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 “Quelle surprise” – another fine mess

The recent HMICFRS publication An inspection of vetting misconduct and misogyny in the police service makes difficult reading for those of us that have or have had any involvement in the police service in England and Wales.  Of course, this is not the first such report and I dare say it will not be the last.  There is enough evidence both academic and during the course of numerous inquiries to suggest that there is institutional corruption of all sorts in the police service, coupled with prevailing racist and misogynistic attitudes.  Hardly a surprise then that public confidence is at an all-time low.

As with so many reports and associated inquiries, the finger of blame is pointed at the institution or individuals within it.  The failings are organisational failings or departmental or individual. I cast my mind back to those inquiries into the failings of social services or the failings of NHS trusts or the failings of the Fire and Rescue service or any other public body, all the fault of the organisation itself or individuals within it.  Too many inquiries and too many failings to count. More often than not the recommendations from these reports and inquiries involve rectifying processes and procedures and increasing training.  Rarely if ever do these reports even dare to dip their toe into the murky waters relating to funding.  Nobody on these inquiries would have the audacity to suggest that the funding decisions made in the dark corridors of government would later have a significant contribution to the failings of all of these organisations and the individuals within them.  Perhaps that’s why those people are chosen to head the inquiries or maybe the funding decisions are long forgotten.

Twenty percent budget cuts in public services in 2010/11 meant that priorities were altered often with catastrophic consequences.  But to be honest the problems go much further back than the austerity measures of 2010/11.  Successive governments have squeezed public services in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness. The result, neither being achieved, just some tinder box ready to explode into disaster.  And yet more hand wringing and finger pointing and costly inquiries.

The problem is not just that the organisations failed or that departments or individuals failed, the problem is that all the failings might have been prevented if there was money available to deliver the service properly in the first place.  And to do that, there needs to be enough staff, enough training, and enough equipment.  And who is responsible for ensuring that happens?

Now you may say that is all very well but what of the police officers that are racist and misogynistic or corrupt and what of institutional corruption? After all the HMICFRS report is not just about vetting procedures but about the attitudes and behaviours of staff.  A good point but let me point you to the behaviour of government, not just this government but preceding governments as well.  The expenses scandal, the bullying allegations, the improper behaviour in parliament, the complete disregard for the ethics or for that matter, common decency. And what of those successive budget cuts and lack of willingness to address very real issues faced by staff in the organisations. 

Let me also point you to the behaviour of the general public from whom the police officers are recruited.  A society where parents that attend children’s football matches and hurl abuse at the referee and linesmen, even threatening to see them in the car park after the match. Not a one off but from recent reports a weekly occurrence and worse.  A society now where staff in shops are advised not to challenge shoplifters in fear of their own safety.  A society where there is a complete disregard for the law by many on a daily basis, including those that consider themselves law abiding citizens.  A society where individuals blame everyone else, always in need of some scapegoat somewhere.  A society where individuals know individually and collectively how they want others to behave but don’t know or disregard how they should behave.

I’m not surprised by the recent reports into policing and other services, saddened but not surprised.  I’m not naïve enough to think that society was really any better at some distant time in the past, in fact there were some periods where it was definitely worse and policing of any sort has always been problematic.  My fear is we are heading back to the worst times in humanity and these reports far from highlighting just an organisational problem are shining a floodlight on a societal one.  But it suits everyone to confine the focus to the failings of organisations and the individuals within them.  Not my fault, not my responsibility it’s the others not me, quelle surprise.

Chaos in Colombo: things fall apart

Following the mutiny that we witnessed in Downing street after members of the Johnson’s cabinet successfully forced him to resign over accusations of incompetency and the culture of inappropriate conducts in his cabinet, the people of Sri Lanka have also succeeded in chasing out their President, G. Rajapaksa, out of office over his contributions to the collapse of the country’s economy. This blog is a brief commentary on some of the latest events in Sri Lanka.

