Broken Window Theory of Corruption

We all cringe and denounce big time graft and corruption in the Philippines, and wallow in outrage in every unresolved scandal in high government places. And as always, we get ourselves caught in dead ends, finding ourselves paralyzed by our inability to do something about these issues. The logical conclusion is it is always beyond our control. And it is becoming a discomforting refuge to justify our collective inability and paralysis.

So we always look at the forest and ignore the trees. We always denounce big-time corruption high up, but forget the small-scale irregularities within our reach -- in our offices, organizations and groups. But there can be no forest without the trees! Thus, we can never help in resolving corruption in the country if we continue to ignore the irregularities and anomalies in our reach.

This is what is called as the Broken Window of Corruption, and can also be known as an Epidemic Theory of Corruption. This is based on Malcolm Gladwell's Broken Window Theory in his best-selling book The Tipping Point (2007).

The Broken Window Theory was developed by James Wilson and George Kelling, both are criminologists and law enforcers. Gladwell disclosed that both Wilson and Kelling "argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder -- which is symbolized by a broken window. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the impression of anarchy will spread from the buildings to the streets and to the entire neighborhood environment, sending a signal that anything goes."

In Broken Window Theory, relatively minor problems like graffiti and vandalism, public disorder, littering, heavy traffic, vagrancy, gangsterism and other aggressive deviant behavior are all the equivalent of broken windows, which actually invite more serious crimes. This is the epidemic crime -- a crime that is contagious (like a fashion or a virus), that it can start with a broken window and spread to an entire community.

The Broken Window Theory of Corruption or the Epidemic Theory of Corruption applies the same. There are broken windows that when left unrepaired, they perpetuate corruption. What are some of these broken windows? What are some of the conditions where broken windows perpetuate corruption?
  1. Many organizations promote efficiency and effectiveness, but do not address red tapes in their own transactions. Especially the delayed transactions in most of financial and accounting units.
  2. Many now implement the Anti-Red Tape Act (RA 9485) and come up with citizen's charters on transactional flowcharts. But they do not touch the delays in their own administrative and financial transactions.
  3. Almost all proclaim punctuality, but look at their daily time cards and attendance in meetings.
  4. Many government agencies implement integrity development programs but they do not want to antagonize the anomalies and irregularities of their own officials.
  5. Many abhor cheating in government, but they bring home supplies for their children's personal use.
  6. Investigators swiftly go after anomalous officials and employees, but are slow to move when who is involved is one of theirs.
  7. Many government offices pronounce integrity as a virtue in public service, but ignore infidelity and promiscuity of their officials and employees.
  8. Many are angered by the lavishness of others, but tolerate their own excesses.
  9. Even funding agencies espouse transparency and accountability in many programs, but turn a blind eye on their own malpractices. They are not even transparent. And people can hardly make them to account.
Why is there so much corruption in the country? And why are people so powerless to do something? This is because of the broken windows -- which symbolize our ineptness, fears, inadequacy, double-standards, and hypocrisy! And to hide our own broken windows, we take refuge to the much-abused excuse - that it is just simply beyond our control! This is the reason why many people do not anymore believe in integrity programs and anticorruption reforms.

Shame on us!

If we really want to do something about the scourge of corruption in the country, we can start by fixing the broken windows in our own backyard. Fix the broken windows that symbolize disorder, anomaly, irregularity, incompetence and inadequacy. They all create the impression that we are powerless, or worse - we ourselves abet corruption.

In the long term, our collective inability and paralysis also make us perpetuators of the very scourge that we abhor. As my favorite philosopher Edmund Burke will always say: "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!"