16265675_1196497743779481_1736067414047468010_nBy: Fayyaz Yaseen, Country Representative, Accountability Lab Pakistan

In January 2017, the Accountability Lab brought together the winners of Integrity Idol Pakistan 2016, experts in anti-corruption and governance (including Brig Mussadiq Abbasi, former Director General of the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan), Executive Director of the Accountability Lab, Blair Glencorse, and around 25 other representatives from civil society organizations.

Unpacking Integrity

The group discussed the dynamics of integrity in Pakistan, the ways in which individuals can resist the pressure to be corrupt, and how a system for accountability can be developed within the civil service. Key points that emerged from the discussions included the following:

  1. Choices matter: Civil servants must make the critical choice between keeping one’s integrity intact or giving in to the pressures and temptations for corruption created and built by the system. The Integrity Idols emphasized the fact that integrity is a choice that has to be made on a daily basis. They argued that while giving into the system may be perceived to be more rewarding in the short-term, the decision to work with integrity provides psychological strength and courage that is far more rewarding over time. Integrity is not pre-ordained, it is a choice that we all can make. We often write off governments as “corrupt”, but the state is not monolithic. There are a variety of incentives, power dynamics and motivations that lead to certain types of behaviors, and there are always people that choose outcomes that lead to accountability.
  2. Integrity means respect: In some circles in Pakistan there is a sense that wealth indicates success and leads to respect, no matter how that wealth was obtained. The group agreed that in many cases the ability to break rules for personal gain is respected in and of itself. The discussion focused on the value of the respect that can come through integrity, and the deep respect that civil servants can earn from communities if they serve with honesty. For example, the winner of Integrity Idol Pakistan, Rai Manzoor Hussain, has served in various potentially lucrative positions throughout his 15-year career in public service. However, unlike many of his peers and junior colleagues who have made fortunes from bribes and commissions for public works, he still lives in a single bedroom house. For him, the value of integrity is greater than the value of money.
  3. Role models are important: The group discussed the importance of celebrating honest civil servants and that family members and close friends can play a particularly important role in demonstrating integrity. We tend to model the behavior of those we see around us, so the home environment is essential to creating an effective work environment. For instance, Fida Hussain from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shared that his mother never encouraged him to make more than his legitimate income (monthly salary), and to him, her encouragement and advice was a key source of strength and inspiration. The Integrity Idols also indicated that they see an important part of their job – as they rise up through the bureaucracy – to be being role models that those coming into the system can emulate. Ultimately, integrity is about nurture as much as nature.
  4. Transparency leads to credibility: The Integrity Idol from Sindh province, Meher-un-Nisa has been recognized in her office from the outset for widely sharing all important information with as many related stakeholders as possible. This has helped her develop a reputation, with colleagues understanding clearly that if they engage in any inappropriate behaviors – such as meddling with budgets – she will report it. Equally, the media knows that as long as Meher is in her position, they have someone they can trust to provide information on wrong-doing. Accountability can be built through reputation.
  5. Public support is key: When civil servants stand out as champions of honesty in Pakistan, this can affect their career, with superiors making sure to transfer those with integrity to undesirable posts, blocking promotions or spreading false rumors. The Integrity Idols pointed out the value of popular support in these cases. This people power can provide them with the protection and energy they need to resist opposition. For example, when Imtiaz Khichi, the Assistant Commissioner in Depalpur, was transferred after serving only few months in the tehsil (administrative division), people came out onto the streets to protest his transfer, and it was ultimately reversed. This is people power in support of integrity. Building relationships with citizens is therefore a fundamental platform for strengthening integrity. This means focusing on their problems, visiting their communities and learning their languages. Real integrity Idols see citizens not as subjects or the users of services, but as allies and co-producers of better governance.

The summit concluded with an interesting comparison of corrupt and clean systems. The group pointed out that just as corrupt officials support each other when they are facing difficulties – through hindering inquiries, disposing of evidence and so on – the Integrity Idols must also provide a support network to build accountability. This is what we intend to do with Integrity Idol in Pakistan over the next several years – to build a cohort of honest bureaucrats that have the support, guidance, networks and ideas they need to shift the way decisions are made.