Since assuming office in 2019, the government of Rajapaksa has always been indicted of excessive borrowing, mismanagement of the country’s economy, and applying for international loans that are often difficult to pay back. With the country’s debt currently standing at $51bn, some of these loans, is claimed to have been spent on unnecessary infrastructural developments as well as other ‘Chinese-backed projects’, (see also; the Financial Times, 2022). Jayamaha (2022; 236) indicated that ‘Sri Lanka had $7.6 billion in foreign currency reserves at the end of 2019. However, by March 2020, it had exhausted its reserves to just $1.93 billion.’ One of Rajapaksa’s campaign promises was to cut taxes, which he did upon assuming office. His critics faulted this move, claiming it was unnecessary at that particular time. His ban on fertilizers, in a bid for the country to go organic (even though later reversed), had its own effect on local farmers. Rice production for example, fell by 20% following the ban – a move that eventually forced the government to opt for rice importation which was in itself expensive (see also; Nordhaus & Shah 2022). Critics warned that his investments and projects have no substantial and direct impact on the lives of the common people, and that what is the essence of building roads when the common people cannot afford to buy a car to ride on those roads? The fact that people have to queue for petrol for 5 days and only having to work for 1 day or where families cannot afford to feed their children simply shows how the government of Rajapaksa seem to have mismanaged the economy of the country. Of course, the problem of insecurity and the pandemic cannot be left out as crucial factors that have also impacted tourism levels and the economy of the country.

Foreign reserves have depleted, the importation of food is becoming difficult to actualise, living expenses have risen to high levels, the country is struggling with its international loan repayments, the value of Rupees has depreciated, there is inflation in the land, including shortages of food supplies and scarcity of fuel. Those who are familiar with the Sri Lanka’s system will not be particularly surprised at the nationwide protests that have been taking place in different parts of the country since May, because the Rajapaksa’s regime was only sitting on a keg of gun powder, ready to explode.

In an unprecedented fashion on July 9, several footages and images began to emerge online showing how protesters had successfully overpowered the police and had broken into the residence of the President. Their goal was to occupy the presidential palace and chase the president out of his residence. In fact, there are video footages online allegedly showing the motorcade of the president fleeing from his residence as the wave of protest rocked the capital.

Upon gaining entry into the innermost chambers of the president’s dwelling, protesters started touring and taking selfies in euphoria, some of them had quickly jumped into the presidential shower, others helped themselves to some relaxation on the president’s bed after days of protests, some were engaged in a mock presidential meeting in the president’s cabinet office, some preferred to swim in the president’s private pool while others helped themselves to some booze.

Indeed, these extraordinary scenes should not be taken for granted for they again reaffirm WB Yeats classic idea of anarchy (in ‘the second coming’ poem), being the only option to be exercised when the centre can no longer hold.

Of course, some may ask that now that they have invaded the presidential villa, what next? In my view, the people of Sri Lanka seem to be on the right direction as President Rajapaska has eventually bowed to pressure and agreed to resign. The next phase now is for the country to carefully elect a new leader who will revive the sinking ship, amend the economic policies, foster an effective democratic political culture which (hopefully) should bring about a sustainable economic plan and growth reforms.

Importantly, this is a big lesson not just for the political class of Sri Lanka, but for other wasteful leaders who continue to destroy their economies with reckless and disastrous policies. It is a lesson of the falcon and the falconer – for when the falcon can no longer hear the falconer, scenes like these may continue to be reproduced in other locations of the world.

Indeed, things fell apart in Colombo, but it is hoped that the centre will hold again as the country prepare to elect its new leaders.

Here is wishing the people of Colombo, and the entire Sri Lankans all the best in their struggle.

References

Financial Times (2022) [Twitter] 20 July. Available at: https://mobile.twitter.com/FinancialTimes/status/1549554792766361603

Jayamaha, J. (2022) “The demise of Democracy in Sri Lanka: A study of the political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka (Based on the incident of the Rambukkana shooting)”, Sprin Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, 1(05), pp. 236–240. doi: 10.55559/sjahss.v1i05.22.

Nordhaus, T & Shah S, (2022) In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong, March 5, FP. Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/05/sri-lanka-organic-farming-crisis/

What’s happened to the Pandora papers?

Sometime last week, I was amid a group of friends when the argument about the Pandora papers suddenly came up. In brief, the key questions raised were how come no one is talking about the Pandora papers again? What has happened to the investigations, and how come the story has now been relegated to the back seat within the media space? Although, we didn’t have enough time to debate the issues, I promised that I would be sharing my thoughts on this blog. So, I hope they are reading.

