The Value of Business Process Management to Anti-Corruption Programs

Business Process Management Team at the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture

By Robert E. Ross, Managing Director of Global Enterprise Consulting

When you think of corruption, you may not think about process and key performance indicators as critically important. And yet, establishing the appropriate foundation and metrics is critical to unearthing and preventing corruption in public and private sector entities. Corruption sees no boundaries. The conflicts in Iraq, for example, and the constant struggles among political parties, religious factions, and governmental leaders have allowed corruption to expand unchecked and unchallenged. Numerous other countries face the same ongoing challenges, whether in a post-conflict state or functioning in a seemingly stable environment. Yet Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), concerned citizens, and ministry workers eagerly strive to address corruption and improve delivery of services by government ministries and agencies to citizens in all areas, especially health services, pharmaceutical distribution, and basic utilities. Combating unfairness, social inequities, waste, fraud, abuse, and poor service delivery are inherent in anti-corruption programs. Administrative and operational processes are at the heart and nerve center of any organization.

The World Bank, United Nations, and numerous government-sponsored aid programs – to name a few of the vanguards of anti-corruption campaigns – have spent substantial sums of money to combat corruption. Most people hear the word corruption and conjure up the images of bribery, embezzlement, or trading in influence. Corruption also includes process inefficiencies and poor administrative and operational performance, not just waste, fraud, and abuse as the usual suspects. Unnecessary delays in distributing critical pharmaceuticals to hospitals and clinics; a charity in which only 10% of donations make it to the intended beneficiaries, while 90% go to office space, furniture, salaries, and entertainment; or a government agency that takes 45 days to accomplish a series of tasks when it should really take 14 days; these should be a target of anti-corruption programs. Whatever the label, these behaviors aren’t right, and they can – and should – be fixed.

Conventional approaches inherent in anti-corruption programs address or involve several fronts:

  • Legislative frameworks and new laws
  • Attorneys General or Inspectors General investigations
  • Judicial enforcement of the rule of law
  • Education and awareness campaigns
  • Internal audits of transactions and communications

Clearly, multiple pressure points are necessary to affect change, while achieving results requires a coordinated effort. Certainly, the legislative process, investigations, audits, and judicial actions are critically important to combating corruption. Yet they primarily focus on closing the door after the horse has escaped from the barn. These are necessary longer term tactics. Business Process Management (BPM) introduces preventive measures to mitigate the exploitation of “nodes of corruption,” which are inherent within processes. How does one create the transparency to expose the potential for corruption? Whistle blowers and audits aside, it’s all about process – the administrative and operational processes that drive businesses and governmental institutions.

BPM is not just a magic result derived from conducting interviews, taking surveys, or reviewing poorly written procedures manuals. BPM includes process analysis, design, and implementation. BPM is a structured beginning to operational and administrative efficiency, and it is an essential step to understanding what’s really going on. There is no substitute for a comprehensive, well-documented clarification of how a process is currently executed, which is then used to cultivate improvements and embed the transparency necessary to monitor process execution. Using this framework, we can discover and improve internal control choke points and nodes of corruption. We can also incorporate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) into the process to provide transparency at the transaction level and enable early warnings of potential malfeasance.

BPM is not only valuable for governmental operational and administrative process execution, but also for efficiency within the commercial sector. Transparency of process execution activities enables monitoring and reporting of corruption practices and procedural violations. The shortening of service delivery cycles through efficient and effective process execution mitigates the need to host criminal activity, such as bribery, or unethical behavior, such as the misuse of entrusted power. As commercial and governmental organizations address business, financial, environmental, and anti-corruption challenges, leaders need to take a close look at the integral role BPM plays on the plague of corruption in its nefarious shapes and forms.

Robert E. Ross is the Managing Director of Global Enterprise Consulting, which specializes in Business Process Management, Contract/Project Management, and Anti-Corruption Programs.