Bribery’s Broken Windows

Alexandra Wrage of TRACE international wrote Bribery’s Broken Windows (.pdf) for the Q1 edition of Ethisphere. She tackles the credibility issue with allowing facilitating payments to low level officials, but saying “no” to senior ranking official. She advocates that the companies should prohibit payments at all levels.

She looks to the New York subway system’s Clean Car Program which is in turn based on the Broken Windows theory of James Wilson and George Kelling.

Once one window in a building is broken, the rest will be broken soon after. The broken  window, left unrepaired, is a sign to the world that no one cares. If no one cares, there is no risk in breaking the rest of the windows. People are better behaved and less prone to escalating criminal activity when they see that their petty acts are addressed promptly and decisively.

Doesn’t it seem likely that this would hold true of petty bribery, too? If officials face “zero tolerance” for the smallest inappropriate demands, if both companies and enforcement agencies declare even the five and ten dollar demands an intolerable abuse of official power, won’t it be more difficult for a culture of corruption to flourish? Otherwise, low-level govern-ment officials will look at the broken windows and assume that no one cares.