We can all agree that for many years, the issues of financial delinquencies and malfeasants have remained one of the major problems facing many societies. We have seen situations where Kleptocratic rulers and their associates loot and siphon state resources, and then stack them up in secret havens. Some of these Kleptocrats prefer to collect luxury Italian wines and French arts with their ill-gotten wealth, while others prefer to purchase luxury properties and 5-star apartments in Dubai, London and elsewhere. We find military generals participating in financial black operations, and we hear about law makers manipulating the gaps in the same laws they have created. In fact, in some spheres, we find ‘business tycoons’ exploiting violence-torn regions to smuggle gold, while in other spheres, some appointed public officers refuse to declare their assets because of fear of the future. Two years ago, we read about the two socialist presidents of the southern Spanish region and how they were found guilty of misuse of public funds. Totaling about €680m, you can imagine the good that could have been achieved in that region. We should also not forget the case of Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, both of whom (we are told) amassed over $10 billion during their reign in the Philippines. As we can see below that from the offshore leak of 2013 to the Panama papers of 2016 and then the 2017 Paradise papers, data leaks have continued to skyrocket. This simply demonstrates the level to which politicians and other official state representatives are taking to invest in this booming industry.

Via BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-58780561

These stories are nothing new, we have always read about them – but then they fade away quicker than we expect. It is important to note that while some countries are swift in conducting investigation when issues like these arise, very little is known about others. So, in this blog, I will simply be highlighting some of the reasons why I think news relating to these issues have a short life span. 

To start with, the system of financial corruption is often controlled and executed by those holding on to power very firmly. The firepower of their legal defence team is usually unmatchable, and the way they utilise their wealth and connections often make it incredibly difficult to tackle. For example, when leaks like these appear, some journalists are usually mindful of making certain remarks about the situation for the avoidance of being sued for libel and defamation of character. Secondly, financial crimes are always complex to investigate, and prosecution often takes forever. The problem of plurality in jurisdiction is also important in this analysis as it sometimes slows down the processes of investigation and prosecution. In some countries, there is something called ‘the immunity clause’, where certain state representatives are protected from being arraigned while in office. This issue has continued to raise concerns about the position of truth, power, and political will of governments to fight corruption. Another issue to consider is the issue of confidentiality clause, or what many call corporate secrecy in offshore firms. These policies make it very difficult to know who owns what or who is purchasing what. So, for as long as these clauses remain, news relating to these issues may continue to fade out faster than we imagine. Perhaps Young (2012) was right in her analysis of illicit practices in banking & other offshore financial centres when she insisted that ‘offshore financial centers such as the Cayman Islands, often labelled secrecy jurisdictions, frustrate attempts to recover criminal wealth because they provide strong confidentiality in international finance to legitimate clients as well as to the crooks and criminals who wish to hide information – thereby attracting a large and varied client base with their own and varied reasons for wanting an offshore account’, (Young 2012, 136). This idea has also been raised by our leader, Nikos Passas who believe that effective transparency is an essential component of unscrambling the illicit partnerships in these structures.

While all these dirty behaviours have continued to damage our social systems, they yet again remind us how the network of greed remains at the core centre of human injustice. I found the animalist commandant of the pigs in the novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell to be quite relevant in this circumstance. The decree spells: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. This idea rightly describes the hypocrisy that we find in modern democracies; where citizens are made to believe that everyone is equal before the law but when in fact the law, (and in many instances more privileges) are often tilted in favour of the elites.

I agree with the prescription given by President Obama who once said that strengthening democracy entails building strong institutions over strong men. This is true because the absence of strong institutions will only continue to pave way for powerful groups to explore the limits of democracy. This also means that there must be strong political will to sanction these powerful groups engaging in this ‘thievocracy’.  I know that political will is often used too loosely these days, but what I am inferring here is genuine determination to prosecute powerful criminals with transparency. This also suggests the need for better stability and stronger coordination of law across jurisdictions. Transparency should not only be limited to governments in societies, but also in those havens. It is also important to note that tackling financial crimes of the powerful should not be the duty of the state alone, but of all. Simply, it should be a collective effort of all, and it must require a joint action. By joint action I mean that civil societies and other private sectors must come together to advocate for stronger sanctions. We must seek collective participation in social movements because such actions can bring about social change – particularly when the democratic processes are proving unable to tackle such issues. Research institutes and academics must do their best by engaging in research to understand the depth of these problems as well as proffering possible solutions. Illicit financial delinquencies, we know, thrive when societies trivialize the extent and depth of its problem. Therefore, the media must continue to do their best in identifying these problems, just as we have consistently seen with the works of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a few others. So, in a nutshell and to answer my friends, part of the reasons why issues like this often fade away quicker than expected has to do with some of the issues that I have pointed out. It is hoped however that those engaged in this incessant accretion of wealth will be confronted rather than conferred with national honors by their friends.

