, and hence guarantee the institution runs well.

Are teams managed in a way that ensures they function well and that failings and deviations are detected and corrected? Are potential conflicts of interest among the leadership and staff (through second jobs; by receiving gifts and other attention because of their position or job; at the time they leave their public position and move into the private sector; etc.) correctly managed?

Professional management of public services and functions

Every public body is ascribed certain duties: it may have regulatory functions, supply particular public services, have an inspection or oversight role, encourage activities regarded as essential to the common good, impose sanctions, etc.

The professionalism with which these services are managed and programmes are run (how they are planned, implemented and evaluated and how the improvements needed to guarantee their efficiency and quality are made), as well as the level of transparency and accountability, are key points in relation to fostering integrity and preventing corruption.

The reason for this is that many ‘opportunities’ to abuse a public position for private gain and illegal or improper conduct arise due to inefficiencies in the running of these public services and functions (excessively long deadlines, services offered that are clearly below public demand, unknown public decision-making criteria, opaque processes, etc.). How are all these public management indicators measured and managed in an organisation?

Prevención de la corrupción

When a public body regulates a sphere of public, social or economic life, there is a risk of corruption; when an authority encourages an activity of common interest (through subsidies, prizes, sponsorship, etc.), there is a risk of corruption; when goods and services are purchased or procured, there is a risk of corruption; when licences, authorisations, permits and certificates are granted, there is a risk of corruption; when government checks or inspections are carried out, there is a risk of corruption; and when sanctions are applied, there is a risk of corruption.

Every public function is inherently vulnerable to the risk of corruption, that is to say, to the risk that someone might abuse their public post or position for personal gain or for the benefit of another person. For this reason, in the construction of institutional integrity, it is essential to actively engage in corruption prevention through the management of the risk of corruption and by establishing and implementing mechanisms to detect and respond to corrupt, illegal or improper behaviour.

Managing the risks of corruption

Public institutions today manage all kinds of risk, one example being hazards in the workplace. Current legislation does not as yet establish duties for managing the risks of corruption in a similar way, but the need to do so is patently clear, given their severe repercussions for institutions themselves and for society.

In your organisation, have the main areas of the risk of corruption (the most likely, the most serious) been identified? Have preventive measures been put in place to reduce the probability of these risks becoming a reality? Who is responsible for these measures? And if corruption occurs, despite everything, have measures been anticipated to reduce the gravity of the consequences? Who will set these measures in motion? Who will be responsible for them?

Detection and response mechanisms

These mechanisms are key tools for preventing corruption if they are communicated and managed well and if the people who are part of the organisation see that using them is approved of. These tools not only help to identify irregular conduct and respond to it swiftly and with the minimum of damage to the institution and the common interest, but also, if correctly applied, serve to dissuade others.

Does your institution have the mechanisms needed to detect corrupt, illegal or improper conduct? And are the response mechanisms suitable for all cases? Are they used? Are they effective? Are they proportionate? How are they currently measured and managed?

Other references:

The Institutional Prevention of Corruption. Management Strategies