References


BBC (2021) Pandora Papers: A simple guide to the Pandora Papers leak. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-58780561 (Accessed: 26 May 2022)

Young, M.A., 2012. Banking secrecy and offshore financial centres: money laundering and offshore banking, Routledge

United Nation’s (UN) World Day of Social Justice

Image: United Nations

Achieving justice through formal employment

This Sunday 20th February marks the United Nation’s (UN) World Day of Social Justice. The theme this year is ‘achieving justice through formal employment’. The focus is on the informal economy, in which 60% of the world’s employed population participate. Those employed in the informal economy are not protected by regulations such as health and safety or employment rights and are not entitled to employment benefits such as sickness and holiday pay. People who work in the informal economy are much more likely to be poor, in which case housing and unsanitary conditions can compound the impact of working in the informal economy.

When we in the global North talk about the informal economy, there is often an assumption that this occurs in poorer, less developed countries (it is semantics – here in the UK we use the preferred term of the ‘gig economy’). However, this is a global problem and often the richest industries and countries engage in abusive employment practices that form part of the problem of the informal economy. Let’s take Qatar as an example. Qatar has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, but it also has an extremely high level of income inequality. I heard Natasha Iskandar recently discussing the case of migrant workers in Qatar during construction for the football world cup. Migrant workers are vulnerable to the informal economy due to various labour and visa restrictions throughout the world. In Qatar migrant workers were needed to build the stadia, however this came at a cost to employment conditions including wage theft, forced overtime, debt bondage and intimidation. At the time in Qatar, it was illegal for such workers to withhold labour and they could not voluntarily leave the country without the consent of their employers. The often-abusive employment conditions within the Kafala system of sponsored migrant labour would push people into the informal economy. Having come under some criticism, Qatar has since reformed the Kafala system to improve social protections for migrant workers and were the first of the Gulf countries to do so.

The informalisation of the education economy

On a global scale, the problem of the informal economy is vast there are unique challenges to different groups and social contexts. It will take a large-scale effort to make changes needed to abolish the informal economy globally if it ever can be abolished. Perhaps though we can start by looking a little closer to home and see if we can make a difference there. Academia has traditionally been perceived by those outside of it as a sector of elite institutions, the ‘ivory towers’, where highly paid, highly skilled academics talk from their parapets in a language those outside of it cannot understand. There is a perception that academics are highly paid, highly skilled workers with job security, good pensions, and a comfortable working life.  Higher education management in some institutions have been known to refer to academics using derogatory terms such as ‘slackademics’. As every hard-working academic will tell you, this cannot be further from the truth.

What used to be a place of free thinking, sharing of ideas, and encouraging students to do the same (note: I’m told academics used to have time to think and read) has become a place where profit and business ethos overrides such niceties.   The marketisation of education, which can be traced back to the early 1990s has seen a growth in informal employment putting paid to the myths of job security inter alia, lecturing staff well-being.  As Vicky Canning put it in the below Tweet, this constitutes institutional violence, something we criminologists are charged with speaking up against.

The university industry has become increasingly reliant on casualised contracts leading to staff not being able to get mortgages or tenancies. During my time at a previous institution, I worked on fixed term contracts as a teaching assistant. The teaching contracts would typically last for 10-12 weeks, there were constant HR errors with contracts, which were often not confirmed until the week before teaching or even after teaching had started. Each semester there would be at least a few teaching assistants who got paid incorrectly or did not get paid at all. These are the people delivering teaching to students paying at least £9,250 per year for their education. Is this value for money? Is this fair? In a previous round of strikes at that institution I let my students know that after all the work they put into writing, I only got paid for 20 minutes to mark one of their 3,500-word essays. They did not seem to think this was value for money.  

While I was working under such contracts, I had to move to a new house. I visited many properties and faced a series of affordability checks. As the contracts were short term, landlords would not accept this income as secure, and I was rejected for several properties. I eventually had to ask a friend to be a guarantor but without this, I could easily have ended up homeless and this has happened to other university teaching staff. It was reported recently in the Guardian that a casualised lecturer was living in a tent because she was not able to afford accommodation. All this, on top of stressful, unmanageable workloads. These are the kinds of things casualised university staff must contend with in their lives. These are the humans teaching our students.

This is just one of the problems in the higher education machine. The problems of wage theft, forced overtime, debt bondage and intimidation seen in Qatar are also seen in the institutionally violent higher education economy, albeit to a lesser (or less visible) extent. Let’s talk about wage theft. A number of universities have threatened 100% salary deductions for staff engaging in action short of strike, or in simple terms, working the hours they are contracted to do. Academics throughout the country are being threatened with wage theft if they cannot complete their contractual duties within the hours they are paid for. Essentially then, some higher education establishments are coercing staff to undertake unpaid overtime, not dissimilar to the forced overtime faced by exploited migrant workers building stadia in Qatar.

Academics across the country need to see change in these academic workloads so we can research the exploitation of migrants in the informal labour market, to work towards UN sustainability goals to help address the informal economy, to engage in social justice projects within the informal economy in our local area, and to think about how we can engage our students in such projects. In effect academics need to work in an environment where they can be academics.

How can we begin to be critical of or help address global issues such as the informal economy when our education system is engaging in questionable employment practices, the kind of which drive people into the informal economy, the kind of employment practices that border the informal economy.  Perhaps higher education needs to look inwards before looking out

Organisational reputation: A euphemism for institutional corruption and violence

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published a damming report regarding child protection in religious organisations and settings. One of the findings was that ‘In many cases, concerns about external involvement are connected to a desire to protect the reputation of a religious organisation’.  Of course, there are many other issues highlighted in the report, but I wanted to concentrate on this notion of protecting organisational reputation. When I hear the phrase ‘organisational reputation’ my blood generally runs cold because I know that behind these words lay a multitude of sins.

Companies and public sector bodies have policies that are designed, at least in part to protect organisational reputation. The rationale behind these policies often lacks transparency. It might be that the protection of the organisation’s reputation ensures it maintains its customer or client base, an enhanced reputation sees more customers or clients, a poor reputation might see this dwindle, to the detriment of the organisation and ultimately to the detriment of its employees and owners.  It is difficult to recover from a poor reputation and in the case of business, this is sometimes catastrophic.

However, behind the notions of organisational reputation and policies lays a multi-layer of complex organisational and human behaviours which ultimately lead to institutional corruption and violence. Things will go wrong in organisations, whether that be as a result of human behaviour such as poor decision making or illegal activity or as a result of system failure, such as the failure of software or hardware.  Any of these failures might harm the reputation of the organisation and herein lies the nub of the matter.  When there are failures, because of organisational culture, which often finds its basis in finding someone to blame, there is a propensity to try to keep the issues ‘in house’, to protect the organisation. By doing so, managers and those in charge ensure that they are not scrutinised regarding the failure, be that individual failures, failures of policies or failures of systems and processes.  So, the organisational reputation is not necessarily about protecting the organisation, it is more about avoiding scrutiny of those individuals in power. The mention of organisational reputation in policies and processes has another effect, it silences employees. Whistle blowing policies are subjugated to notions of organisational reputation and as a result silence is maintained for fear of some form of informal sanction.  The maintenance of silence ensures organisational reputation, but this corruption also ensures continued institutional violence and corrupt practices. The longer it continues the more those in power have a vested interest in ensuring that the issues are not addressed, lest they are uncovered as offenders through their inaction.  ‘We are all in this together’ takes on a new meaning.  Thus, corrupt or criminal practices simply continue.

And if the wrongdoing is uncovered, becomes public, then the first reaction is to find a scapegoat thus avoiding the scrutiny of those in power. Rarely in these inquiries do we find that those put in the dock are the managing directors, the chief constables, the heads of children’s services, the archbishops or politicians.  Rarely do we see those that caused the problem through inadequate or unworkable policies or strategies or working conditions are ever brought to book. Often its simply portrayed as one or two bad apples in the organisation. Thus, organisational reputation is maintained by further institutional violence perpetrated against the employee. That is not to say that in some cases, the employee should not be brought to book, but rarely should they be standing in the dock on their own.

For ‘organisational reputation, just read institutional corruption and violence.

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